NFC West draft needs: Seahawks can build around Russell Wilson
2013 record: 13-3
Key player departures: CB Brandon Browner, DE Chris Clemons, DT Clinton McDonald, CB Walter Thurmond, WR Golden Tate, OT Breno Giacomini, DE Red Bryant
Offseason acquisitions: DT Tony McDaniel, DE Michael Bennett, TE Anthony McCoy, QB Tarvaris Jackson, K Steven Hauschka
Positions of need: Wide receiver, offensive line, tight end
Analysis: Seattle seems primed to go on a dominant run in the NFC and has the potential to win a few more Super Bowls. However, all of the talent the Seahawks have accumulated in the last three NFL Drafts is going to deserve more money in their second deals, mainly Russell Wilson and Richard Sherman who will take up a significant chunk of change. The defense totally dominated Denver in Super Bowl XLVIII, and with most of that core returning the draft will be a perfect setting for the Seahawks to focus on finding Wilson some help.
Seattle won the Super Bowl in a passing era without a marquee target on the outside. Percy Harvin getting healthy will absolutely help in 2014, which is why I think they will go with a tight end or offensive lineman in the first round. There are two tight ends that would be a nice fit in Seattle, one of which would not have to go far to join his new club. That’s Austin Seferian-Jenkins, who won the 2013 Mackey Award as college football’s top tight end, playing at Washington for former Pete Carroll assistant Steve Sarkisian. He is a fantastic player; however, he’s battling a foot injury that held him out of the Combine and his pro day, which should lead to Seferian-Jenkins sliding to the end of the first round where he would be a steal for Seattle.
Another interesting prospect with Northwest ties and some questions entering the draft is Colt Lyerla, who left Oregon last fall to deal with several off-field issues, including a drug charge. As a football player, he is fast and has great hands, providing a play-now flex TE for any organization that wants to take a chance in the Rounds 4-6 range. With a Super Bowl culture in place and a history of taking players with a sketchy past, I don’t think it is a stretch to think that Lyerla could wind up a Seahawk.
San Francisco 49ers
2013 record: 12-4
Key player departures: SS Donte Whitner, CB Carlos Rogers, CB Tarell Brown, WR Mario Manningham, FB Anthony Dixon
Offseason acquisitions: CB Chris Cook, CB Eric Wright, S Antoine Bethea, OT Jonathan Martin (trade from Miami for 2015 conditional seventh-rounder), QB Blaine Gabbert (trade from Jacksonville for 2014 sixth-round pick and 2015 conditional pick), K Phil Dawson
Positions of need: Wide receiver, defensive line, center
Analysis: San Francisco has been in the NFC title game three straight years, winning one and playing it to the wire in the other two. Under Jim Harbaugh, the 49ers will again be a top-tier team in the NFL in 2014 and compete for the NFC West crown, which puts them on the short list of Super Bowl contenders. Colin Kaepernick has to take the next step as a passer because that is ultimately how he’ll have to beat people. Running the football is the strength of the 49ers and will continue to be as long as they can gain some depth in the interior of the offensive line. The defense is starting to show some age at certain positions and it would be a smart move for the organization to start planning for the exit of Justin Smith.
For a team that is in the market for a true stretch-the-field wide receiver the 49ers are in luck, because this draft is ripe with pass catchers who can help an organization right now. San Francisco already has a couple of guys who are solid possession receivers in Anquan Boldin and Michael Crabtree, plus they have one of the best tight ends in the game in Vernon Davis, so drafting a deep threat like Kelvin Benjamin (FSU) or Paul Richardson (Colorado) will make them even more dangerous. They can also get a tough, smart, quality center in Gabe Ikard (Oklahoma) later in the draft.
2013 record: 11-5
Key player departures: WR Andre Roberts, LB Karlos Dansby, G Daryn Colledge
Offseason acquisitions: OT Jared Veldheer, WR Ted Ginn Jr., CB Antonio Cromartie, RB Jonathan Dwyer
Position needs: Offensive tackle, outside linebacker, quarterback, defensive end
Analysis: Arizona had a wonderful draft last year grabbing Tyrann Mathieu in the third round and getting a terrific RB in the sixth round in Andre Ellington. What’s more, the Cardinals didn’t get any production from their top pick Jonathan Cooper, who broke his leg in the preseason. Cooper should help the offensive line this year, but they still need help at tackle to help protect Carson Palmer. Winning 11 games is no easy task, and doing it in the NFC West is even harder. This is a very good young team, but they need to start planning for the future at QB, which should be easy to do this year with a quality group of quarterbacks that should be available in the second-to-fourth round range. This team is very close; however, it is going to be very hard to take that next step playing San Francisco and Seattle twice a year.
Arizona is picking a bit late to sit and wait for OT Taylor Lewan (Michigan), but it should be in position to take a chance on Cyrus Kouandjio (Alabama), who has some health concerns but worked out very well in front of NFL personnel at his pro day. Pass rushers are always a sure bet in today’s NFL, but Arizona also needs athleticism on the outside of its defense and Dee Ford (Auburn) would fit that bill if the Cardinals wanted to go with defense in the first round. I have heard QB Derek Carr (Fresno State) thrown around for Arizona, but I would not like that pick in the first round — it’d be a better pick in the second round if he is still available. Another player to keep your eye on is BYU outside linebacker Kyle Van Noy, who would be a decent fit for what the Cardinals need this year.
St. Louis Rams
2013 record: 7-9
Key player departures: CB Cortland Finnegan, G Harvey Dahl, G Chris Williams, G Shelley Smith, QB Kellen Clemens
Offseason acquisitions: G Rodger Saffold, LB Jo-Lonn Dunbar
Positions of need: Offensive line, safety, wide receiver
Analysis: It was a disappointing season for St. Louis last year finishing 7-9, but Sam Bradford was playing much better before he injured his knee. Some people have questions about Bradford and his viability as a franchise QB, but I believe he is the right guy with one of the most accurate arms in football. The Rams have to help him in protection and offensive line play must improve if they want to compete against the quality defenses in the NFC West. St. Louis had a very good draft a year ago with guys like WR Tavon Austin, LB Alec Ogletree, S T.J. McDonald and RB Zac Stacy. All told, last year’s draft netted 43 starts from just seven draft picks, and the Rams have another deep draft ahead of them with several picks courtesy of the Washington Redskins, including the No. 2 overall pick.
With that pick, St. Louis is in perfect position to get the best player in the draft or the best offensive tackle available depending on what Houston decides to do with the first pick. If Houston goes with the QB that it desperately needs, then St. Louis will have the chance to create one of the best defenses in the game by selecting DE Jadeveon Clowney (South Carolina), who is the best overall prospect available. If Houston takes Clowney, the Rams will be able to solidify their offensive line with Jake Matthews (Texas A&M), who is the most NFL-ready offensive tackle. Some have argued that Greg Robinson (Auburn) should be the first OT taken, but he is so raw that at best he is a project, which leads me to believe that Matthews would be the pick. Later in the draft, look for the Rams to go after a safety or another wide receiver with names like Ahmad Dixon (Baylor) at safety or Jared Abbrederis (Wisconsin) at wide receiver on the list of targets.