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Sunday, April 26, 2009
NFC West draft analysis


Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

The St. Louis Rams had just selected Baylor offensive tackle Jason Smith with the second pick in the 2009 NFL draft when the Seattle Seahawks, picking fourth, placed an anxious call to the team picking third.

NFC West Draft Picks
Arizona Cardinals
San Francisco 49ers
St. Louis Rams
Seattle Seahawks
"Do you know who you are taking?" Seahawks general manager Tim Ruskell asked his Kansas City Chiefs counterpart.

"Yeeees," Scott Pioli answered.

Then there was silence.

Pioli wouldn't show his hand. And so the Seahawks sweated out the remaining time before the Chiefs selected LSU defensive end Tyson Jackson.

"This worked out for us," Ruskell said after the Seahawks selected Wake Forest linebacker Aaron Curry, the player Seattle wanted.

And that was pretty much how the draft started for the NFC West. All four teams got what they wanted early, even if they sometimes had to endure a few nervous moments.

The Rams had it easy, getting their choice of offensive linemen. The Seahawks drafted the highest-rated player remaining on their board and arguably the best defensive player available. The 49ers lucked into the highest-rated receiver, Michael Crabtree, while the Cardinals found their successor to Edgerrin James in Ohio State running back Chris Wells.

The first four players NFC West teams drafted should become starters quickly. The Rams' second-round choice, Ohio State linebacker James Laurinaitis, could find his way into the lineup as a rookie, as could second-round Seahawks center/guard Max Unger, from Oregon.

"It's hard for a rookie to start in the NFL no matter where you are drafted, so you certainly don't ordain them the starter," Rams general manager Billy Devaney warned. "That being said, I think the other teams [in the division] have done a phenomenal job with their selections, and it got that much better."

Best move

The 49ers and Seahawks both landed 2010 first-round choices in trade-down deals involving second-round choices. San Francisco paid less than the Seahawks paid in terms of the draft-value chart, but the pick Seattle acquired might wind up being earlier in the round.

The 49ers sent the 43rd and 111th choices to the Panthers for Carolina's first-rounder next year. The chart values the 43rd choice at 470 points and the 111th choice at 72 points. That means the 49ers spent 542 points for the Panthers' first-round choice in 2010.

"We did not see a player of the value at that pick for us," 49ers general manager Scot McCloughan told reporters. "Carolina called and sweetened the pot pretty good with next year's one (No. 1 pick). I just don't want to sit there and say, 'Well, geez, it's our pick, we're going to take a player' if we don't think the value of the player is there.

"As everybody is well aware, ones are huge, especially if we want to do anything with that pick anytime here out to next year."

Seattle parted with the 37th choice, worth 530 points, for the Broncos' first-round pick next year. If the Broncos falter without Jay Cutler -- no sure thing, but a possibility -- Seattle could maximize the trade.

Either way, the Seahawks and 49ers have made themselves players in the 2010 draft no matter how well they fare in 2009. They'll have the draft capital needed to bid for a franchise quarterback if either team wants one.

Riskiest move

 
  Howard Smith/US Presswire
  Drafting linebacker Aaron Curry with the fourth pick has major implications for the Seahawks.
Drafting Curry was supposed to be the safest move a team could make in this draft. The consequence for Seattle -- immediately withdrawing the franchise tag from Leroy Hill -- seemed premature and perhaps even unnecessary.

The risk evaporates if the Seahawks still manage to sign Hill on a long-term deal. The risk is diminished if the Seahawks use the $8.3 million in salary-cap space previously allocated for Hill to sign Ken Lucas, Derrick Brooks or other players who might upgrade the roster.

But if Hill walks away for nothing, the Seahawks will have lost one of the more hard-nosed players on their defense. They will have gone from having Hill, Lofa Tatupu and Julian Peterson at linebacker to having Tatupu and Curry.

Most surprising move

Crabtree's fall from likely top-five choice to the 10th overall spot seemed unfathomable a few months ago. The 49ers had needs elsewhere on their roster, notably at right tackle, but Crabtree represented a more dynamic value at No. 10 than Mississippi's Michael Oher.

Landing the highe
st-rated receiver in the draft was a pleasant surprise for a 49ers team that hasn't had much at the position since Terrell Owens left following the 2003 season.

"I really didn't think it would happen," McCloughan said. "That's a long way for a guy like that to fall."

While every team talks about not reaching to fill needs, even the 49ers had to figure they would find an offensive tackle somewhere in the early rounds.

It didn't happen, in part because Crabtree was available later than expected.

The 49ers are now counting on the injury-prone Marvel Smith and possibly Adam Snyder as their right tackles. That's almost as surprising as having Crabtree fall to them.

File it away

Arizona, despite picking later than its NFC West rivals, could emerge from this draft with the most dynamic draft choice in the division.

Wells' talent is undeniable. He has the physical ability to become a Pro Bowl player.

"If you could have told me going into this draft that we would have had a chance to get him with our 31st pick, I would've been very excited," Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt told reporters. "He's a big back with some speed that I think will fit in nicely with some of the things we're going to do with him."

The question, based on scouting reports, becomes whether the Cardinals' staff can push Wells to become more consistent and to shake his image as a back who shies away from contact.