Draft Needs: NFC West
Teams have now had a month of free agency to chase down veteran upgrades, replacements, and hole-fillers but their roster-twisting work is not done. Next on the horizon is the 2013 NFL draft and with it comes the yearly opportunity to land youthful talent that, ideally, will provide a long-term positive impact.
In our division-by-division look at current draft needs, the most pressing roster concerns are addressed for each team and Steve Palazzolo tacks on early- and late-round draft day options as we go.
Prior to free agency, no team was more quarterback-needy than the Cardinals. Their collective -38.3 overall grade at that position last season was the worst of any team’s. Of the 45 passers who took at least 50 dropbacks last season, the Cardinals hodge-podge of quarterbacks ranked 19th, 41st, 43rd, and 44th in PFF QB Rating. But since March began, they’ve signed both Drew Stanton and Brian Hoyer to significant deals, and swapped Kevin Kolb for Carson Palmer. Despite the snickering that followed, Bruce Arians didn’t seem to be kidding when he called his quarterback depth “as strong as anybody’s in the National Football League.” For better or worse, the Cardinals’ front office won’t be desperate to draft a quarterback this week.
While this draft’s deep offensive tackle pool may tempt Arizona in the first round, their bigger need is at outside linebacker. With new defensive coordinator Todd Bowles pledging to keep the Cardinals defense as a 3-4, they’ll need to get more pressure on the quarterback from their OLBs than they did last season. Sam Acho, a 2011 fourth-round pick, seemed to be in over his head. Only three 3-4 OLBs had worse than his -17.4 pass rush grade. The Cardinals’ 2010 fourth-rounder, O’Brien Schofield, also seemed ill-suited for an every-down role. He earned a -7.0 overall grade in nine starts before suffering a season-ending ankle injury. Quentin Groves had an admirable 9.9 Pass Rushing Productivity in limited snaps, but he left to join former Cardinals defensive coordinator Ray Horton in Cleveland. Arizona signed Lorenzo Alexander to a three-year contract presumably to be an every-down player, but he hasn’t started a game since the 2010 season, when he earned a -15.5 overall grade and a 6.5 PRP with the Washington Redskins. The Cardinals are solid on both levels of their interior with Calais Campbell and Daryl Washington, but they must draft more productive players to man the outside.
Early Round Option: Jarvis Jones, Georgia
Since I’m so high on Barkevious Mingo, I think he’ll be gone by the time the Cardinals select at No. 7 overall, but he’d be my top choice for them at that point if he’s available. If they’re still looking to add an edge rusher, Jones could be the guy, though they could add some extra picks by trading down into the teens while still securing his rights.
Mid/Late Round Option: Travis Johnson, San Jose State
The Cardinals need help throughout the roster so it wouldn’t be a surprise to see them pass on edge rushers until the middle rounds. Johnson has a chance to become a nice, sleeper 3-4 outside linebacker candidate after notching 23 sacks over the last two years.
St. Louis Rams
The Rams would be foolish to go into the 2013 season with their current crop of safeties. After cutting the always-underrated Quintin Mikell and losing Craig Dahl to their division rivals in San Francisco, their projected starters are questionable at best. Darian Stewart missed a whopping 20 tackles in 2011, his last season as a starter, and Rodney McLeod took just three defensive snaps in his rookie season. But safety is a position that can be filled with a later round pick; only one of our 10 highest-graded safeties in 2012 was drafted in the first round.
As a contrast, eight of the 10 highest graded wide receivers last season were first round picks, and no team is more desperate for a wideout right now than the Rams. They said goodbye to Danny Amendola, Brandon Gibson, and Steve Smith in the offseason, a trio that accounted for 61 percent of the catches and 57 percent of the yards produced by St. Louis’ wide receiving corps in 2012. The Rams now have just five receivers on their roster, three of whom were rookies last season and none of whom have more than two years NFL experience. Chris Givens’ 1.90 Yards Per Route Run is promising, but Brian Quick earned just 187 snaps last season and Austin Pettis has yet to distinguish himself in his two seasons. Entering his fourth year, Sam Bradford has yet to prove that he can be the Rams’ quarterback for the next decade. St. Louis needs to give him every chance to succeed, and that means getting him more weapons in this draft.
Early Round Option: Cordarrelle Patterson, Tennessee
Despite a potentially deep class of wide receivers, Patterson’s big play ability and potential will be coveted in the top half of the first round. The Rams would likely have to use their pick at No. 16 to secure the 6-foot-3, 200-pound receiver.
Mid/Late Round Option: Ace Sanders, South Carolina
If the Rams are looking to replace Amendola, Sanders could be the guy. His 5-foot-7, 175-pound frame, combined with his shiftiness in the open field make him an ideal candidate to contribute both in the slot and in the punt return game.
San Francisco 49ers
With an NFC title on its mantle and some excellent drafting in recent years, San Francisco’s current roster might have the fewest holes of any NFL team. A lack of depth at wide receiver was addressed with a trade for Anquan Boldin, and A.J. Jenkins (2012 stats: one target, one drop) should play a bigger role in the offense this year. At safety, the 49ers passed on paying big money to Dashon Goldson, but poached Dahl from the Rams and are still reportedly courting Charles Woodson.
Trent Baalke is not about to rest on his laurels, however, and he’ll likely use the draft to find a nose tackle replacement for the departed Isaac Sopoaga and Ricky Jean-Francois, who filled that role on 432 of the 513 snaps where the 49ers used an NT in 2012. San Francisco recently signed former top pick Glenn Dorsey, but he already showed in Kansas City that he works best as a run-stopping 3-4 defensive end. Since the Chiefs moved him permanently to that spot in 2011, he’s only played eight snaps at nose tackle. Ian Williams has only played two snaps at nose tackle in his two NFL seasons as a sparingly-used backup, and Ray McDonald, though capable of sliding inside, fits better near the edge as a defensive end. Although the 49ers used a nose tackle on fewer than less their defensive snaps in 2012, they would be wise to add some depth there in this draft.
Early Round Option: Jesse Williams, Alabama
The 49ers may have to move up to grab Williams, but with 13 picks in the draft, they have the flexibility to nab their targets. Williams has experience playing both nose tackle and 5-technique at Alabama and he’d add a nice piece to the embarrassment of riches up front in San Francisco.
Mid/Late Round Option: William Campbell, Michigan
Campbell was a highly decorated recruit who failed to make a major impact during his time at Michigan. He’s worth the risk in the late rounds as a developmental prospect.
It’s amazing how much brighter your roster looks when your franchise quarterback is costing you less than a million dollars per year. The Seahawks took the money they’re saving on Russell Wilson’s contract and used it to acquire the league’s most versatile wide receiver, the two best edge defenders in free agency, and the highest-graded cornerback of the 2012 season. While John Schneider can sit back and watch Percy Harvin YouTube highlights on Thursday night, he’ll probably spend much of it carefully monitoring the deep group of offensive tackles available.
The right bookend of the Seahawks’ offensive line has been a revolving door over the past four seasons, as Ray Willis, Sean Locklear, James Carpenter, and now Breno Giacomini have all shifted into that role. Giacomini’s -11.6 overall grade in 2012 ranked 26 out of 31 tackles who played more than 10 games on the right side. The 12 penalties he committed were third-most of any offensive tackle, and his 93.0 Pass Blocking Efficiency was among the worst marks at his position. Optimistic Seahawks supporters may point out that he earned +6.7 grade in Seattle’s two playoff games, but that would ignore his wildly inconsistent history: in seven starts to finish the previous season, he had three with a grade better than +1.0 and four with a grade worse than -1.0. With Giacomini entering the final year of his contract, it makes sense for the Schneider to add his eventual (or better yet, immediate) replacement now.
Early Round Option: Menelik Watson, Florida State
Given the similarities in scheme and needs, the right tackle options are identical to the Redskins potential targets. Seattle can get Watson somewhere early in the second round, but would have to maneuver up from No. 56 to do so.
Mid/Late Round Option: Jordan Mills, Louisiana Tech
Mills could be a common mid-round target for the Seahawks as well as the Redskins and Texans. All three teams have a need at right tackle and they all run a zone-blocking scheme that fits Mills’ skill set.
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