The NFC West features the top two teams in the conference, a third franchise on the rise and one that seems to continually struggle. While the Seahawks and Niners look to sharpen their edge, the Cardinals wanted to add the final touches while the Rams moved forward with another arsenal of picks, thanks in part to the Washington Redskins.
Arizona Cardinals: Arizona was the best team in the NFL to not make the playoffs last year and they entered the draft picking at the bottom of each round. The Cardinals raised some eyebrows by selecting Deone Buchanan in the late first round. The former Washington State standout is a physical, in-the-box-safety that most pundits expected to go on the drafts second day. Still, playing in the toughest and most physical division in football, the Cardinals upgraded their size and athleticism with this choice. Notre Dame tight end Troy Niklas was the team’s second round selection. Niklas is a huge, what you see is what you get, type of player with a very good pedigree. He won’t stretch the defense like many of the modern tight ends but his size and strength should allow him to contribute in the intermediate to short passing game as well as the running game. Kareem Martin was a good value pick near the end of the third round and gives the team some more depth along their defensive line. With San Francisco, Seattle, and St. Louis all having talented offensive lines the pick also fills a need for the Cardinals. Pittsburgh State receiver John Brown is an explosive receiver that is a nice fit for Bruce Arians system and Logan Thomas gives the team a developmental quarterback that has enough potential to develop into a starter down the road. Alabama defensive end Ed Stinson is a solid, if not flashy, player that should help strengthen the team’s defensive line depth, along with Martin. Receiver Walt Powell is a pass catching machine that needs to make an impact on special teams in order to make the roster.
Grade C+ The Buchanan pick in round one was a mild surprise yet Niklas and Martin were good value. If Arians can get Logan Thomas back to his 2011 form it will be a steal for the organization.
San Francisco 49ers: The 49ers arguably had the league’s best roster entering the draft and shocked many by turning their eleven picks into twelve rather than trading up for a few select players. Jimmie Ward was chosen by the team to be the nickel back of the present as he grows into being the strong safety of the future. Ward is a heady player with high character and an excellent motor. He is expected to win the nickel job immediately. For the second year in a row the 49ers selected the draft’s best running back when they chose Carlos Hyde. Unlike Marcus Lattimore the year before however, Hyde is fully healthy and was taken with a premium selection. He looks to be the heir apparent to Frank Gore, who enters his final season under contract. Marcus Martin was the team’s third round selection and represents great value at a position that has some uncertainty. Martin should have every chance to win the starting job from Daniel Kilgore heading into the season. Chris Borland was a break from Trent Balke’s tradition of prioritizing length and athleticism for defensive players. Borland is a feisty, technically sound, tackling machine and might be able to bridge the gap while the team awaits the return of Navarro Bowman. Brandon Thomas, like Marcus Lattimore and Tank Carradine the year before, will get a redshirt season. He was rated as a potential second round pick and would have been among the first interior linemen off the board had he not hurt himself during a workout. Bruce Ellington is a player that impressed the team during workouts. He has a chance to win the starting punt and kickoff return jobs and find some time as a vertical threat on offense. Dontae Johnson is a tall physical specimen that the team will attempt to develop into a press corner. For his first season or two he will be expected to find a place on special teams. Aaron Lynch is a supremely talented player with some off field issues. As a fifth round pick he is well worth the risk. Florida Atlantic cornerback Keith Reaser will redshirt this season as he rehabs an injury. Kenneth Acker is a long shot to make the roster long term but is insurance for the team against Chris Culliver’s likely 2-4 game suspension. Afterwards he should wind up on the practice squad. Kaleb Ramsey will need to have a great camp in order to earn a roster spot. The Boston College defensive end has impressive size and athleticism but a long injury history and the 49ers are eight men deep with Tank Carradine (last year’s second round redshirt) also fighting for a roster spot. Trey Millard, the talented fullback from Oklahoma, will also spend this season on injured reserve. San Francisco also added Stevie Johnson and Blaine Gabbert to their receiving corps and backfield respectively through trades involving picks in this draft. Shane Skov, who was recruited to Stanford by the Harbaugh coaching staff might also find a home on the team after signing an undrafted free agent deal. The team also signed Southern Illinois quarterback Kory Faulkner whom Harbaugh is said to be high on. The 49ers used this draft to attack the bottom of their roster after filling their few roster spots with their earliest picks.
Grade A The Niners were unable to orchestrate a trade to move into the top half of round one so they attacked the top half of the draft selecting for need then later selected value picks with upside. The problem for San Francisco is there’s not much room on the roster for all the selections so expect a number of there players to land on the depth charts or practice squads of other teams.
Seattle Seahawks: Colorado receiver Paul Richardson could turn into the steal of the second round. Richardson is a talented playmaker that shows enough speed to stretch the field. Second round pick Justin Britt was graded as a mid round selection but the Seahawks have a tendency to value offensive linemen differently than the rest of the league. The Missouri tackle is a player to watch over the next few seasons. Cassius Marsh, from UCLA, is a talented pass rusher that the defensive staff will enjoy using. In order for that to happen the former Bruin will need to stay out of trouble. Kevin Norwood is a dependable receiver that could have a long career as a possession receiver. Norwood is a hard working prospect with good size and the ability to play special teams. He should also immediately find a home in certain third down packages. According to Seattle insiders the one player that their staff really fell in love with was Kevin Pierre-Louis. The Boston College linebacker was compared by one Seahawk scout to Navarro Bowman. Pierre-Louis is an athletic player that had some great workouts during the scouting process. He needs to learn to translate those skills onto the field more but the team appears to be very excited by him. Middle Tennessee State defensive tackle Jimmy Staten was a lightly regarded prospect that will be fighting for a spot on the practice squad. Marshall offensive tackle Garrett Scott the teams sixth round pick, was recently cut after exams revealed a heart condition which will prevent him from playing. Eric Pinkins is a large bodied safety that the team can develop over time. He will likely find a home on the practice squad before having a shot to produce on special teams. Arkansas running back Kiero Small was a barely scouted full back who is an explosive, even concussive, blocker in short yardage situations. Undrafted free agent defensive end Jackson Jeffcoat is a player to keep an eye on.
Grade C Seattle used the depth in this draft to take a lot of developmental players, especially in the late rounds. While both receivers could quickly see action as rookies, its difficult to see how this draft makes them better in 2014 though it could pay huge dividends in future years.
St. Louis Rams: Using the second overall pick on Greg Robinson surprised no one. The Rams clearly liked the Auburn tackle for some time and felt as if they had a clear need at the position. Robinson is expected to start his career at either right tackle or guard before moving to the left side in a year or two. Wherever they put him, he’s a day one starter, as the second overall pick should be. The Rams used their second pick in the first round to select Pittsburgh defensive tackle Aaron Donald giving the team the rare opportunity to select the best offensive and defensive linemen available in the draft. Donald is a disruptive one gap player that should team with Michael Brockers to give the team a very good set of defensive tackles. Florida State defensive back LaMarcus Joyner was the team’s second round pick. Joyner doesn’t have ideal size to play cornerback or safety but he has the ball skills and athleticism to be a nickel cornerback. The Rams got great value by selecting Tre Mason in the third round. The former Auburn product is a talented between the tackles runner who will push for playing time early. It’s worth noting that both Mason and Robinson were college teammates of Jeff Fisher’s son Trent while at Auburn. The Rams, like each of the other teams in the NFC West, took a physical safety prospect when they selected Maurice Alexander. Alexander is a pure strong safety with a big frame that should help immediately on special teams. Missouri cornerback EJ Gaines has only marginal size but is an effective punt return man that offers potential as a dime cornerback should he make the team. SMU quarterback Garret Gilbert was a highly recruited high school player that played most of the 2010 BCSNCG as a true freshman following an injury to Colt McCoy. Gilbert is an accurate quarterback that could develop into a long term backup for the team. Portland State tackle Mitchel Van Dyk is an immense developmental prospect that needs a season on a practice squad while he refines his game and adds mass. Ohio State safety Christian Bryant is a long shot to make the team unless he impresses on coverage units. St Louis took Michael Sam in a historic moment for reasons outside of football. Practically speaking, though, this could be a great fit for both Sam and the team. Sam is a self made player that isn’t quite big enough or fast enough but manages to produce through consistent technique, solid character, and high effort. With Robert Quinn and Chris Long entrenched as starters and William Hayes as the primary backup Sam has a chance to earn a roster spot as a fourth defensive end where his consistency and effort should be maximized. Tennessee St. center Demetrius Rhaney had a great workout on his pro day and as such was drafted as a developmental lineman. Like Van Dyk before him he is likely to see time on the team’s practice squad.
Grade A The Rams did well on paper, as they always seem to do. Transferring their high draft grades into football production has not been seamless. Regardless, the talent on the roster is now much improved.