The NFC West is blessed by not having any truly QB needy teams. Even the one that gets the most QB scrutiny just happens to have one that led his team to the Super Bowl last season. So in essence, we have an entire division looking to upgrade around their QB, not replace him. Now for something completely different, as the boys used to say on Monty Python.
ARIZONA CARDINALS I am still trying to digest and understand the drafting style of tag-team KINGSBURY/KEIM. However, I will say it looks more in touch with today’s NFL way of roster building than the previous regime in the desert. I’m in total agreement with the selection of ISAIAH SIMMONS at Pick 8. For my money, he never should have lasted that long. He is the definition of an Impact Defender and Swiss Army Knife combined. List him as a LB if you will, but once he gets comfortable in the Cards base defensive scheme under DC VANCE JOSEPH, I expect to see him causing teams to play a modified version of ‘Where’s Waldo’. When was the last time you saw a defender in the NFL that stood 6’4/238, posted a 4.39/40-time, had 102 Tackles his final season in college, and also recorded 5 PBU’s and 3 INT’s? Let’s move on. The Cards didn’t have a Round 2 Pick, but you gotta admit that they might have struggled to draft someone in Round 2 better than the WR they added named DeANDRE HOPKINS. So, in Round 3 they added a potential starting OT to help protect QB KYLER MURRAY. Some folks had JOSH JONES/OT/Houston in late Round 1. I did not, but in Round 3 he’s a solid Pick, and he has a chance to win a starting OT slot as a Rookie. He is NOT a great athlete, but he started four seasons at Houston and showed that he can stand up to top level defenders with a solid week in Mobile. Their only other Pick on Offense was ENO BENJAMIN, in Round 7. ENO was an elite weapon for the Sun Devils, right across the Valley in Tempe. He’s not a power runner, nor does he have blazing speed (4.57/40), but he catches the ball well, and has some nice spin moves, ala a former NFL star named TOMLINSON. He should give the Cards a versatile group of RB’s. Other than All-Pro CHANDLER JONES, the Defense was rather mediocre up front. And I am being charitable here. So the team spent both of their 4th Round Picks on big, impact DT prospects. At Pick 114, they grabbed Utah giant LEKI FOTU, DT, 6’4/320. He looks even bigger than that when you roll the game footage. He has 10 5/8″ hands and 34 1/4″ arm length. He’s even faster than you might guess, posting a 5.16/40 at the Combine. He just overpowered people in college, and I would bet that he does the same as a pro. Then with Pick 131, they got LSU DL RASHARD LAWRENCE, who makes more plays than a stats sheet shows. I might also add that he flashes big play ability, often in the most crucial of times. Stir them into a pot with VFA addition JORDAN PHILLIPS and their front looks much more imposing now. With their 6th Round Pick, they selected EVAN WEAVER/LB/Cal. He’ll play primarily inside on running downs as his 4.76/40-time scares his own team more than opponents. However, he recorded 182 tackles in 2019, and 158 in 2018. He seems to be everywhere on the field. He certainly will be a fan favorite with his Special Teams energy, and the first Inside LB on their Defense to go down to injury may share the fate of WALLY PIPP (Yanks/Gehrig), never getting his job back from the productive WEAVER. By the way, that was exactly how things played out for Weaver during the Senior Bowl. I like this group, a lot.
LOS ANGELES RAMS I am sure that you RAMS fans, that are also observers of the NFL, have noticed that the team has dug themselves into quite a Salary Cap hole, and as a result lost a goodly number of their big name players, usually at too high of a cost in their high Draft Picks. They lost the following names to other teams as Cap Casualties; DANTE FOWLER/DE, GREG ZUERLEIN/K, CLAY MATTHEWS/LB, CORY LITTLETON/LB, TODD GURLEY/RB. Just before the Draft, they traded WR/BRANDIN COOKS to Houston. Before I get carried away detailing all their losses, let’s get back to what they actually did in the 2020 Draft, with GM LES SNEAD trying to work more pleasing magic for HC JOHN McVAY. They had no First Round Pick in 2020, again, after trading it to the Jaguars for CB/JALEN RAMSEY. In Round 2, they chose CAM AKERS/RB/Florida State to, in essence, replace GURLEY. AKERS was ranked as the best HS RB in the country when he committed to the Seminoles in 2017. AKERS lived up to his end of the bargain at FSU, but the football program presented to him perhaps the worst OL group in major college football during his 3 seasons in Tallahassee. Somehow, he ran for 2,874 yards in 3 years and managed 4.9 ypc with very little in the way of holes to run through. He still has good speed, (4.45/40), and also has developed as a receiver. He produced 18 TD’s in a challenged 2020 Seminoles Offense. In Round 2, Pick 57, the team snagged Florida wideout VAN JEFFERSON, the son of NFL Coach SHAWN JEFFERSON. He has good athleticism and a very high FBI. He will also star for them on Special Teams, including likely work as a gunner. He actually reminds me a bit of COOPER KUPP in tools and savvy. He could help right away to add some depth back into their receivers group. They added one more offensive weapon in Round 4 with Purdue TE BRYCEN HOPKINS. HOPKINS is another player bringing NFL caliber genes to the Rams from his dad, who was OT BRAD HOPKINS, a first rounder out of Illinois back in the day. HOPKINS may end up a lot in the slot. He’s not an inline TE, but his 4.68/40 is legit in pads. He also sports 10 1/8″ hands. He had 61 receptions, including 7 TD’s for the 2019 Boilermakers despite multiple injuries in their QB room. The team made one more Offensive selection in late Round 7, selecting Clemson RT TREMAYNE ANCHRUM, who was A 3-year starter that will likely take his “big body” inside to OG. His 5.21/40 is pretty solid for a guy who is 6’2/314. I could see him earning a starting role once adjusts to his new home on the Interior. The team also selected a Kicker in Round 7, in SAM SLOMAN of Miami (O). He will battle CFL import LIRIM HAJRULLAHU for ZUERLEIN’s old spot. SNEAD made sure the Defense got some serviceable pieces with 4 Picks. The most athletic piece was the selection in Round 3 of Alabama prospect TERRELL LEWIS, an outstanding athlete that was hindered by injuries at ‘Bama. LEWIS stands 6’5/262 with 33 7/8″ arms. He also clocked a 4.69/40 at the Combine. He shows the tools to be an effective edge rusher and is an excellent athlete overall. He showed flashes of his talent at the Senior Bowl. Later in Round 3, the team selected a versatile DB in TERRELL BURGESS of Utah. He has played both S and CB in college, and spent much of his time during Senior Bowl week covering in the slot. He is also a good blitzer. In Round 6, they selected highly productive Ohio State S and 3-year starter JORDAN FULLER. He has limited athleticism (4.65), but has a nose for the football. He recorded 62 tackles in 2019. Their first Pick in Round 7 was LB CLAY JOHNSTON of Baylor, who is expected to be a Special Teams standout immediately. He is NOT a great athlete, but one helluva football player at 6’1/232. He looks to me like a carbon copy of another ex-Baylor LB BRYCE HAGER, who was with the Rams for 5 seasons. Nice Draft effort by SNEAD: A few potential starters, some depth additions, and Special Teams help.
SAN FRANCISCO 49’ERS For a team that went to the Super Bowl and had the lead well into the second half, it was quite a busy off-season for the Niners under GM JOHN LYNCH. In April, the team leadership of LYNCH/SHANAHAN made the decision that star DL DeFOREST BUCKNER was making their DL way too expensive as a position group. So they traded the young star to the COLTS for the 14th Pick in the 2020 Draft. Then they smiled all the way to the bank when they were able to Draft JAVON KINLAW, a CLOWNEY type DL talent, with that Pick. KINLAW immediately becomes developmental job No. 1 for highly regarded DL Coach KRIS KOCUREK. KOCUREK’s job will be to get KINLAW to translate his flash plays into a regular occurrence. They also decided that WR MARQUISE GOODWIN was expendable with his vet contract, especially when they were able to Draft BRANDON AIYUK/Arizona State with Pick 25 in Round 1. AIYUK is also expected to do some heavy duty return work beside RICHIE JAMES. Following those two Picks, the team had nothing in Rounds 2,3,4, thanks in part to a trade with Washington for TRENT WILLIAMS, vet LT. The team had received word the week before the Draft, from vet LT JOE STALEY, that he intended to retire. Everyone, including STALEY, kept that info as quiet as possible, and LYNCH completed the trade for WILLIAMS. Then in Round 5, the team selected 4-year West Virginia starter COLTON McKIVITZ to bolster their OL depth. McKIVITZ is a solid player who showed at the Senior Bowl that his best pro chances may lie inside at OG, long term. The team drafted TE CHARLIE WOERNER of Georgia in Round 6 to bring some young depth into the TE room, led by vet GEORGE KITTLE. WOERNER did more blocking than receiving at Georgia, and that’s OK with KITTLE/DWELLEY doing the receiving work out of the TE slot. And who knows, maybe some of KITTLE can rub off in the development of WOERNER. Finally, the team took a bit of a chance on WR JAUAN JENNINGS, who had some internal issues while at Tennessee. As that team seemed in constant flux, JENNINGS got into conflicts a couple of coaches ago. However, when JEREMY PRUITT took over as Head Coach, several of JENNINGS teammates asked for his reinstatement to the program. JENNINGS and PRUITT met and came to terms on his return to the team. He blossomed as a senior, catching 59 balls for 969 yards and 8 TD’s. He is also a hellacious Special Teams player, and is a downfield blocking threat for the run game, as well as his receiver teammates. He has a large catch radius and breaks tackles after the catch. He displays a LB mentality in a skill position. Their staff and locker room should have the leadership to keep JENNINGS on the straight and narrow. What a busy time for GM LYNCH!
SEATTLE SEA HAWKS Off-seasons are never boring or quiet with the Sea Hawks organization either. There seems to be a sense of simpatico between GM SCHNEIDER and Head Coach CARROLL when it comes to reshaping their roster each year. They find a way to get their roster into shape with manageable Salary Cap situations, and are willing to trade around and Work the Draft. The base core of the team comes through the Draft, but they are seldom worried about adding a big name/dollar vet for a year or two if the situation presents itself. It was a pretty calm effort this year with 8 Picks, adding 8 players to their roster. Once a player is drafted, Coach CARROLL has very little regard for when the players were taken. Competition is the name of the game when Training Camp gets underway. The best players make the team and play. To my surprise, his team held onto its First Round Pick to select LB JORDYN BROOKS/Texas Tech. He’s a 4-year starter who is purely and simply a playmaker. And in volume to boot. He recorded 108 tackles last season, despite missing time late in the season to injury. The best part of his game may be that he is athletic enough to hold his own in coverage, meaning that he will likely be able to stay out on the field for all downs. Just check out that 4.53-40 speed number for a 240-pounder. His playing style is quite similar to that of current Sea Hawk star BOBBY WAGNER. Word is, that the team had no thoughts of trading out if BROOKS was available. They got their man. With the apparent exit of both their primary pass-rush DE’s (CLOWNEY/ANSAH), they went Defense again in Round 2 for Tennessee’s DARRELL TAYLOR, whose specialty is rushing the QB. The Vols used TAYLOR in different spots, which Seattle might do, but TAYLOR had his weight up to 267 at the Combine, which is DE size more than OLB. He’s a chiseled athlete that appears to live in the weight room. And frankly his 4.75/40-time is more impressive for a DE slot. In Round 3, the team selected DAMIEN LEWIS/OG/LSU. LEWIS is a strong bodied brute force that has some short area quicks. He is 6’2/327, and within days of his being drafted the team had waived D.J. FLUKER, their starting RG the past two years. GREG OLSEN, former Panthers TE, was signed in VFA to bolster their TE group short term. Then in Round 4, they added a young prospect from TE-U, STANFORD. His name is COLBY PARKINSON, a long, tall (6’7) athlete who can run, and shows dependable hands. In 2019, in a TE rotation, he caught 48 balls. He can line up inline, and will give effort blocking, but it is not his forte’. His 4.83/40-time is less than impressive, but his long legs take a while to get moving. The team likes the thought of how much he can learn about being an NFL TE by working with OLSEN in the TE room. The team is always going to draft a RB, because CARROLL believes in the running game as the basis of his offense. Another Round 4 Pick netted RB DEE JAY DALLAS from Miami (F). DALLAS played in a RB rotation at Miami, so the tread left on his tires is good. At 5’10/217, he’s a powerful runner that can run a 4.53/40. He also excels in pass-pro, which Mr. WILSON will appreciate. He has also shown that he can catch the ball and scoot. He joins former teammate TRAVIS HOMER, who they brought in last year to bolster the RB group. Time for some Defense again in Round 5. And it’s another guy whose specialty is edge-rushing; ALTON ROBINSON/Syracuse. ROBINSON is another edge rusher that has bulked up a bit since his collegiate career ended. He is now 6’3/264, which might keep him on the field more if he can set the edge against the run game. His 4.69/40-time, with a 1.65 second 10-yd-split is quite good. He flashed at the Senior Bowl venue. FREDDIE SWAIN, a wideout/return specialist, was their 6th Round Pick from Florida. SWAIN was a guy in a loaded receiver group for the Gators, but he shows some nice burst and decent size (6’0/197). He caught 38 balls last season, turning 7 of them into TD’s. He’s still fairly raw, and this could be a good place to land since they have a solid corps of teachers on their staff. Speaking of teaching… how about their Round 7 choice of LSU TE STEPHEN SULLIVAN, who was a wideout that finally has given in on his pro future being as a TE. He’s an excellent athlete. At the Combine, he measured up at 6’5/254, while still clocking a 4.63/40. He has 10 1/8″ hands and 35 5/8″ arms. He still has a lot to learn about the TE position, but he flashed at times during Senior Bowl practices and drill work. This team will work with young players, as long as they are willing to learn and compete. This group looks pretty solid to my eyes. They got very good value at the Pick for most of their selections.
It looks like a two team race in this division between the 49’ers and Sea Hawks. However, the RAMS and CARDS are not that far behind as they try to close the gap. My special kudos go out to GM JOHN LYNCH in Frisco for his work around the Draft this year. He had to work around Cap issues (now and in the near future) and a vet LT retirement. Overall, it looks like he maneuvered wisely to keep his roster strong.