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Thursday, April 14, 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 blog network will take a division-by-division look at key aspects of the draft. Today’s topic: Draft philosophy.

Arizona Cardinals

The Cardinals expect their draft choices to address immediate needs even if the players they choose do not start right away. They pay less lip service to the "best player available" mantra than some teams.

"There is a line you walk between both of them, where you draft the best available player for your need," coach Ken Whisenhunt explained before the 2010 draft. "You always consider where your depth is, where your greatest margin of improvement is going to come, and that is kind of what we look toward when we do that."

The Cardinals put together two draft boards. One rates players on overall NFL potential. The other lists the 120 players Arizona would consider drafting, taking into account the Cardinals' needs as well.

San Francisco 49ers

General manager Trent Baalke puts an old-school emphasis on measurables in the belief that bigger, stronger athletes hold up better over the course of a season. His former boss, Scot McCloughan, shared the same philosophy, which he traced back to Ron Wolf.

I expect that philosophy to continue. It fits well with new coach Jim Harbaugh's belief in establishing a power running game to facilitate play-action opportunities.

The first three players San Francisco selected in the 2010 draft -- tackle Anthony Davis, guard Mike Iupati and safety Taylor Mays -- fit the "size matters" philosophy.

St. Louis Rams

The Rams feel good enough about the foundation they've built to tolerate more risk than they were willing to accept when GM Billy Devaney and coach Steve Spagnuolo were in the early stages of remaking the roster.

We saw that last year when the Rams used a third-round choice for cornerback Jerome Murphy and a fourth-rounder for receiver Mardy Gilyard. Murphy had been suspended from his college team for violating team rules. Gilyard was more flamboyant than most recent Rams choices. Draft analysts raised potential character concerns in both cases.

This is not to suggest the Rams have abandoned their core values. They are simply far enough along in the building process to expand their options.

Side note: Over the past two seasons, the Rams have used both first-round choices on players from the Big 12 Conference and both second-rounders on players from the Big Ten.

Seattle Seahawks

Any struggling team with new leadership will be active in addressing weaknesses.

The Seahawks have taken it to another level under coach Pete Carroll and GM John Schneider. These guys are energetic, aggressive and unapologetic. They would rather wheel and deal than stand pat, an approach that led to multiple trades in their first draft together.

The lockout will prevent teams from trading veteran players, limiting the Seahawks' options this year.

The team is more unified philosophically this year because offensive line coach Tom Cable shares more conventional views on prospects at his position. Cable's predecessor, Alex Gibbs, was more particular in what he wanted, affecting the overall approach.