NFL Draft needs: NFC West
St. Louis Rams
Drafting: Sixth Pick
The Rams are in great shape to take advantage of their 2-14 season and top-10 pick. After wisely trading their No. 2 pick to the Redskins, new head coach Jeff Fisher has four picks in the first three rounds of the NFL Draft.
The Rams were strategic in free agency, adding center Scott Wells from Green Bay and linebacker Jo-Lonn Dunbar and defensive back Cortland Finnegan. But Fisher also will have to use his draft picks to help fill the holes at virtually every position.
The Rams will need a wide receiver to help Sam Bradford return to the promise of his rookie year. After the season, it seemed unlikely that Justin Blackmon from Oklahoma State would be available at No. 6, but the Rams may indeed be able to get him. If another team moves in front of St. Louis through a trade, or if Cleveland takes quarterback Ryan Tannehill at No. 4, an elite player will be available to the Rams at No. 6.
It could be running back Trent Richardson, offensive tackle Matt Kalil or defensive back Morris Claiborne. Any of them would be a great addition to a team that was better than its 2-14 record.
If the blue-chip players are gone, the Rams could fall back again and pick up additional picks on the second day. There a number of receivers, such as Kendall Wright from Baylor, Stephen Hill from Georgia Tech, Alshon Jeffery of South Carolina and Rueben Randle of LSU, who would all be upgrades at the position.
Drafting: 12th Pick
It was no surprise that the Seahawks' 7-9 record wasn't good enough to get into the playoffs, like it did in 2010 in the anemic NFC West. The defense, particularly the secondary, really began to come alive in 2011. Still, it needs to be able to put more pressure on the quarterback and a premier edge rusher doesn’t appear to be available in this draft.
The Seahawks were one of the more active teams in free agency. The signings of offensive linemen Frank Omiyale and Deuce Lutui, defensive lineman Jason Jones and linebacker Barrett Ruud will put Seattle in better position to challenge the 49ers.
The biggest free-agent signing could be nabbing quarterback Matt Flynn from the Green Bay Packers. The Seahawks say it will be an open competition between Flynn and Tarvaris Jackson, but they gave Flynn a $26 million contract with $10 million guaranteed. Who do you think will start? The Seahawks' draft position does not put them in position to get a passer in the first round (unless they have convinced themselves that Ryan Tannehill of Texas A&M is the answer).
Seattle is in good position at No. 12 to get a number of its needs addressed. They could end up with guard David DeCastro from Stanford, defensive end Melvin Ingram of South Carolina or even Quinton Coples from North Carolina.
In the second round, the Seahawks could be thinking about Oregon running back LaMichael James. If they don’t address the offensive line in the first round, guard Kevin Zeitler could fall to them or Amini Silatolu from Midwestern State likely will be there.
Drafting: 13th Pick
The Cardinals were the prototypical team that finished the regular season well to set up what they hope will be a playoff run. The defense started to come around under new coordinator Ray Horton and figures to pick up where it left off. Offensively, they made the big trade last season for quarterback Kevin Kolb, but got little for their money because of injury and lack of protection.
The Cardinals have not been the same since letting receiver Anquan Boldin go to the Ravens. The offensive line and wide receiver positions need to be addressed, as does the secondary and linebackers.
Sitting at No. 13 in the draft, the Cardinals aren’t in position to get a blue-chipper, but they should have their pick of players who could help them immediately. Defensive end Melvin Ingram from South Carolina or Quinton Coples from North Carolina would be a score. Linebackers such as Luke Kuechly from Boston College or Alabama’s Dont’a Hightower should be available.
The Cardinals don't have a second-round pick (given up to Philadelphia), so they would have to wait until the third round to get a defensive back such as Leonard Johnson from Iowa State or maybe a guard such as Brandon Brooks from Miami (Ohio). If they chose to address their guard needs in free agency, they might look at tackle Senio Kelemete of Washington as an option.
San Francisco 49ers
Finished: 13-3 — eliminated in NFC title game
Drafting: 30th pick
The Niners were one of the most aggressive players in free agency, re-signing some key players such as defensive back Carlos Rogers and defensive end Ahmad Brooks while slapping the franchise tag on safety Dashon Goldson.
Of course, getting quarterback Alex Smith back was a priority once they fell out of the Peyton Manning sweepstakes. They also added a solid backup in Josh Johnson from Tampa Bay.
Having done all that, the 49ers desperately needed a receiving threat, which led to them signing Mario Manningham from the Giants and bringing Randy Moss out of retirement. Their first-round picks in 2010 and 2011, guard Mike Iupati and defensive end Aldon Smith, were home runs.
But their No. 10 pick in 2009, receiver Michael Crabtree, hasn't lived up to that status. Even with what they did in free agency, receiver and defensive back still could be a priority in the draft.
If speedy wideout Kendall Wright of Baylor should drop, he certainly will be considered. Another option might be Peter Konz from Wisconsin, who could play guard and be the heir apparent to center Jonathan Goodwin.
If it turns out the 49ers need a cornerback, Janoris Jenkins, the best in the draft, could fall to them because of his character issues. Some teams have taken Jenkins off the board, but the Ravens proved with Jimmy Smith last year that these types of players can be worth the risk.
Whatever doesn’t get addressed with the 30th pick, the 61st could yield guard Kelechi Osemele from Iowa State or they could really luck out and find wide receiver Stephen Hill from Georgia Tech still on the board.