With less than a week to go until the 2012 NFL Draft, here is a last-second look at the NFC West and positions that need to be addressed come draft time:
San Francisco 49ers
The offensive line actually excelled in the run game. They are built around the offensive scheme of giving Gore the ball and letting him plow through. Concerns arise around the pass protection that allowed Alex Smith to get sacked 44 times last season, a league worst. In his first season with the team, center Jonathan Goodwin performed well. Right guard Adam Snyder recently signed with Arizona, so look for San Francisco to pick up an offensive guard early in the draft.
This need for improvement at wide receiver is all about uncertainty. Yes, the 49ers picked up ex-retiree Randy Moss and Mario Manningham in free agency. If Moss still has something left in his tank like he says, than he can cause problems deep downfield for opposing defenses. Not sure if everyone’s 100 percent convinced, though. At best Manningham would be a No.2 receiver, and how certain is it that he will be able step out of the shell and be a playmaker, unlike in New York? Throw in the inconsistent Michael Crabtree who played well below standards last season, and there’s a problem.
(OL, QB, LB)
Many years have passed and the Cardinals are still stuck with an offensive line that never develops. They left huge gaps for defensive tackles to run through last season. Quarterback Kevin Kolb constantly faced pressure from both sides. Left tackle Levi Brown has proved that he can secure his side of the line, but the right slot is still up in the air.
This will be Kevin Kolb’s chance to prove himself after his first full offseason with the Cardinals. If he wants to be the starter in 2012, he’ll need to prove it right out of the gates because John Skelton is breathing down his neck. Skelton, who replaced Kolb when he suffered a concussion, went 5-2 as a starter and led the Cardinals on a hot streak to end the season. Is Arizona comfortable with one of these quarterbacks as a long-term solution? Their recent flirtation with Peyton Manning isn’t very convincing.
Credit needs to be given where it’s due. Kudos to a defense that finished the season with tremendous performances. Inside linebacker Daryl Washington led the team with 111 tackles and Davis Lenon followed with 103. On the outside, Sam Acho excelled as a rookie, totaling 7 sacks and four forced fumbles in his 10 starts. While maybe not a desperate need, the Cardinals could use an outside pass rusher to go with Acho. This draft is full of them.
St. Louis Rams
(OL, WR, CB)
Many injuries led to a disaster in this area last season. Pass protection, run game, you name it. Bob Dahl was the only offensive lineman to start every game, and even he was playing hurt. Offensive tackles Jason Smith and Rodger Saffold both have injury concerns. St. Louis has used free agency to fill some holes here, and picking up a big-time player in the draft will solidify the line.
If anyone felt a little safer when Brandon Lloyd joined the team last year and led it with 51 catches, think again. Lloyd is now in New England, leaving Danny Amendola and Steve Smith (from Philadelphia) as the focal points for quarterback Sam Bradford, The receiving core does have depth, but only No.2 and No.3 players. With the sixth overall pick in the draft, St. Louis has a chance to grab that No.1 receiver for the next ten years.
Dreadful performances on offense left many overlooking the problems in the secondary. Well, problems is not plural anymore. St. Louis reached out and grabbed former Titan cornerback Cortland Finnegan. He has the experience and liveliness needed to be a role model for this defense. On the other side sits Bradley Fletcher, and he played considerably well before he tore his ACL last season. This is not the only time he has gotten hurt, and if St. Louis picks a cornerback early in the draft then it will put pressure on Fletcher to show he can overcome an injury.
St. Louis is a team with many holes. By trading their No. 2 pick to the Washington Redskins, they now have more picks in the draft to help them become contenders in the NFC West again.
(DL, LB, RB)
The Seahawks could really use a pass rusher to accommodate Chris Clemons. This will be the biggest need for the team heading into the draft. This young and upcoming defense has shown that they can keep games close against tougher teams and stuff the run. Seattle resigned defensive end Red Bryant who is notorious for being a run stopper. However, the front line barely put any pressure on opposing quarterbacks last season. There is a lot of talent in the draft, and Seattle might just take a pass rusher with the twelfth pick.
With David Hawthorne now with New Orleans, there is an obvious lack of talent at this position. Leroy Hill and Matt McCoy have signed new contracts, but Hill is a concern due to his past incidents with the law. McCoy was a standout player on special teams, but is only used as a situational linebacker on defense. K.J. Wright played well last year as a rookie with 65 tackles, and he will help add depth.
IT would be nice to have another player that can take the workload of Marshawn Lynch. His play style makes him more of a third down back, so expect Carroll and Co. (who favors the run) to pick up someone who is quick and can gain yardage on first down.