So if I see the SEA HAWKS as being good for at least one more year atop the Division is anyone closing the gap? Can any other NFC West teams battle their way into the play-offs as a Wild Card? Yes, I believe so and the name of that organization is the CARDINALS.
Since the leadership triumvirate of MICHAEL BIDWELL/President, STEVE KEIM/GM & BRUCE ARIANS/HC have taken over running this organization almost everything has been on a constant march to excellence. Even with the loss of DC TODD BOWLES, to the JETS as head Coach the expectation is pretty solid that the D will not collapse without him. Clearly, the team needs CARSON PALMER/QB back at full strength from his ACL injury. That should be the case but let’s not overlook the fact that he is now 35-years old. Unless ARIANS can work wonders with LOGAN THOMAS long term the real replacement for PALMER is not in that locker room.
The team lost some serious talent this past off-season including ANTONIO CROMARTIE/CB, JOHN CARLSON/TE, TED GINN/RS/WR, SAM ACHO/LB, DAN WILLIAMS/DT and others. But they did a nice job of bringing in talent to retool, including a strong looking group of Rookies again. In fact the DRAFT has become much more of an effective building tool under KEIM in recent years.
I think a big key to this draft class will be how quickly RB/DAVID JOHNSON adjusts to NFL competition. Last year the CARDS displayed a talented, but smallish RB corps in ANDRE ELLINGTON, STEPFAN TAYLOR & KERWYNN WILLIAMS. But they had no big guy to run between the tackles in short yardage. The 225 lb. JOHNSON should be bale to help there, and he proved in college that he is an excellent receiving target out of the backfield. With CARLSON and ROB HOUSLER gone the TE group needed bolstering. How about the signing of JERMAINE GRESHAM who blocks and catches as well as R/GERALD CHRISTIAN, who may one of the most talented Mr. Irrelevants ever?! Other than LARRY FITZGERALD their WR corps is young and talented. MICHAEL FLOYD is evolving into a go-to guy and JOHN BROWN was a major threat as a Rookie with his long ball catches and return work. The team has added R/JJ NELSON/WR/RS. who may be slight of build but was the fastest player at the 2015 Combine. Watch for URFA/JAXON SHIPLEY to make the roster with his tight pattern running and sure hands. The OL continues to be a work in progress, but has made great strides in recent years because of talent upgrades. Ist Round Rookie D.J. HUMPHRIES/OT may not earn a starting job immediately, but once he does he’ll be entrenched for a decade. MIKE IUPATI/G/VFA is another serious upgrade.
The defensive unit has seen the most personnel upheaval in addition to the loss of BOWLES. But it still looks like at least a break-even transition. CODY REDDING/DE and COREY PETERS/DT come on board to replace DOCKETT & WILLIAMS. SEAN WEATHERSPOON/ILB/VFA will replace LARRY FOOTE, with R/MARKUS GOLDEN being the newest edge-rusher to join the blitz brigade, not to mention vet LAMARR WOODLEY/VFA. A big surprise might be DE/RODNEY GUNTER/R from small school Delaware State who looks a bit like a CALAIS CAMPBELL clone. Another smaller school guy who impressed me during Shrine action last January is URFA/ZAVIER WILLIAMS who could be their NT of the future IMO. The team looks to be solid in the secondary, albeit a bit thin on the Corner. A huge boost for the team would be if suspended ILB/TED WASHINGTON were to be reinstated. Overall, if key vets stay healthy this team should be in the hunt for a Wild Card spot again.
The RAMS have moved on from QB/SAM BRADFORD, and will look more like the kind of teams HC/JEFF FISHER used to put out on the field during his tenure with the TITANS. NICK FOLES/QB/Trade will head a team that looks like it will be more physical and run-oriented than most in today’s NFL. The fascination with quick, smurf wideouts like TAVON AUSTN could be a thing of the past. Guys like BRIAN QUICK, KENNY BRITT, DAMIAN WILLIAMS/VFA and BUD SASSER/R are all over 6′ tall and 200 lbs. Most of their TE group weight 250 lbs or more. All the better to pound you with, my dear! TODD GURLEY/RB/R was the 10th player drafted and is 220+ pounder with speed ala ex-RAM, STEVEN JACKSON. 2nd year man TRE MASON may be short (5’8) but he weighs almost 210 lbs. FISHER and GM/LES SNEAD, drafted 4 OL in their 9 selections. ROB HAVENSTEIN/T weighs 321, JARON BROWN/T/G weighs 323, ANDREW DONNAL/T weighs 313 & CODY WICHMANN/G tips 315. You can see the pattern here? My only concern is that most of these guys were drafted 1-2 Rounds early for my taste. OL Coach/PAUL BOUDREAU is going to have a lot of teaching to do in Camp.
The D will continue to be young and aggressive in pursuit of both the ball and the QB. Adding DT/NICK FAIRLEY/VFA on a 1-year contract could be a big boon to interior DL work. He and URFA/LOUIS TRINCE-PASAT/DT could be a solid boost to DT depth, where the team is loaded outside, but had little chance to rest starting DT DONALD & BROCKERS. A healthy CHRIS LONG should also be a big boost for the defensive front. The LB unit should be bolstered by VFA/AKEEM AYERS/OLB and R/BRYCE HAGER/ILB. Added depth was needed in that unit. The secondary is young, deep and athletic. Secondary Coach CHUCK CECIL must continue to nurture his youngsters in that group.
If FOLES holds up at QB this team will be improved and cause opponents to spend long hours game planning. With SNEAD on board the trend is upward. 65 of 88 roster names are RAMS from Day 1 as pros. It should also be noted that after shedding a few older vets this off-season the RAMS roster only contains 3 players 30 or older.
Incredibly enough, considering the buzz just 3 years ago, the 49’ers are at the bottom of this pack and likely headed to a Top 10 Draft PIck in 2016. This off-season was a nightmare of quality players retiring. PATRICK WILLIS/ILB, CHRIS BORLAND/ILB, JUSTIN SMITH/DE ave all hung up their cleats. Even ANTHONY DAVIS/OT has decided at age 26 to take a year’s leave of absence to recharge his football batteries. Then some other key vets were allowed to walk away via VFA, including RB/FRANK GORE, MIKE IUPATI/OG, MICHAEL CRABTREE/WR, PERISH COX/CB & CHRIS CULLIVER/CB. Not only was JIM HARBAUGH allowed to head back to his Alma Mater, but several of his key assistants like DC/VIC FANGIO and OC/GREG ROMAN, also moved on to new organizations. Longtime DL Coach JIM TOMSULA was promoted to Head Coach. TOMSULA could prove a pleasant surprise if the team wins more than half of its games, or he can be a short term transition to a bigger name in 2016 if the team flounders. The cupboard is not bare here if the team can find a way to get QB/COLIN KAEPERNICK to step things up to another level. TORREY SMITH/WR/VFA and REGGIE BUSH/RB/VFA are the big additions on Offense. DARNELL DOCKETT/DE & SHAREECE WRIGHT/CB are the VFA add-ons on the D side of the ball. The team appears to have had another quality Draft, but 5 of the 10 draftees are underclassmen, and by and large look like they will need a bit of time and coaching to be ready to play big roles in the pro game. Their first 3 picks, ARIK ARMSTEAD/DE, JAQUISKI TARTT/SS & ELI HAROLD/OLB all fit that mold of probably not being Ready For Prime Time Players by September. The roster has a rather strange look to it in general and clearly GM TRENT BAALKE is rebuilding it in his own image of things. For instance how does one explain the drafting of TE/BLAKE BELL, the former college QB, when the roster is already 5 deep with NFL caliber TE. CEO JED YORK can only hope he’s placed his confidence in the best option here, or things will get worse before they get better by the Bay. This could end up being a 10-Loss team in 2015.