Grading the Opponents: A Look at the 2019 NFC West Teams

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In nature, spring is the time of re-birth. A time when warmer weather and rain bring about blooming plants and green grass. The draft is the NFL’s version of spring, when teams are re-born and pro careers blossom and prospects bank accounts get a whole lot greener. The 2019 draft has certainly brought a lot of new talent into the division.

Arizona Cardinals:

Round 1 (1) Kyler Murray QB Oklahoma

Round 2 (33) Byron Murphy CB Washington

Round 2 (62) Andy Isabella WR Massachusetts

Round 3 (65) Zach Allen DE Boston College

Round 4 (103) Hakeem Butler WR Iowa State

Round 5 (139) Deionte Thompson S Alabama

Round 6 (174) KeeSean Johnson WR Fresno State

Round 6 (179) Lamont Gaillard C Georgia

Round 7 (248) Joshua Miles T Morgan State

Round 7 (254) Caleb Wilson TE UCLA

The Arizona Cardinals are starting from scratch in 2019. The defensive-minded Steve Wilks was one and done as the Cardinals’ head coach. Under Wilks, the Cardinals offense finished last in the NFL in pass yards, rush yards and points per game. Clearly it was determined that the team needed to go in a new direction offensively, Enter Kliff Kingsbury. Kingsbury was brought in to give the offense a much-needed boost, unfortunately for Josh Rosen, the team’s first round pick in 2018, that boost will come with a different quarterback at the helm. Kingsbury, who brings his version of the “air raid” offense to the NFL, was able to convince general manager Steve Keim that Oklahoma quarterback Kyler Murray is the perfect trigger-man for the offense and worth the first-overall pick. The Cardinals are all-in on Kingsbury’s offense and it showed in how they executed their draft. The Cardinals selected seven offensive players with their ten draft picks and went skill-position-heavy, selecting three wide receivers and a tight end.

With the receivers they have on their roster and those they plucked out of the draft, the Cardinals will be able to mix and match with speed and size in their personnel groupings. Last year’s second round choice Christian Kirk, along with this year’s second rounder, Andy Isabella bring the speed while long-time Cardinal Larry Fitzgerald and 2019 fourth round pick Hakeem Butler bring the size and 2019 sixth-round pick KeeSean Johnson is somewhere in between.

While most of the focus will be on the offense, the Cardinals were able to add to the defense as well. At the top of round two, the Cardinals selected cornerback Byron Murphy. Murphy was considered by many to be a first-round prospect and could be a steal for Arizona. The Cardinals may have also gotten a steal in Alabama safety Deionte Thompson. Thompson was at one time considered a top safety prospect in this class but concerns over his durability and on-field discipline pushed him to the fifth round.

The Cardinals rounded out their draft by trying to shore up the offensive line with center Lamont Gillard who began his college career as a defensive lineman, but could develop into a starter, The Cardinals used the final pick in the draft to select UCLA tight end Caleb Wilson. Wilson is 6-foot-4 and ran a 4.56 40-yard dash, all of which could translate well in Kingsbury’s offense.

Los Angeles Rams:

Round 2 (61) Taylor Rapp S Washington

Round 3 (70) Darrell Henderson RB Memphis

Round 3 (79) David Long CB Michigan

Round 3 (97) Bobby Evans T Oklahoma

Round 4 (134) Greg Gains DT Washington

Round 5 (169) David Edwards T Wisconsin

Round 7 (243) Nick Scott S Penn State

Round 7 (251) Dakota Allen LB Texas Tech

The Rams are the team that the rest of the NFC West (and the rest of the NFC for that matter) are chasing. The Rams geared up for a Super Bowl run by acquiring higher priced veterans on short-term deals, taking full advantage of their starting quarterback’s rookie contract and the strategy paid off with a Super Bowl appearance but they came up short against the Patriots. In 2020, Jared Goff’s contract goes up to just north of $22 million and the Rams will have to start making some tough roster decisions, but for now they can go all-in on another Super Bowl run.

The Rams traded out of the first round of this year’s draft, but still managed land one of the top safety prospects in Taylor Rapp. Concerns over Rapp’s 40 time (4.78) and rumors of a hip injury pushed him down in the draft. Rapp will have the benefit of being able to learn from veteran Eric Weddle, who was signed as a free agent.

The Rams are in a position that few NFL teams find themselves in where it will be very difficult for any members of the Rams’ draft class to earn starting spots in 2019. The best opportunity for the Rams to see rookie starters is along the offensive and defensive lines. Fourth-round pick Greg Gains, a defensive tackle from Washington, has a good chance to be the starter alongside Aaron Donald, replacing Ndamukong Suh. The Rams selected offensive tackle Bobby Evans out of Oklahoma in the third round, and he could slide inside to guard and be a starter.

The remainder of the Rams’ draft class are either developmental players, guys who will play in the nickel defense like cornerback David Long, or guys who could be core special-team players early like safety Nick Scott. The most intriguing player in the Rams draft class is running back Darrell Henderson from Memphis. Henderson averaged 8.9 yards per carry last year and scored 22 touchdowns last season. Henderson lacks elite NFL-level speed but could be a dangerous weapon in the screen game for the Rams

Seattle Seahawks:

Round 1 (29) L.J. Collier DE TCU

Round 2 (47) Marquise Blair S Utah

Round 2 (64) D.K. Metcalf WR Mississippi

Round 3 (88) Cody Barton LB Utah

Round 4 (120) Gary Jennings WR West Virginia

Round 4 (124) Phil Haynes G Wake Forest

Round 4 (132) Ugo Amadi CB Oregon

Round 5 (142) Ben Burr-Kirven LB Washington

Round 6 (204) Travis Homer RB Miami

Round 6 (209) Demarcus Christmas DT Florida State

Round 7 (236) John Ursua WR Hawaii

Seattle has been living off of their 2010, 2011, and 2012 drafts for nearly a decade now and the bill is coming due. This off-season the Seahawks have signed quarterback Russell Wilson to new contract that makes him the highest paid player in the league, and traded their best defensive player, Frank Clark, to Kansas City rather than sign him to a new contract. Also gone is free safety Earl Thomas, who signed as a free agent with the Baltimore Ravens, officially marking the end of the Legion of Boom. With only four selections coming into this draft the Seahawks front office needed to do some wheeling and dealing to give themselves as many shots at the dart board as possible and when all was said and done the Seahawks wound up with eleven picks.

In the first round, the Seahawks reached to grab L.J. Collier, a defensive end from TCU. Collier will be the replacement for Clark, at least on paper. With the first of two second round picks, the Seahawks selected safety Marquise Blair from Utah; Blair is a bit of a project but could be the replacement to Kam Chancellor. With the second second-round pick Seattle took wide receiver D.K. Metcalf. At 6-foot-3, 228 pounds, Metcalf wowed everyone with his 4.33 second 40-yard dash at the combine and on paper is a good fit with Wilson’s ability to throw the deep ball. Outside of Metcalf, who is a boom-or-bust prospect if there ever was one, the rest of Seattle’s draft is full of projects.

Final Thoughts:

Arizona really helped themselves in this draft, but they are still looking up at the rest of the division with a lot of question marks. How will Kliff Kingsbury’s offense translate to the NFL? How well and how quickly will Kyler Murray adjust to the NFL? According to Kingsbury his offense will look “very similar” to the one that Murray ran at Oklahoma, if that is the case Murray should feel comfortable right away and be able to turn more of his focus to opposing defenses, but unless Murray is otherworldly the Cardinals will find themselves in the NFC West basement again in 2019.

The Rams will again be in contention for the NFC title, but their window is getting smaller and this year’s draft class will only play a supporting role for the team from Hollywood.

The Seahawks are primed to take a step back from 10-6 last season to 8-8 this year. The defense doesn’t really have a player that opponents fear anymore and the majority of the offensive load has been heaped on to the shoulders of Russell Wilson. Will he be able to carry the team again?

The 49ers are poised to make the biggest move of all the NFC West teams in 2019 (health permitting). The additions of Nick Bosa and Deebo Samuel in the draft satisfy two of the team’s biggest needs and the addition of Dee Ford gives the 49ers the makings of a pass rush that could be a nightmare for the quarterbacks in the NFC West. With any luck on the health front the 49ers should be knocking on the playoff door this season.

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