Four Downs: NFC West
by Bryan Knowles
Biggest Post-Draft Weakness: Quarterback of the Future
It was perhaps a blessing in disguise that three teams traded up ahead of Arizona to pick first-round quarterbacks. The run on players in a mediocre quarterback class allowed the Cardinals to replace some of the 5,000-plus defensive snaps they lost in free agency instead -- losses that included Kevin Minter, Tony Jefferson, D.J. Swearinger, Calais Campbell, Marcus Cooper, and Alex Okafor -- with players like Haason Reddick and Budda Baker. Those two draftees fit Arizona's mold of versatile defenders who can be moved around as the situation warrants.
Unfortunately, that means the Cardinals enter 2017 with no significant replacement plan for Carson Palmer. Palmer will turn 38 in December and is coming off a below-average season, finishing 21st in DYAR. Behind him are the 33-year-old Drew Stanton and practice squad vet Zac Dysert, neither of whom constitute a long-term plan. The list of quarterbacks who have performed at a high level past their 38th birthday is very short, and Palmer is unlikely to buck that trend. It's obviously not a pressing need for 2017, but the sooner the Cardinals plan for life after Palmer, the better off they will be.
Notable undrafted free agents: Receiver Krishawn Hogan overwhelmed his competition at Marian, an NAIA school. He scored 56 touchdowns over the last two years, and was the Mideast League's offensive player of the year. The jump to NFL competition will be a culture shock, but he has ideal size and good athleticism. The Cardinals also added Ricky Seals-Jones, a receiver transitioning to tight end. If he can add weight and power to offset his lack of speed, he could be a useful player when the injury bug inevitably hits the Cardinals' tight end corps. Sojourn Shelton is an athletic defensive back with very solid cover skills, with 12 passes defended and four interceptions last year at Wisconsin. His lack of size and special teams value pushed him out of the draft, but he could play in the dime package this season. Ironhead Gallon (Georgia Southern) fits the same linebacker/safety mold the Cardinals have in Deone Bucannon, and could find a spot on the practice squad as insurance at that hybrid position – plus, his name is Ironhead, which has to be worth something.
Los Angeles Rams
Biggest Post-Draft Weakness: Offensive Line
Down a first- and third-round pick due to the Jared Goff trade from last season, the Rams did what they could to provide Goff with some tools. Three of their first four picks went towards building a receiving corps, but that leaves the protection up front in question. The Rams allowed the second-most sacks last season while finishing 29th in both adjusted line yards and adjusted sack rate. It's hard to develop as a quarterback when you have no time in the pocket.
The Rams added to the position in free agency, with Andrew Whitworth and John Sullivan coming on board, but the rest of the line is a series of question marks. Greg Robinson has been hugely disappointing as 2014's second-overall pick; he is being shunted to right tackle. That moves previous right tackle Rob Havenstein, who had 22 blown blocks in 2016, in to right guard. Left guard Rodger Saffold had 24 blown blocks himself per Sports Info Solutions, though it was a marked improvement over his 2015 campaign. The Rams hope the deck chair shuffling will provide something positive in 2017.
Notable undrafted free agents: Colorado State linebacker Kevin Davis shined on special teams in college, and had consecutive 100-plus-tackle seasons as starter. He's probably too small to be an NFL inside linebacker, and lacks the speed to move to the outside, but could be a useful situational player in Wade Phillips' defense. USC running back Justin Davis might make the 53-man roster, considering the lack of depth the Rams have behind Todd Gurley and Lance Dunbar. Missouri cornerback Aarion Penton could find some snaps, too, with Lamarcus Joyner reportedly moving to safety. Both Jake Eldrenkamp (Washington) and Anthony McMeans (New Mexico State) will get a look at center, according to general manager Les Snead.
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San Francisco 49ers
Biggest Post-Draft Weakness: Right Tackle
The 49ers finished last in adjusted line yards and 30th in adjusted sack rate last season, so it's safe to say the offensive line could stand an overhaul. They added Jeremy Zuttah in a pre-draft trade, but the projected starting lineup still includes three players with at least 21 blown blocks, per Sports Info Solutions: Trenton Brown at right tackle, Joshua Garnett at right guard, and Zane Beadles at left guard.
Of the three, Brown is the most concerning. Brown was an utter liability at right tackle a season ago, and the 49ers have never truly replaced the retired Anthony Davis. Ex-Seahawk Garry Gilliam will compete for the job, but even lineman-strapped Seattle wanted no part of Gilliam in 2017. The 49ers are going through a multi-year rebuilding process, and had too many holes to fill in one draft. None of their ten draft choices were used on the offensive line; they'll have to limp through 2017 before they undergo a major overhaul.
Notable undrafted free agents: With a bare roster, the 49ers' UDFA class could actually end up playing a significant role in 2017. Louisville tight end Cole Hikutini was targeted as a move tight end; he led Louisville in receptions last season. San Francisco also added receiver Victor Bolden (Oregon State) to bolster a weak receiving corps. On defense, St. Francis safety Lorenzo Jerome had six interceptions last season and two each in the Senior Bowl and NFLPA all-star game, and is an accomplished kick returner as well. With the 49ers passing on safety in the draft, Jerome could find his way onto the field this season. West Virginia edge rusher Noble Nwachukumu is an explosive talent with size limitations.
San Francisco's strangest UDFA move, though, was the catch-and-release of wide receiver K.D. Cannon. After gaining more than 3,000 yards receiving in three seasons at Baylor, Cannon skipped his senior season to enter the NFL draft. And he had some legit credentials -- his 86.4% Playmaker Rating showed he had tantalizing gifts -- but his tendency to drop passes knocked him out of the draft. The 49ers were quick to scoop him up, and guaranteed him $45,000, making him one of the highest-paid UDFAs this year. And then, following weekend minicamp, they cut him. In the big picture, $45,000 in cap space is not significant. But still, something drastic must have happened after two days of running in shorts for the 49ers to change their minds so quickly.
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Biggest Post-Draft Weakness: Offensive Line
Going into the draft, needs 1 and 1A in Seattle were offensive tackles, and then they could start improving at guard. The Seahawks added Ethan Pocic in the second round and Justin Senior in the sixth, so they didn't ignore the offensive line entirely. However, Pocic's most logical fit in the NFL is at center, where the Seahawks already have Justin Britt. The Seahawks announced Pocic as a tackle at the draft, but all but one of his college games came in the interior. It remains to be seen just how he'll fit on this line.
This is an offensive line that has allowed 40 or more sacks in each of the last four seasons, so if this need feels like déjà vu, there's a reason for that. The Seahawks, from a very basic philosophical level, refuse to invest in the offensive line position. They have ranked in the bottom three in cap spending on linemen in both 2015 and 2016. Time after time after time after time after time, the lack of talent on the offensive line gets ignored, and the Seahawks still manage to be successful. Imagine how good this team would be if Russell Wilson didn't have to run for his life every other snap.
Notable undrafted free agents: Purdue offensive lineman Jordan Roos benched 41 times at his Pro Day, which dwarfed the numbers of anyone actually invited to the combine, so he has strength for days. He needs technique work and to learn to finish his blocks, but that can be taught; you can't teach strength. West Virginia quarterback Skyler Howard has a good chance to make the roster, as the Seahawks only have two quarterbacks under contract. Howard is mobile and the Seahawks have praised his big arm, though his downfield accuracy leaves something to be desired. Tyrone Swoopes is moving from quarterback to tight end in the pros; he was already used as a short-yardage specialist in goal-line situations at Texas. USC receiver Darreus Rogers was rated by Playmaker Score -- specifically, he had a 0.0% rating. Seattle hopes that his size and ball skills can be developed in the pros.
(Portions of this article originally appeared on ESPN Insider.)
20 comments, Last at 05 Jun 2017, 7:37am
#1 by justanothersteve // May 18, 2017 - 3:06pm
San Francisco 49ers Biggest Post-Draft Weakness: Right Tackle. Seriously? How is this not QB? The most important position on the team will be manned by Brain Hoyer, backed by Matt Barkley and rookie CJ Beathard. Beathard may have been drafted at the end of round 3, but he wasn't even considered a good enough prospect to be in this year's QBASE projection which only included prospects with a decent chance to be drafted in the first three rounds. I can only assume the rationale was they made the team bad enough they'll likely be able to secure one of next year's hot prospects.
#3 by Bryan Knowles // May 18, 2017 - 3:18pm
The rationale is that they've put a plan in place for QB, and plugged the hole for this season. If the 49ers were trying to compete this season, then yeah, Hoyer's likely not going to be good enough to get the team anywhere. But it's pretty blatantly and clearly a stopgap going towards next season, when they can make a decision on one of four things:
A) Hoyer's unsustainable low turnover/high efficiency rate from 2016 turns out to be sustainable afterall, and he's the QB going forward.
B) Beathard is better than QBASE or the general scouts thought, and the team can go with him.
C) A free agent quarterback, possibly whose name rhymes with Smirk Dozens, comes over next offseason.
D) The 49ers pick highly in the 2018 draft and get someone like Sam Darnold or Josh Rosen to be their QB of the future.
Basically, the 49ers have a plan in place at the position and likely improved over last year's combination of Gabbert and Kaepernick. They don't have a similar plan in place on the offensive line, so rather than talk about the 49ers' QB situation for the Nth time, I decided to focus on something else.
Besides, if they had a functioning offensive line, maybe they wouldn't have had such a quarterback problem to begin with <_>
#5 by Vincent Verhei // May 18, 2017 - 3:24pm
In the last four seasons, Hoyer has ranked 7th, 20th, 26th, and 28th in DVOA, on terrible offenses in Chicago, Houston, and Cleveland. That 7th-place finish is a fluke, and his best-case scenario is "bad starter." But there are probably a half-dozen teams he could start for in 2017. In fact, between Hoyer and Barkley, the 49ers could have two quarterbacks better than anyone on the Jets.
Meanwhile, the two options at right tackle include one of the worst starters in the league, and another one of the worst starters in the league, a guy who played on one of football's worst offensive lines last year, and they still didn't think he was worth re-signing.
#6 by Raiderjoe // May 18, 2017 - 3:27pm
Corn Elder maybe full anem is Cornelius Elder. Food chance Corn nickname of Cornelius. ironhead likely a nickname. so decent chance both are nicknames. so no edge to either there (in general if comparing weird names edge would go to one over other if real name).
old corn wodul be rotten and have worms eating it. might even fall to ground and have raccoon chew pn it or deer urine near it.
Ironhead Gallon makes think fo some superhero made of iron or maybe a robot.
Corn Elder wins for making me think of rotting corn and woodland creatures peeing and eatign.
#7 by Raiderjoe // May 18, 2017 - 3:30pm
bnfc west unfirosm rasnkings (only currenty reguylar uniforms considerd- not throwbacks or color rush)
cardional;s with weird stuff in armpit area and on sides of jerseys like Falcs. Do not like this.
seahawks unfirosm just weiord. not horrible. just not good enough to beat out anyone else int his division
#8 by Bryan Knowles // May 18, 2017 - 3:43pm
I could do without the bright neon green on the Seahawks' jerseys, especially on their Color Rush alternates. I do like, however, the fact that most Seattle teams share a basic color scheme of green, blue and grey -- if the Mariners got with the program, that'd be great.
The 49ers uniforms were better when they had long sleeves, and those dang sleeve stripes actually were sleeve stripes and not vestigial design elements.
The Rams are in an awkward transition, as they can't change their jersey colors until 2019 due to Rules; if they go back to blue-and-white full time then (like they've done with the helmets), that'll look nice. I'll admit, I prefer the yellow-and-blue look; that's what I grew up with, so it has the nostalgia the blue-and-white doesn't have. The gold is right out, though.
The Cardinals uniforms always feel arena league to me, and I don't mean that as a complement.
#11 by Vincent Verhei // May 18, 2017 - 3:50pm
I disagree with almost all of this.
Seahawks uniforms are good overall, but a little busy with the green and grey stripes and piping. I do agree that a forest or kelly green would look better than the neon. Their best combo is the blue jersey-grey pants look, but they almost never wear that, I think only in hot road games where the home team wears white, like Carolina or San Diego (RIP).
49ers uniforms are OK, but much better since they ditched the black for the white pinstripes. I didn't really realize how ugly the black stripes were until they were gone. Their best look is still the throwbacks with the white pants they wore in the Steve Young Super Bowl year.
Rams' blue-and-white helmets are just gorgeous, and they'll be better this year with no gold on the pants. The NFL's stupid rules mean the jersey is going to clash a bit for a while, but I think I'll love the finished product.
And the Cardinals' road uniforms are my favorite uniforms in the league, full stop.
#19 by dryheat // May 19, 2017 - 11:01am
I dislike every uniform in this division. I thought the Largent-era Seahawks had a top-5 uniform. If any team should revert to older uniforms, I'd rather see Seattle do it than LA.
#20 by evilgenius // Jun 05, 2017 - 7:37am
It's interesting you list RT as the biggest weakness. I think depth at T is a big weakness. I think up the middle of the line there are big question marks - although they solved some with the trade for Zuttah. But RT isn't a position that registers. It's the only real position that we might have a future long term starter. Lynch recently said he was the most impressive guy in camp and Von Miller seems to think he's pretty good as well.
Not sure what film you guys are watching. Definitely not perfect, struggled at times getting good leverage given his size etc etc. But damn, there are other times he was blowing guys away.
Maybe his weight issues keep him down. Totally possible. But man he's talented.