Tuesday, February 19, 2013
NFL scouting combine preview: NFC West
By Mike Sando
NFL Nation previews the 2013 scouting combine by identifying the most important thing for each team to learn about its greatest area of need.
Arizona Cardinals: Quarterback is the most obvious and critical need area for the Cardinals. The team can use this combine to figure out whether any of the prospects at the position would warrant the seventh overall selection. Conventional wisdom says Geno Smith and Matt Barkley aren't promising enough to justify selecting so early. As we discussed earlier Tuesday, the Cardinals' division rivals from San Francisco showed two years ago how it's done at No. 7. They bucked expectations to select a quarterback that early, choosing Aldon Smith instead. The 49ers then found their quarterback, Colin Kaepernick, in the second round. The Cardinals head to this combine needing to fall in love with a quarterback for the right reasons. It happened for Seattle last year (Russell Wilson), and it happened for the 49ers with Kaepernick. Neither was a first-round selection, but both were players each team badly wanted to select in the early stages.
St. Louis Rams: Offensive line is probably the greatest need area. The Rams proved last season they could function offensively in the absence of front-line talent along the line. Line coach Paul T. Boudreau prides himself in rewarding the best players regardless of draft status. Coach Jeff Fisher's teams have never used a first-round choice for an offensive lineman when Fisher was a head coach. Fisher's teams have used two second-round selections (2005, 1996) and two third-rounders (1997, 1999) for the position. It's still important for the Rams to identify starting-caliber linemen for drafting in 2013. Lane Johnson (Oklahoma) and D.J. Fluker (Alabama) are two tackles whom analysts project as potentially available when the Rams are scheduled to select with the 16th and 22nd overall selections. Would either one be worthy of such a high selection? Alabama guard Chance Warmack is another lineman to consider.
San Francisco 49ers: Defensive line has to be a primary focus area for the 49ers at this combine. Justin Smith will turn 34 in September and will be coming off arm surgery. He and fellow defensive end Ray McDonald rank among the NFL's top four in most snaps played by defensive linemen over the past two seasons. Depth along the line needs reinforcing even if Smith returns to top form and plays another couple of seasons at his customary high level. Kentwan Balmer and Ricky Jean Francois are the only true defensive linemen the 49ers have selected in any round over the past five drafts. Balmer was a bust. Jean Francois can become a free agent this offseason. With that in mind, the 49ers head to the combine looking to identify defensive linemen worth drafting as early as 31st overall. UCLA's Datone Jones and Georgia's John Jenkins are two guys to investigate further.
Seattle Seahawks: Defensive line and receiver are two positions for the Seahawks to keep in mind heading to Indianapolis for the combine. Improving the pass rush was a priority even before the team's sacks leader, Chris Clemons, suffered a torn ACL against Washington during the wild-card playoff round. The team could stand to improve its pass-rush push on the interior and exterior alike. Seattle gets much credit for landing impact players throughout its three drafts under general manager John Schneider and coach Pete Carroll. However, 2012 first-rounder Bruce Irvin stands as the only true defensive lineman the current regime has selected in the top three rounds. Fourth-rounders Jaye Howard and E.J. Wilson were the only ones drafted in the first six rounds. Trading for Clemons and converting Red Bryant from tackle to end eased pressure to target the defensive line in past drafts. The pressure is there now. Seattle has boldly bucked convention with some of its draft picks. Is there a defensive lineman in this draft with the unusual traits Carroll seems to value?