Best of the West: Top 10 NFC West Players
The NFC West has been maligned as the weakest division in the NFL.
While there is some evidence to support this claim, it is noteworthy that the West has represented the NFC in four of the last 11 Super Bowls.
So who are the true stars of the West? Let's set some groundrules here.
First, rookies need not apply. Sam Bradford, Mike Iupati, Russell Okung and others will have to wait at least a year before they will be eligible for this list.
Second, there were a few close calls so here are my honorable mentions: Beanie Wells, Michael Crabtree, Adrian Wilson, O.J. Atogwe, Lofa Tatupu, John Carlson, Matt Hasselbeck, and Chris Long... close, but no cigar.
With that, here's my list:
No. Ten: Max Unger
The Seahawks' success in the late 2000s was based, to a large extent, on great offensive line play.
Steve Hutchinson and Walter Jones are gone, but the Hawks may have (along with rookie Russell Okung) a new anchor to for the future.
Unger can play both center and guard, and made the transition from college to the NFL as smoothly as any player in recent memory. His future in the Pacific Northwest looks bright.
No. Nine: James Laurinaitis
James Laurnaitis is somewhat of a throwback.
He doesn't run a 4.50 40-yard dash, and isn't doesn't have the demeanor of a Ray Lewis.
What he brings to the table is a keen understanding of the game and the ability to "quarterback the defense." In many ways, he's a larger version of a player like Zach Thomas or London Fletcher.
From Day 1 with the Rams, he was in control. He led the team in tackles and proved that he can play all three downs.
The Rams defense is in good hands.
No. Eight: Jason Brown
The No. 8 player on the list would likely rank first on the list of the division's most underrated players.
Brown is an elite center in the NFL, but does not get noticed playing in St. Louis. What people should notice, is that when he's been in the lineup, Steven Jackson has had holes to run through.
The Rams have toyed with moving him to guard during the preseason. Bad idea. Brown needs to be the anchor of the Rams young offensive line, and the man with the primary responsibility for clearing Sam Bradford's passing lanes.
No. Seven: Darnell Dockett
The NFC West does not have a lot of dominant defensive players, particularly on the defensive line.
Dockett is an exception.
He is a true disruptor who fits well either as a UT in a 4-3 set or a DE in a 3-4. He is the key to the success of the Cardinals defense, as he can open things up for up and coming Calais Campbell and provide a consistent pass rush himself.
The Cardinals were smart to hold on to this guy.
No. Six: Frank Gore
When lists of the best running backs in football are made, Frank Gore is often somewhat of an afterthought.
He shouldn't be.
Playing on an offense with a minimal passing threat, Gore has maintained steady production for the past four years, topping 1,000 yards each year. With the addition of a run blocker like Mike Iupati, and an improved passing game, 2010 could be a great year for Gore.
Not bad for a guy who blew out his knee twice in college.
No. Five: Dominique Rogers-Cromartie
In his first two years, DRC has contributed 92 tackles,10 interceptions and three forced fumbles.
He is a fearless defender with a unique size/speed ratio.
Within the next two to three years, he will probably be regarded as one of the top five defensive backs in football.
He'll also be on many lists of the top "small school" success stories in the NFL.
No. Four: Vernon Davis
Davis came into the league as a physical specimen. Some wondered if he would go down as a classic "workout warrior" who would never look as good in pads has he does running around in shorts and a t-shirt.
In his first three years, it appeared that those concerns might be well founded.
Then, in 2009, Davis exploded: 78 receptions, 965 yards, and 13 TDs.
Now, the question is, will Davis be the best TE in football? He certainly is the best in the West.
No. Three: Patrick Willis
If you wanted to build the perfect linebacker, you could do worse than simply cloning Patrick Willis.
Big, fast, tough and smart. He has all the ingredients necessary for success, and it shows on the field.
Right now, I'd have to say that Willis is the top linebacker in football, and one of the top 5-10 defensive players overall.
No. Two: Steven Jackson
If you were to bring a person who had never heard of the NFL to a Rams practice and, while the team was stretching, asked that person who he thought was the best player on the team, he would have no trouble guessing that it was Steven Jackson.
Jackson is a freak of nature. He's 6'3, 244 and runs a 4.45 40-yard dash. He is 95 percent muscle, 5 percent dreadlocks.
It shows on the field. While the Rams have been floundering, Jackson just keeps bringing it.
Hopefully, his body will hold up long enough for him to enjoy some success with the team.
No. One: Larry Fitzgerald
Down by four points...
Two minutes left on the clock...
Which receiver would you most want to have on your team?
Can there be any question that its Larry Fitzgerald.
He's the complete package. Unique physical talent. A student of the game. Great teammate. Productive in regular season. Even more productive in postseason.
This is how Hall of Famers are made.
Larry Fitzgerald is the best of the West.