The 2018 NFL draft is in the books, and I’m sure you all have gone diving into tape to see how well Mike McGlinchey will fit into the 49ers’ zone scheme, whether Dante Pettis is limited to being only a slot receiver, and what a Jullian Taylor is. However, the 49ers weren’t the only team gathering new players in an attempt to improve their team. Over the next few weeks, I’m going to be diving into the 49ers’ regular season opponents and their respective draft classes to see who improved, who left me scratching my head, and who simply missed the mark. This week, I’m taking a look at the opponents the 49ers will see twice in 2018: the NFC West.
With Carson Palmer retiring, a first round pick in the mid-teens, an aging and cash-strapped roster, a brand new coach, and a quarterback room where Mr. Glass (Sam Bradford) and an ostrich (Mike Glennon) were set to battle it out as the heir apparent at the game’s most important position, I was truly looking forward to Arizona being at the bottom of the division for the foreseeable future. Then the draft happened, and Arizona shouted to the world that they don’t expect to be down for long.
Taking advantage of an absolutely panicked Oakland Raiders front office, the Cardinals had to give up only a third-round pick and a fifth-round pick in the 2018 draft to move up and select their quarterback of the future, Josh Rosen. This is an insanely low price to move up five spots in the first round, and the Cardinals walked away with my top-ranked quarterback in the class.
Getting Rosen while giving up minimal additional assets was enough to get an ‘A’ from me for Arizona, but they proceeded to absolutely nail their next three draft picks. In the second round, Arizona picked up wide receiver Christian Kirk out of Texas A&M, a speedy deep threat who will perfectly replace both John and JaRon Brown and complement Larry Fitzgerald. There are some recent criminal concerns with Kirk, but most of the details were known before the draft. In the third round, Arizona snatched center Mason Cole out of the University of Michigan, giving them a reliable foundation to fix a porous offensive line. Then, in Round 4, Arizona picked up small-school running back Chase Edmonds out of Fordham, who I think has as much opportunity as anyone to be a starting-caliber running back. Having Edmonds as the backup to David Johnson will leave Arizona with one of the best backfield tandems in the league.
After the fourth round, most picks tend to be sludge thrown at the wall with the hope that something will stick. The ones that do tend to have at least one or two traits that are at a great-to-elite level, using those traits to overcome deficiencies in other parts of their game. Arizona picked two players who fit that profile, picking up Penn State corner Chris Campbell and University of Cincinnati offensive tackle Korey Cunningham, both of whom had a SPARQ score above the 96th percentile, with good size for their positions.
Arizona might still struggle this year. The majority of their offensive line is still terrible, none of their three quarterbacks have any mobility, Larry Fitzgerald isn’t getting any younger, and they lost some strong pieces on their defense. However, they navigated the draft with expertise and selected top-end building blocks for sustained success later on. If Arizona is able to chain together one or two more of these drafts, the NFC West might have a new challenger sooner rather than later.
Los Angeles Rams
While the perceived “win-now” strategy for the Los Angeles Rams has garnered mixed reviews from various reporters, I think that their strategy is a smart one. With Jared Goff earning a middling salary in his rookie deal, the Rams have loaded themselves up with short-term contracts of star players in order to stack the roster around Goff while they can and so that they can unload some personal seat licenses for the new stadium. When it comes time for Goff to be paid like a top-end quarterback, the strategy will have to morph into one where Goff is relied upon to carry the team, and the jury is still out as to whether that is a possibility. However, phase one of Los Angeles’s long-term plan is certainly in motion.
This phase does not include drafting many players who are expected to have an impact on the roster. Los Angeles traded their first-round pick to New England for wide receiver Brandin Cooks, and traded their second round pick to Kansas City for cornerback Marcus Peters. While I agree with the Marcus Peters move, I question whether it was worth it to lose a first-round pick in order to acquire a receiver who is basically equivalent to the receiver they let walk in free agency, Sammy Watkins. First-round picks have incredible value in today’s NFL, and giving one up to basically stay at the same level seems misguided.
With these trades, Los Angeles did not draft a player until the end of the third round, where they selected offensive tackle Joseph Noteboom out of Texas Christian University. On Day 3, Los Angeles made a bevy of selections, focusing on a few areas of need along the offensive line (center Brian Allen from Michigan State and guard Jamil Demby from the University of Maine), defensive line (defensive ends John Franklin-Myers from Stephen F. Austin, Ogbonnia Okoronkwo from the University of Oklahoma, Trevon Young from the University of Louisville, and Justin Lawler from Southern Methodist University, as well as defensive tackle Sebastian Joseph from Rutgers), and linebacker (Micah Kiser from the University of Virginia and Travin Howard from TCU). My favorite Day 3 pick, though, might be John Kelly, running back from the University of Tennessee, who I think has Doug Martin-esque potential if he becomes more consistent.
Overall, I’m not expecting a ton of production from the Rams’ 2018 draft class. They selected mostly depth pieces, with varying degrees of potential. I don’t see any of these draft picks having a huge individual impact on the field for Los Angeles, but I think they used the limited value available to them in the best way possible. The Rams added depth at the few positions where the depth simply wasn’t there, and if one or two of these picks can become a rotational-type player, it was a success. I can’t help but to think that the Rams would have been better off keeping Sammy Watkins and using the 23rd overall pick on a true difference maker at linebacker or on the offensive line, but the Rams weren’t planning on improving through the draft. Which is good, because I’m not sure that they did.
For the majority of this decade, Seattle has found a way to consistently drive me mad. Whether it was Russell Wilson putting the 49ers defense on skates, the Legion of Boom holding the offense hostage, or Pete Carroll chomping on that gum with that smug look on his face, Seattle would always make me lose whatever sanity I managed to have at the time.
On draft night, Seattle found a new way to drive me mad. I laughed so hard when Seattle drafted running back Rashaad Penny out of San Diego State with the 27th overall pick that even my dogs were wondering if I was okay. While Penny may turn into a good running back, he would have been available much later in the draft. I saw enough on tape that worried me about Penny that he wasn’t even in my top five. A small-school running back needs to flash some sort of elite skill to show he wasn’t just an average player who benefitted from playing lesser competition, and I just didn’t see that with Penny. Instead, I saw a well-rounded runner who was slightly better than most of the competition he faced, resulting in eye-popping production but without the traits that will translate to the NFL. Seattle left runners with elite traits on the board, such as Derrius Guice and Ronald Jones III, and I just don’t get it.
With the remainder of their picks, Seattle chose players who are so raw that their projection is difficult (defensive end Rasheem Green out of University of Southern California), players with limited ceilings due to their skill sets or positions (blocking tight end Will Dissly out of the University of Washington, punter Michael Dickson from the University of Texas, and potential backup quarterback Alex McGough from Florida International University), or players that may have already hit their limited ceilings (safety Tre Flowers from Oklahoma State, offensive tackle Jamarco Jones from Ohio State University, and edge-rushing defensive lineman Jake Martin from Temple). Many pundits have overlooked some of these picks due to the feelgood story of the draft, Shaquem Griffin, the linebacker from the University of Central Florida who will be reunited with his twin brother Shaquill in Seattle, but in reality, there is likely a lower ceiling on a linebacker in the NFL who is missing his left hand.
It was a welcome change for the Seahawks to bring me to tears, not from sadness, but from laughter. Seattle may very well have come away with the worst overall draft class in the league, with Pittsburgh and Oakland also contending for the jester’s crown. When your offensive line has been as bad as Seattle’s over the past few years, a tight end shouldn’t be the best blocker in your draft class. Seattle is spiraling, and I’m here for it.
Stay tuned tp 49ersHUB for the next 49ers opponent draft recap and stay tuned for more great content!