NFL Draft 2011: The Biggest Draft Needs for the NFC West
If there has been one consistency of the NFC West the past few seasons, it's been that the teams have been consistently bad. Not one division winner has had more than 10 wins in a season since the Seahawks in 2005.
There have been a number of changes for every team in management, coaching and player positions. The 2011 NFL Draft will be big for each team, as many things need to be addressed for them to become competitive.
Needs are plentiful for everyone, but we will look at the biggest three needs (in my opinion) for each team to address in the draft.
Ken Whisenhunt's job is on the line, and he knows it. The Cardinals have a number of spots on their roster that need help, and it's up to Whisenhunt and management to fill them with talent from the draft.
Quarterback: This one is pretty obvious. The Cardinals probably had the worst QB play in the league last year thanks to Derek Anderson, Max Hall and John Skelton. Skelton started late in the season and showed signs, but I don't see him as a starter in this league. A trade for Kevin Kolb has been rumored, but without a new CBA in place that will not happen. The only QB I see worth taking this high (fifth pick) in the draft is Blaine Gabbert out of Missouri. He still needs some work, but could be very good in a couple years.
Outside Linebacker: The pass rush from this spot last season was awful. Clark Haggans and Joey Porter are too old to get the job done in the 3-4 scheme, and youth is needed. There are two players worth taking at this spot. The first is Von Miller out of Texas A&M, who may be the best player in the draft, and next would be Robert Quinn out of North Carolina, who didn't play last season due to suspension.
Offensive Line: Both the guard and tackle spots need help. Part of the reason the QB play was so bad last season was due to the play of the line. They can't pass or run block, and it must be addressed. There is no guard worth taking here, but at the tackle spot Tyron Smith out of USC could be someone the Cardinals look at.
Best bet: Von Miller somehow falls into the Cardinals' lap.
Next best: The Cardinals take Gabbert if he's there or take best available player on the board in Patrick Peterson.
San Francisco 49ers
Jim Harbaugh takes over a Niners team that hasn't made the playoffs since 2002. Alex Smith has been a bust at QB, but Harbaugh seems to like him. We will have to wait and see how he addresses issues on both sides of the ball, as needs are immense.
Outside linebacker: It has been said that the Niners will stick with their 3-4 defense for next season despite the coaching change. If that's the case, then Robert Quinn out of North Carolina would be a good pick here, as he would step in and be able to rush the passer off the edge.
Wide Receiver: Michael Crabtree hasn't been terrible, but he hasn't done anything special since being picked early a few years ago. They lack a true playmaker on the outside. A.J. Green out of Georgia could be that spark. He has good size, good speed and the best set of hands in this draft. He could be exactly what (whoever the QB may be) needs.
Defensive Tackle: Cornerback is also a need, but a true man to clog the middle in the 3-4 scheme is needed. Either Marcell Dareus of Alabama or Nick Fairley of Auburn would be a good pick here to fill that role.
Best bet: Dareus is gone so Nick Fairley is the pick for the Niners with the seventh pick.
Next best: They take A.J. Green to have a true playmaker on the outside.
St. Louis Rams
The Rams found themselves with a chance to win the NFC West last year after winning only five games the previous three seasons. Sam Bradford was one of the big reasons. He played very well for a rookie last season, and can only get better. Despite the good year, this team still needs help at certain positions on both sides of the ball.
Wide Receiver: The Rams have been unlucky at this position the last two years as knee injuries have sidelined numerous players, including both Donnie Avery and Mark Clayton last year. Both those players are good receivers, but lack any real explosiveness as does their underneath man Danny Amendola. A.J. Green will probably be gone by the 14th pick. Julio Jones of Alabama might still be available and could help immediately with his physical style and strength on the outside.
Safety: It's not that the Rams safeties were terrible last year, but an upgrade to a young stud could help the defense improve. This safety draft class is rather weak compared to prior years. The only player worth taking here (or even in the first round) is Rahim Moore out of UCLA who is known as a ball hawk.
Outside Linebacker: The selection of James Laurinaitis has solidified the Rams middle linebacker position for years to come. He could use help next to him to really solidify the second shelf of the defense. The best fit for the Rams 4-3 scheme would be another UCLA Bruin in the extremely athletic Akeem Ayers.
Best bet: The Rams take Julio Jones to solidify WR spot.
Next Best: Although not listed above, Prince Amukamara (CB Nebraska) falls to the 14th spot and the Rams take him as the best available player.
In his first season back in the NFL, Pete Carroll took the Seahawks to the playoffs as the West division winners (all-be-it with a 7-9 record). This team has no star players, which forces them to play as a team, but hurts them as they don't have a player that can take over a game if necessary. Needs are evident on both sides of the ball.
Offensive Line: Almost every spot needs an upgrade (except wherever they put Russell Okung). Neither pass or run blocking were stellar last year, and another young talent to pair with Okung will help. The top two OT will be off the board, so Nate Solder of Colorado could be a good pick here. He is praised for his very good footwork. If they wanted to go inside Mike Pouncey out of Florida (can play G or C) would be a good pick.
Strong Safety: Unfortunately, this position needs help, but no player is worth taking in the top two rounds. Lawyer Milloy played well last season, but is getting older. This position should be addressed in the later rounds.
Quarterback: Another team in the NFC West who needs help at the QB spot. Matt Hasselbeck is getting older and has become less efficient over the years. His backup Charlie Whitehurst is an unknown, and when he has played, hasn't shown true brilliance. The hometown player, Jake Locker of Washington, could be an intriguing pick here.
Best bet: Take either Solder or Pouncey to help with the line play.
Next best: They end up taking Locker for the QB of the future.