With the 2010 NFL Draft a little more than six weeks away, the combine in the books, and free agency filling some needs here and there, the questions facing each team become much clearer.
The NFC West happens to be home to some of the most intriguing Draft questions of the year.
The St. Louis Rams own the No. 1 overall selection; both the Seattle Seahawks and San Francisco 49ers have two first round picks, and the reigning division champion Arizona Cardinals were recently gutted from the inside out through retirement and free agency.
What will these teams do? Who is going to replace whom? What team is on top? Here are the top 10 questions facing the NFC West as we head into the draft.
10. Who will the 49ers look at to get younger in the secondary?
Although the Niners have taken some younger talent in recent drafts, the secondary could still stand for an upgrade.
Shawntae Spencer will be good for the next few years, but they could definitely look for the eventual replacement of 30-year-old Nate Clements.
Dashon Goldson seems to have taken over at free safety, but strong safety Michael Lewis is serviceable at best. This is where the Niners can grab some talent early in the draft.
Earl Thomas of Texas makes the most sense for San Francisco in the first round. Second and third round prospects such as Chad Jones of LSU and Reshad Jones of Georgia would also fit, and the Niners could even take a chance on Taylor Mays of USC.
Another interesting prospect is Joe Haden of Florida. No cornerback has been taken in the top 10 since 2005, and Haden’s slow 40 time at the combine could bode well for the Niners. If he were available, he would be a great pickup for them at No. 13.
9. What will the Cardinals offense look like without Kurt Warner?
Kurt Warner’s departure leaves the Cardinals in a bit of a bind. They drafted Matt Leinart out of USC and have given him a few chances at being the starting quarterback before Warner took a firm grasp and brought the Cardinals within a few seconds of Super Bowl title. So there is no telling what they will get from Leinart.
On Opening day though, Leinart will almost assuredly be the starter.
The Cards have set themselves up decently and plan to move towards a more run-oriented offense in the coming season. Last year’s addition of Beanie Wells proved to be even more impactful now.
Along with Tim Hightower, the Cardinals can look towards the ground game early and go to the air when the time is right.
Even with the retirement of a potential Hall of Famer and trading Pro Bowl receiver Anquan Boldin, the Cardinals already have the pieces for their new look offense.
In fact, heading into the draft it is unlikely they will need to address the offense at all, other than offensive line depth in the later rounds.
8. When will the Seahawks look to add a quarterback for the future?
The Seahawks have a difficult decision to make at quarterback. Matt Hasslebeck can still be a good, but now may be the time to look towards the future.
With two first round selections, sixth and 14th overall, the Seahawks will also be looking to add value early in the draft.
Unfortunately, the Seahawks have so many needs that it will be tough to justify the selection of a quarterback in the first round despite the fact they have not selected one that high since 1993.
A defensive secondary that could get bigger, an offensive tackle to protect the future of the franchise (whoever it may be), a raw pass rusher, or an offensive playmaker could all take precedence over the QB position.
The quarterback rankings are varied, but you have to believe the Seahawks will think long and hard (as they did last year) about Sam Bradford of Oklahoma or Jimmy Clausen of Notre Dame if they are still on the board at either of their picks.
7. Will the 49ers finally address their right tackle position?
The Niners are set at left tackle with Joe Staley; they have a center in Eric Heitmann, and they also have improving guards. Now is the time to find a long-term fixture on the right side.
The Niners want to get back to their run game this year. Feature back Frank Gore, with Glen Coffee as a compliment, pound the ball, which allows the QB to utilize the play-action pass. Adding a sure fire right tackle is the way to go.
With only three picks in between their two first round selections (13th and 17th overall), the Niners can get some great value early in the draft.
The tackle position may get picked through early though.
The top four tackles in the draft—Oklahoma State tackle Russell Okung, Anthony Davis of Rutgers, Bryan Bulaga of Iowa and Trent Williams of Oklahoma—may all be gone by the time the Niners get a chance to pick.
If one of these four is available at No. 13 it should be a no brainer for the Niners.
If they get washed out, the best available tackle will most likely be Combine superhero Bruce Campbell of Maryland. That may force the Niners to wait and pick up a tackle later than they want.
Either way, finding a long-term answer at right tackle has to be the top priority in San Francisco.
6. Will the Rams target a playmaking wide receiver?
You do not earn the No. 1 overall pick without having a ton of needs, and the Rams are no exception.
Along with a laundry list of other positions to be filled, adding a legitimate weapon on the outside for whoever is playing quarterback is as big a need as any.
The Rams notable receivers late last season were Donnie Avery, a speedy former second round pick that is not a traditional starter, Danny Amendola, an undrafted free agent with one career touchdown, and Brandon Gibson, a former sixth round pick with 34 career receptions. Needless to say, the Rams could use a new weapon.
A wide receiver will not go No. 1, so the Rams will have to look at some of the more intriguing prospects later in the draft.
Second round possibilities at No. 33 overall could be Arrelious Benn of Illinois, Demaryius Thomas of Georgia Tech, Damian Williams of USC and Brandon LaFell of LSU.
Moving down, third and fourth round prospects include Dezmon Briscoe of Kansas, Jordan Shipley of Texas, Mike Williams of Syracuse, Eric Decker of Minnesota, Taylor Price of Ohio and Mardy Gilyard of Cincinnati.
Depending on what the Rams do at No. 1, the second round holds the most value for a playmaking WR, but the Rams can find one they may like later on as well. No matter what, the receiver position must be addressed for whoever is under center in St. Louis.
5. Will Pete Carroll look for familiar faces early in the draft?
The former USC coach has 14 former players in this draft; six of them being premier prospects at positions of need.
Safety Taylor Mays, defensive end Everson Griffen, offensive tackle Charles Brown, tight end Anthony McCoy, wide receiver Damian Williams and running back Joe McKnight are all within the top 80 prospects in this draft.
The Seahawks have two first round selections, an early second and fourth round pick, but no third round pick.
With this being Carroll’s first draft in some time, it will be interesting to see if he turns to his own talent in crunch time. The Seahawks need offensive playmakers, an offensive tackle, could use a pass rusher and need to get bigger in the secondary as well.
All these needs seem to fit the bill of the six aforementioned players.
Taylor Mays, Everson Griffen and Joe McKnight really provide some intrigue towards what the Seahawks need and where they fall in the draft. Definitely need to keep an eye on what direction Carroll decides to go in.
4. How will the Cardinals replace the vacant spots at each level of their defense?
The Cardinals lost DE/OLB Bertrand Berry to retirement, saw ILB Karlos Dansby get whisked away to Miami, and after standing toe-to-toe with the New York Giants’ offer, free safety Antrel Rolle decided to wear blue instead of red.
Starting DE/OLB Chike Okeafor happens to be 34-years-old, so the Cardinals really need some youth at the pass rusher positions immediately.
Dansby is a huge loss that will have to be addressed. The somewhat unexpected departure of Rolle left the secondary with a big hole, but they traded for Jets safety Kerry Rhodes to fill that.
With late picks in each round, the Cardinals will have to depend on their scouting department to help find some potential starters later in the draft.
Another position that could stand an upgrade is cornerback. The Cardinals could pull the trigger on a high value corner late in the first round to play opposite Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie.
Cornerbacks Devin McCourty of Rutgers, Kyle Wilson of Boise State, Perrish Cox of Oklahoma State and Patrick Robinson of FSU all fit the late first round CB bill.
DE/OLB prospects include Brandon Graham of Michigan, Ricky Sapp of Clemson, Jerry Hughes of TCU and Thaddeus Gibson of Ohio State.
Two smaller but rising ILB prospects that might fill the void for the Cardinals in second round are Jamar Chaney of Mississippi State and Donald Butler of Washington. Chaney is extremely fast, and Butler is very strong for his size.
Any way the Cardinals go, they have a lot of defensive needs to address early on. Fortunately, they have the offensive talent to spend the majority of their picks on defense, and I expect them to do just that.
3. Who is going to score touchdowns for the Seahawks?
Offensive playmakers are hard to find on the Seahawks’ offense, especially at the running back position, where only four teams scored less touchdowns on the ground.
Running back Justin Forsett will see a lot more action this season and could provide the Seahawks with some spark. But if they have the opportunity to add a proven playmaker in the draft it will be extremely hard to pass up.
The wide receiver position is not faring much better at getting in the end zone either.
Of the 20 receiving touchdowns in Seattle last season, only eight came from receivers.
The Seahawks continue to be linked to Brandon Marshall, so it is no secret they think they need a playmaker as well.
With two first round picks and a plethora of needs to fill, one of the two first round choices will be on an offensive weapon, if not a quarterback.
C.J. Spiller of Clemson is the top running back in the class and fits exactly what the Seahawks need, a game-breaking back. Other options later in the draft include Jahvid Best of California, Dexter McCluster of Mississippi and Joe McKnight of USC.
McKnight is an extremely intriguing possibility considering his play style and connection with Coach Carroll.
The Seahawks could look to add a receiver in the draft, but I do not think that weighs nearly as high as the running back position.
Possible second round receivers include Arrelious Benn of Illinois, Demaryius Thomas of Georgia Tech, Brandon LaFell of LSU and another USC prospect, Damian Williams.
The Seahawks need to score more touchdowns; it will be interesting to see which route they take to solve that problem.
2. Will the Rams address their need for a franchise quarterback?
The Rams need a quarterback, and every one knows it. The question is whether or not they solve it in free agency, this draft or wait for the next draft.
Assuming free agency does not solve their problem, and they go into the draft with the No. 1 overall pick and no quarterback, this is the year to make the move.
The amount of money a quarterback demands as the No. 1 overall pick is extremely high, but the difference between what a QB can do for a franchise and what an exceptional DT can do is simple: QBs win championships.
The best prospect in the draft is Nebraska defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh. The Rams, or any team for that matter, could use him.
Yet, the Rams have invested their past three first round picks on two defensive linemen (Adam Carriker in ’07 and Chris Long in ’08) and one offensive lineman (Jason Smith in 2009).
This will be the third straight year they draft in the top three overall, and still they have no quarterback.
Even if they take a quarterback in the second round like Colt McCoy of Texas, Dan LeFevour of Central Michigan or Tim Tebow of Florida, that still may not solve their problems, and they will be back at square one again next season.
The Rams need to take a page out of the Lions book and give this franchise some hope. That hope comes with a quarterback, and this year, it happens to be for the team with the first overall pick.
If you are looking for a more in depth analysis of the top pick, go here .
1. Is the NFC West up for grabs heading into the draft?
The NFC West has some serious questions but is essentially a two-dog race.
The Seahawks have more potential than the Rams and could essentially compete sooner, but both teams are a few too many question marks away.
The 49ers and Cardinals stand on similar ground though.
The reigning division champion Cardinals are coming down, whereas the Niners are coming up. The real question is whether or not the Cardinals can recover fast enough to stay on top.
Both teams will sport young, inexperienced QBs heading into this season, with a heavy emphasis on the run game.
Defensively though, the Cardinals will be looking to replace lost talent, whereas the Niners are trying to get better.
Both teams have potential but will need to make themselves better through this draft to put it all together. The division title will come down to which quarterback develops faster and gives his team a better chance for a balanced offense down the stretch.
With San Francisco having two first round selections and the Cardinals picking so late in each round, I would give the nod to the Niners as the draft approaches.
We won't know for sure until the Draft though. Each week we'll breakdown another division so stay tuned.