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Thursday, March 24, 2011
Draft Watch: NFC West

By Mike Sando

NFC Draft Watch: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Each Thursday leading up to the NFL draft (April 28-30), the ESPN.com NFL blog network will take a division-by-division look at key aspects of the draft. Today's topic: schemes and themes.

Arizona Cardinals

Theme: Amping up the pass rush. New defensive coordinator Ray Horton has already guaranteed that the Cardinals will blitz on their first play under his watch. Why would Horton say such a thing? He's looking to establish an aggressive, blitzing mindset similar to what the Pittsburgh Steelers have established under his mentor, Dick LeBeau. To do that, the Cardinals will need to upgrade their pass rush by targeting at least one outside linebacker in the draft -- perhaps even with the fifth overall choice. Von Miller from Texas A&M comes to mind as one option. The team also expects more from youngsters O'Brien Schofield and Will Davis, coach Ken Whisenhunt said from the NFL owners meeting. To ease the transition, Horton will adapt much of the terminology used under former coordinator Bill Davis. Both favor 3-4 schemes.

St. Louis Rams

Scheme: Away from the West Coast offense. Josh McDaniels' hiring as offensive coordinator signals a significant scheme change even though the team has held over most offensive assistants from last season. McDaniels traces his roots to New England. The Rams will be looking to upgrade at wide receiver, where injuries diminished a group that had question marks already. McDaniels' teams have drafted bigger receivers over the years. The diminutive Deion Branch stands out as an exception to the rule. Otherwise, McDaniels' New England and Denver teams have targeted receivers in the draft averaging taller than 6-foot-1. His Broncos drafted three receivers in his two years there. All three were at least 6 feet tall. Two weighed at least 220 pounds. Alabama's Julio Jones, a candidate for the Rams at No. 14 overall, fits the profile at 6-2 and 220.

San Francisco 49ers

Scheme: New coordinators proliferate. Jim Harbaugh turned over both coordinator positions, but the 49ers could still be looking for similar types of players. They are sticking with a 3-4 defense, so that helps. Trent Baalke ran the draft last year and will do so again as general manager this offseason. Even though Harbaugh has emphasized the switch to a West Coast scheme on offense, he wants to play an extremely physical brand of football, just like predecessor Mike Singletary. He wants tight ends and fullbacks to be the face of the offense. At quarterback, Harbaugh believes he can make imperfect quarterbacks play winning football. His former coach at Indianapolis, Lindy Infante, made a career of this. As a result, there's no directive to find a quarterback in the first round, even though the position is obviously one of great need.

Seattle Seahawks

Scheme: New offensive coordinator in place. Darrell Bevell's hiring away from the Minnesota Vikings indicated, on the surface, that the Seahawks might not value mobility as much from their quarterbacks. Coach Pete Carroll said otherwise over breakfast during the recent NFL owners meeting. He said Bevell and new assistant head coach/offensive line Tom Cable "totally believe in the moving of the quarterback as a complement to the running game and play-action passing game." That was likewise a point of emphasis under previous coordinator Jeremy Bates. Cable's hiring means the Seahawks will target bigger interior offensive linemen in the draft, a departure from how former offensive line coach Alex Gibbs approached the position. That brings the coaching and personnel mindsets into better alignment.