2014 NFL Draft: Breaking Down the NFC West Post-Draft

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2014 NFL Draft: Breaking Down the NFC West Post-Draft
Jason DeCrow/Associated Press

The 2014 NFL draft was a huge success for all four NFC West teams.

The San Francisco 49ers added gobs of talent on both sides of the ball, the Seattle Seahawks awarded quarterback Russell Wilson with wide receiving talent, the Arizona Cardinals shored up the back end of their defense and the St. Louis Rams drafted the two best players at their respective positions (Greg Robinson and Aaron Donald).

It's evident the NFC West picked up right where it left off in 2013, yet one has to wonder if the Cardinals and Rams did enough to close the divisional gap on the Seahawks and 49ers.

In addition to breaking down the NFC West post-draft, let's take a look at where the 49ers, Seahawks, Cardinals and Rams' draft classes rank now that the draft has come to an end and is in the books.  

 

4. Arizona Cardinals

Despite finishing 10-6 in 2013 and loading up on key free agents in the offseason, the Cardinals didn't do enough after they made their third selection in this year's draft.

The John Brown pick was a bit baffling in the third round based on the fact he's a small-school product who has yet to prove himself against top-notch competition, and Logan Thomas was a boom-or-bust selection in the fourth round because of his awful mechanics. 

Sure, head coach Bruce Arians will look like a genius if he can fix Thomas' mechanics, but one shouldn't count on that happening. Thomas has arguably regressed since his sophomore season at Virginia Tech and may have already hit his ceiling as a quarterback.

Even though Brown appears to be a bit more polished than Thomas, there are questions that surround his game as well. Nolan Nawrocki of NFL.com says the 179-pound speedster will have to "overcome size and strength limitations."

If that's the case, why didn't Arizona draft a burner who possessed a more developed frame? When the Cardinals drafted Brown out of Pittsburg State with the 91st pick, wide receivers like Bruce Ellington of South Carolina, Martavis Bryant of Clemson and Kevin Norwood of Alabama were all on the board. 

Don't get me wrong, drafting Deone Bucannon and Troy Niklas filled immediate needs at the strong safety and tight end positions. But I felt the Cardinals took too many risks in the middle-to-late rounds.

Instead of drafting proven talent, they tried to hit a home run and snag players who had loads of potential. Teams like the 49ers and Seahawks are allowed to do that considering the depth of their rosters, but the Cardinals aren't quit there yet. 

 

3. Seattle Seahawks

No, the Seahawks didn't have the worst draft class in the NFC West, but it was pretty darn close. 

Besides the fact general manager John Schneider traded back a few times to garner extra picks in Rounds 2 and 4, Seattle left a ton of value on the board. By my conservative count, four of the nine players the Seahawks selected were overvalued and drafted too early.

I hate using the word overvalued because we don't know what Seattle's big board looked like. Yet in terms of prospect rankings from Bleacher Report's very own Matt Miller, wide receiver Paul Richardson, offensive tackle Justin Britt, defensive tackle Jimmy Staten and offensive tackle Garrett Scott were all drafted too early.

In Miller's final rankings before the draft, Richardson was the 89th-best player on his board, Britt was the 289th-best player and Staten and Scott weren't even given draftable grades. Obviously, Schneider knows more about player evaluation than we do, so all four players could end up being stars in the Pacific Northwest.

As far as Seattle's other five picks go, the Seahawks knocked them out of the park. Cassius Marsh, Norwood, Kevin Pierre-Louis, Eric Pinkins and Kiero Small all have the necessary skills to make an impact right away. 

Marsh should find his way into the defensive line rotation as the team's fourth defensive end. Norwood will do his best to take snaps away from Sidney Rice and Ricardo Lockette. Pierre-Louis is an athletic, blitzing linebacker who will back up Bruce Irvin on the weak side. Pinkins is set to move to cornerback, so he will most likely be the sixth corner on the roster. And Small has the size to beat Derrick Coleman out at fullback.

Outside of a few puzzling selections, Seattle's draft earned high marks in regard to talent and fit.

 

2. St. Louis Rams

The temptation of ranking the Rams' draft class No. 1 overall in the NFC West was there, yet I felt they ignored the quarterback and interior offensive line positions until it was too late. Yes, they drafted a quarterback and an interior offensive lineman, but neither of those two picks came until Rounds 6 and 7. 

If general manager Les Snead would have pulled the trigger on a quarterback in the fourth round and an interior offensive lineman in the sixth round, the Rams would have aced the draft.

As I mentioned above, Robinson and Donald were the two best players at their position, Lamarcus Joyner was No. 60 on Miller's big board and Tre Mason ran for 1,816 yards as a junior at Auburn. The Rams were looking for productive players who could make their presence felt right away, and that's what they got.

Robinson should be the team's starting left guard. Donald will be a situational pass-rusher at defensive tackle. Joyner will start in the slot and even play some safety in sub-package situations. And Mason will complement Zac Stacy as St. Louis' No. 2 running back. 

It's safe to say Snead nailed the draft through the first two days. Shoot, outside of the Gilbert and Demetrius Rhaney selections, he also found good value in Round 7 when he drafted Missouri defensive end Michael Sam. 

You can say what you want about Sam off the field, but there's no denying his performance on the field. He was named SEC Defensive Player of the Year in 2013 and notched 11.5 sacks as a senior. 

Without a doubt, 2014 is the year where the Rams get over the hump and amass their first winning season since 2003. 

 

1. San Francisco 49ers

Before you started reading this article, was there really any question as to which NFC West team had the best draft class in 2014? 

To put it simply, the 49ers cleaned house. Aside from the fact they drafted their free safety of the future, San Francisco drafted Frank Gore's eventual replacement (Carlos Hyde), Patrick Willis' successor (Chris Borland) and a defensive end that has the potential to be great (Aaron Lynch).

Let's not forget, the Niners also made it a point to draft good football players they didn't necessarily need (Marcus Martin and Brandon Thomas). According to Miller's big board, San Francisco drafted five top-100 players through the first four rounds. 

When you compare the 49ers' draft to the rest of the NFL, is there any one team that churned out a better class than San Francisco did? Some would say a majority of its Day 3 selections were uninspiring and that notion is probably true, yet you have to remember players drafted in Rounds 6 and 7 are going to have a hard time making the Niners' 53-man roster.

Moreover, a lot of the players who were taken on Day 3 are injured players who will be stashed on injured reserve in 2014. That's one advantage of having so many late-round picks. You can take a chance on a player who you won't need to count on to contribute in Year 1.

Even though it is smart to wait and grade draft classes after three years, one could easily make the case that the 49ers' 2014 draft class is general manager Trent Baalke's best draft class to date. 

 

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