One of the NFL’s premier divisions just four years ago, the NFC West (San Francisco 49ers, Arizona Cardinals, Los Angeles Rams, and Seattle Seahawks) is now a shell of its former self. Age and injuries have turned it from a smashmouth free-for-all into almost a cakewalk for the favorite, and the NFL Draft didn’t do much to close the gap.
Let’s breakdown the division’s top draft classes from 2018.
4. Seattle Seahawks
Round 1 pick 27 – Rashaad Penny, RB, San Diego State
Round 3 pick 79 – Rasheem Green, DE, USC
Round 4 pick 120 – Will Dissly, TE, Washington
Round 5 pick 141 – Shaquem Griffin, LB, UCF
Round 5 pick 146 – Tre Flowers, S, Oklahoma
Round 5 pick 149 – Michael Dickson, P, Texas
Round 5 pick 168 – Jamarco Jones, OT, Ohio State
Four years ago, the Seahawks were Super Bowl champions. Now, they are an antiquated and shallow team kept relevant only by the greatness of quarterback Russell Wilson. In spite of a fantastic season from the signal-caller, their porous offensive line, terrible running game, and their injured and aging defense dragged them down as they missed the playoffs at 9-7. Gone are leaders from the dominant teams of 2012-2015, such as Marshawn Lynch, Richard Sherman, and Kam Chancellor. Earl Thomas may be the next key player to go, and all of a sudden, Seattle looks extremely vulnerable.
Eddie Lacy, Thomas Rawls, C.J. Prosise, and others have been unable to replace Lynch’s production. Penny is much better than any of those players and should be a large upgrade. However, if the offensive line isn’t improved, it doesn’t matter who you have in the backfield. Players like Austin Corbett and Connor Williams were on the board when the Seahawks took Penny and would have made a huge impact on not only the running game, but keeping Wilson upright. Penny will be a good player, but Seattle once again neglected to address their offensive line early in the draft, which is one of the main reasons why they have lost their spot among the NFL’s elite.
Rasheem Green was a fantastic value in the third round with his versatility to play defensive end or defensive tackle. He is a great athlete with the fluidity and technique to be a disruptive pass rusher. He needs to add more strength, but Green has the potential to easily replace Michael Bennett as Seattle’s best pass rusher.
Shaquem Griffin is the brother of Shaquille Griffin, a Seahawks draft pick last year. The younger Griffin is an athletic marvel, running the 40 yard dash in 4.38 seconds at 6-foot and 227 pounds. He would have been at worst a second-round pick, if not for one thing; he is missing his left hand. He was still able to be a very good college player, and his locker room presence should be a positive addition to the team. At the very least, he should be a very good special teams player.
Jones was Ohio State’s starting left tackle for the past few seasons, and for good reason. He is a fantastic pass blocker, something that Seattle desperately needs. Jones won’t be able to unseat Duane Brown on the left side, but perhaps he will start at right tackle. In a few seasons, he should be able to carve out a spot protecting Wilson’s blindside.
Overall, the Seahawks’ draft was solid, but they made a huge mistake in the first round. Football is won in the trenches, and despite the addition of Brown last season, Seattle still has one of the worst offensive lines in the league. Instead of improving it, the Seahawks took a running back who will suffer from the poor front.
3. San Francisco 49ers
Round 1 pick 9 – Mike McGlinchey, OT, Notre Dame
Round 2 pick 44 – Dante Pettis, WR, Washington
Round 3 pick 70 – Fred Warner, LB, BYU
Round 3 pick 95 – Tarvarius Moore, FS, Mississippi State
Round 4 pick 128 – Kentavius Street, DE, North Carolina State
Round 5 pick 142 – D.J. Reed, CB, Kansas State
Round 6 pick 184 – Marcell Harris, CB, Florida
Round 7 pick 225 – Julian Taylor, DT, Temple
Round 7 pick 240 – Richie James, WR, Middle Tennessee State
San Francisco’s 2018 draft class should also include QB Jimmy Garoppolo, who they traded their second-round pick for. Garoppolo started five games last season, winning each one, and he was rewarded with a five-year $137 million contract. He is the Niners’ franchise QB, and if he plays like he did last year, the 49ers should be able to win at least eight or nine games.
If you want your franchise quarterback to play well, you have to protect him. San Francisco realized this and spent a top-10 pick on a new protector. Unfortunately, they chose the wrong class to draft a tackle high in. McGlinchey is not a bad player at all, but he isn’t good enough to warrant being the the ninth overall pick.
He has good size and athleticism, but he lacks the functional strength at this point to hold up in the NFL. He will start on the right side opposite of Joe Staley and should be solid there, but when players like Minkah Fitzpatrick, Tremaine Edmunds, and Derwin James were available, solid isn’t good enough.
In addition to good offensive lineman, a QB needs weapons to throw to. General manager John Lynch began to stock up the offense with playmakers when he took Pettis in the second round. Pettis will be better in the slot than he is on the outside, as his lack of physicality and elite speed will limit his effectiveness. However, his pristine route running and excellent hands will make him a reliable receiving option, even if he likely will never become elite.
Fred Warner is of the new breed of “moneybackers,” similar to Deone Bucannon, Mark Barron, and Jabrill Peppers. Warner can line up as an outside linebacker or fill in at strong safety. Today, NFL defenses must be versatile, and Warner will provide that versatility for San Francisco.
At 6-foot-2 and 190 pounds with a 4.32 40-yard dash, Moore has all the athletic traits to be a dominant deep safety. He could have a chance to start at free safety this season, but he could play some cornerback as well. His physical gifts will earn him playing time, as size and athleticism is important in the secondary.
Garoppolo is undefeated as a starter in the NFL. While that streak is likely to end this season, the 49ers are in a very good position for the future despite an underwhelming draft.
2. Los Angeles Rams
Round 3 pick 89 – Joseph Noteboom, OT, TCU
Round 4 pick 111 – Brian Allen, C, Michigan State
Round 4 pick 135 – John Franklin-Meyers, DE, Stephen F. Austin State
Round 5 pick 147 – Micah Kiser, LB, Virginia
Round 5 pick 160 – Obo Okoronkwo, EDGE, Oklahoma
Round 6 pick 176 – John Kelly, RB, Tennessee
Round 6 pick 192 – Jamil Demby, OG, Maine
Round 6 pick 195 – Sebastian Joseph-Day, DT, Rutgers
Round 6 pick 205 – Trevon Young, DE, Louisville
Round 7 pick 231 – Travin Howard, LB, TCU
Round 7 pick 244 – Justin Lawler, DE, SMU
The Rams sent their second-round pick to the Buffalo Bills for WR Sammy Watkins. Watkins had a strong season, but he left in free agency for the Kansas City Chiefs. In hindsight, one year of Watkins was not worth a second rounder. Los Angeles didn’t make the same mistake twice, however, trading their first-round selection to the New England Patriots for Brandin Cooks.
Cooks has yet to play a game for the Rams, but he signed a five-year $81 million contract with the team. A proven deep threat like Cooks is good value for a first-round pick at his age (24), and his contract means that he will be a part of the team’s playoff pushes for a long time.
Without their first two selections, LA was limited in what they could do. Players like Noteboom and Allen are pure depth pieces and they shouldn’t see the field this season unless there is an injury (knock on wood). The same can be said for nearly all of the draft picks, with the exception of Kiser and Okoronkwo. Kiser is a solid interior linebacker who will back up Mark Barron and could see some significant playing time as the season progresses.
Edge rusher is one of the Rams’ weaker positions, and Okoronkwo should help to provide more pressure. At Oklahoma, he was arguably the best defensive player on the field. While he may not start, he should be a significant part of LA’s rotation.
The Rams are the clear favorites to win the NFC West, which is something that hasn’t been said since the early 2000s. Behind Jared Goff, Todd Gurley, and a great defense, Los Angeles will be a force to be reckoned with for years to come.
1. Arizona Cardinals
Round 1 pick 10 – Josh Rosen, QB, UCLA
Round 2 pick 47 – Christian Kirk, WR, Texas A&M
Round 3 pick 97 – Mason Cole, C, Michigan
Round 4 pick 134 – Chase Edmonds, RB, Fordham
Round 6 pick 182 – Christian Campbell, CB, Penn State
Round 7 pick 254 – Corey Cunningham, OL, Cincinnati
With the retirement of starting quarterback Carson Palmer, it appeared as if the Cardinals may begin to rebuild. However, after the team signed Sam Bradford to replace Palmer, they should be able to compete for a playoff berth.
Even though Bradford is a very good player, he will turn 31 in November after playing in only two games last season. He is not the future and cannot be counted upon to start every game this year because of his injury history. Arizona still needed a franchise QB in the draft, and many expected Louisville’s Lamar Jackson to be the most likely candidate.
However, after the Cleveland Browns selected Baker Mayfield first overall, everything changed. Sam Darnold and Josh Allen were the next two signal-callers chosen, and with just one more top prospect on the board, the Cardinals traded a third and and fifth-rounder to the Oakland Raiders to move up five spots. With their new pick, they chose Josh Rosen from UCLA, the most pro-ready QB in the draft.
Rosen is a prototypical pocket passer; he has good size, a very good arm, and impeccable accuracy. He excels at ball placement, reads defenses well, and he uses his eyes to draw defenders away from intended targets. Rosen’s biggest weakness is his overaggressive decision-making, but that can be easily fixed with coaching. Bradford should be an effective starter for this year, but if he has to miss a game or two, there’s a chance Rosen takes the starting job for good.
Whether Bradford or Rosen is throwing the ball, they need weapons. Aside from the ageless Larry Fitzgerald, Arizona’s receiving group is barren. Texas A&M’s Kirk should help with that. He is a great possession receiver who runs excellent routes and is dangerous after the catch. He should immediately improve the offense, and his punt return ability only adds to his value.
Cole was an interesting pick. He never dominated in college, but he wasn’t the weak link on any of his lines. The Cardinals already have Mike Iupati, Justin Pugh, and A.Q. Shipley penciled in as starters at guard and center, so Cole will be a backup. In the third round, that’s not great value.
Aside from Rosen and Kirk, Arizona’s 2018 class was poor. However, simply getting Rosen makes their grade an A. The best quarterback in the draft fell to the Cardinals, and they are incredibly fortunate that things happened the way they did. Within five years, Rosen will a Pro-Bowl QB leading Arizona into the playoffs.
The NFC West won’t return to its glory of the 2012 and 2013 seasons right now, but it should be more competitive than it has over the past few seasons. However, the Rams will be at the top, not the Legion of Boom.