Each NFC West Team’s Biggest Draft Need

By Leo Silbert

It is getting to the point of the year that fans are trying to figure out who their team needs to draft or what position needs the most help. Some teams like the Patriots don’t have a glaring need so they are able to pick for desire and are allowed greater risks. Other teams like the Browns have needs all over the map so they are best suited to just take the best available player. I’m going to sort this out by division and within the divisions I’ll sort them by 2016 records.

Next up, the NFC West:

  1. richard-shermanSeattle Seahawks- The Seahawks have been a powerhouse in the league pretty much since Russell Wilson became the quarterback in 2012, but this year they seemed to be missing a key piece and that is before Earl Thomas went down with an injury.  It just seemed like their offense could never get it going and that their defense wasn’t as much of a juggernaut it had been in years past.  The offense had lost Marshawn Lynch to retirement over the offseason and the defense lost Bruce Irvin to free agency and the Raiders so these can explain why they didn’t see the same.  Their defense was still top 5 so their defense’s demise may have been more due to them slightly underperforming from their 4 previous seasons of leading the NFL in points allowed per game.  Their offensive problems can partially be explained by Russell Wilson being hurt for the early part of the year, but even when he was back to full health the offense didn’t seem right.  Their offense was able to have a dominant ground game when Marshawn Lynch was on the team despite the team lacking a real offensive line.  They could try to get another Marshawn Lynch, but Lynch was more of a unicorn running back that only comes along once every few generations and Thomas Rawls isn’t a terrible running back, but he needs some help.  The Seahawks tried to start improving their offensive line last year when they selected Germain Ifedi in the first round, but Ifedi was incredibly raw and he graded out as one of the worst offensive linemen in the league.  The worst part about the Seahawks’ line this year was that Ifedi wasn’t even the worst lineman to play over 600 snaps.  The only consistently above average offensive lineman they had is their center Justin Britt.  The Seahawks need to build their offensive line up if they want to look like they did in 2013, because Marshawn Lynch isn’t going to be walking through that door anytime soon.
  2.  larry-fitzgeraldArizona Cardinals- If you look at the numbers, it is hard to see what happened to the Cardinals that led to their decline from 2015.  They had the 6th best scoring offense, the 2nd best yardage defense, and they were the league leaders in both sacks and forced fumbles.  They have one of the most electrifying talents in the league on offense with David Johnson, Larry Fitzgerald led the league in receptions, and their offensive line held up adequately.  So what went wrong?  Mostly it seems like they let up too many big plays that led to scores.  They have one of the best corner backs in the league in Patrick Peterson, but across from him they didn’t really have much.  Teams were able to attack the #2 corner back with little resistance which was the Achilles heel of the defense.  If the Cardinals can get a little bit more luck next season as far as losing close games and if they get a proper #2 cornerback to compliment Peterson, they can be back to knocking on the door of the Superbowl by next season.
  3.  aaron-donaldLos Angeles Rams- In their first season back in Los Angeles since the early 1990s, some people expected the Rams to finally take a step forward into contending for a playoff spot since now they had a first overall pick quarterback on their team to go with a ferocious defensive line and one of the best young running backs in the league in Todd Gurley.  Then they started the season with their first overall pick as the third string qb and lost to the 49ers 27-0, starting of the trend for how bad the season was going to be.  The Rams were a mess all over the place, with no real offensive threat and their defense was not nearly good enough to carry them.  Now this season, they have a new young and innovative head coach in Sean McVay who brought in the legendary defensive coordinator Wade Phillips to turn the defense into one of the top defenses in the league.  So, with Sean McVay’s recent history as an offensive coordinator for the Washington Redskins, you can assume that he’d want to model his offense after the one that he had there.  To do that they will need to build up their receiving corps.  They will need to retain the services of Kenny Britt to do this correctly, but when the Rams make their first pick in the 2nd round they should take a wide receiver who can be a deep threat a la Desean Jackson.  If the resign Britt then they’ll have their Garcon in him and their Jamison Crowder in Tavon Austin, but the ability to stretch the field is the real catalyst of the offense.  Then they would just be a Jordan Reed type and a complete offense away from having the same kind of offense that McVay had in Washington that got him the job.
  4.  carlos-hydeSan Francisco 49ers- Oh boy, where to begin here?  The 49ers went into this season with incredibly low expectations with needs all over the roster and a coach and gm that were paired up in a sort of shotgun wedding.  Their roster was depleted of talent from top to bottom, spare a few good pieces such as Carlos Hyde, Deforest Buckner and Navarro Bowman.  And possibly the worst thing that could have happened to the 49ers this season was how they started it off by blowing out the Rams in a week 1 shutout victory which made some people think that they really could be something.  That was the only win they would have until they played the Rams again in week 16.  The 49ers don’t even officially have a coach yet (though many speculate that the job will go to Kyle Shanahan once his current team has played in the Superbowl), so it is hard to even know which need they’ll need to deal with first in order to start succeeding.  I honestly feel like the 49ers are currently the least talented team in the NFL so I feel like if they added a young qb now that they would end up messing up his development so I believe they should go for defense above all else and grab an edge rusher who will be able to sack the opposing qb so the team will have a better shot at staying in games defensively while they build up the rest of their roster with enough talent to eventually compete.  They are in line for a long rebuild though.

And this is the end of my team draft needs series.  You can check out all of the other articles in the series by clicking on the corresponding links below.

AFC East- https://sportselite1.wordpress.com/2017/01/15/each-afc-east-teams-biggest-draft-need/

AFC North- https://sportselite1.wordpress.com/2017/01/15/each-afc-north-teams-biggest-draft-need/

AFC South- https://sportselite1.wordpress.com/2017/01/16/each-afc-south-teams-biggest-draft-need/

AFC West- https://sportselite1.wordpress.com/2017/01/16/each-afc-south-teams-biggest-draft-need-2/

NFC East- https://sportselite1.wordpress.com/2017/01/25/each-nfc-east-teams-biggest-draft-need/

NFC North- https://sportselite1.wordpress.com/2017/01/25/each-nfc-norths-biggest-draft-need/

NFC South- https://sportselite1.wordpress.com/2017/01/26/each-nfc-south-teams-biggest-draft-need/

Why would any coach want to risk his legacy to coach for a team owned by Jed York?

Throughout the history of sports there have been teams with great ownership, such as the Krafts, Maras and Rooneys in the NFL, Mike Ilitch for the Detroit Red Wings of the NHL, William DeWitt and Hal Steinbrenner for the St. Louis Cardinals and New York Yankees respectively of the MLB, and Wyc Grousbeck and Peter Holt who own the Boston Celtics and San Antonio Spurs of the NBA.  These owners all have one thing in common with how they run their teams.  Patience.  Each and every one of these teams has been a stable atmosphere for over 10 years, with most either having the same front office and head coach/manager that they had since 2005, or they are only one of either removed from the one they had then.  There are also plenty of examples of bad ownership in sports as well and the reasons why an owner can be bad are much more numerous.  They can be too cheap when it comes to paying talent like Don Sterling was for years as the owner of the Clippers, they can be a rich person who bought the team for the revenue but who doesn’t care about the on field product like Stan Kroenke, or they can prove to be impatient and overinvolved in team decisions like how Jed York is proving to be.

York took over as the president of the 49ers in December of 2008.  Since then the team has gone through 4 head coaches since then and are now looking for their 5th.  They are also now looking for their 3rd general manager over an 8 season span.  Over that time, it looked like York was off to a strong start in hiring Scot McCloughan as his first general manager and Jim Harbaugh as his first head coaching hire, but things quickly started to turn sour.  McCloughan and the team mutually parted in the Spring of 2010 while McCloughan was dealing with alcoholism and a divorce from his wife.

After McCloughan was let go, they hired the team’s director of player personnel Trent Baalke.  Baalke’s first draft looked very good on paper with him picking all pros such as Mike Iupati and Navarro Bowman as well as starter Anthony Davis, but most of the work for the draft had been done already by McCloughan.  The team still ended up going 6-10 that season, fired head coach Mike Singletary and then they hired Jim Harbaugh.  Since then, Baalke has had 3 draft picks pan out with enough time to judge them fairly (Aldon Smith, Eric Reid, and Carlos Hyde.  So for Trent Baalke’s time in San Francisco he has had as many good draft picks as he has had drafts in control of with one of those drafts mostly laid out for him by his preceding general manager.

Now onto coach Jim Harbaugh.  It takes a really good coach to take a team that was 6-10 and had a completely different coaching staff from the year before to being 13-3 the next year.  He then had them sustain at least 12 wins for a 3-year period.  One of those years he lost his starting quarterback to injury and had to change the offense around entirely for the backup and ended up taking the team within one score of a Superbowl championship.  The next year he took his team to within one score of another Superbowl appearance.  For most franchises that kind of track record would usually give a coach some leeway, but not with the 49ers as one 8-8 season with a depleted roster and a regressing quarterback got him sent out the door and replaced with defensive line coach Jim Tomsula.  Tomsula was also the interim coach for the 49ers in 2010 after they fired Mike Singletary mid-season.  That tells me that Tomsula was seen as mostly a guy who would do as he is told by the upper management and nothing more.  That is the absolute worst type of head coach you can hire.  The job of a head coach is to make decisions on the field and he isn’t allowed to be contacted by anyone in the front office during the game (as seen when former Browns GM Ray Farmer was suspended for 4 games and the Browns were fined $250,000 for in-game text messages between the him and the coaching staff).  Tomsula being nothing more than a figurehead could only lead the 49ers, who, not by coincidence, had seen many players retire following the firing of Jim Harbaugh, to a 5-11 record.  This caused Jed York to fire the 2nd head coach in as many years and bring on Chip Kelly.  Now, some could argue that Chip Kelly wasn’t given a fair deal in Philly after one sub .500 season out of 3 years coaching, but he also alienated himself from the rest of the front office, seized control, and had the team regress under his total control.  So the best place to put him would be the place where they fired a coach for going 8-8 with a depleted roster after 3 straight years of at least making it to the conference championship game, right?  Wrong.  I am a believer that if Chip Kelly were given a situation like the Browns, was allowed a minimum of 5 years to turn them around, and was given total control from the beginning that he’d have a chance at being an ok coach in the league.  This isn’t a 5-year plan league though.  This is a league where not firing someone after 3 losing seasons means unheard of patience (besides in the world of the Jacksonville Jaguars).  So now you have Chip Kelly with a broken roster and no team control with a power-hungry general manager who will take who he wants regardless of fit or if the head coach would be able to find out how to use him.  Everyone watching saw a collapse of the 49ers into top 5 pick territory coming and so it did with only the Browns having a worse record than the 49ers.

Now, Chip Kelly and Trent Baalke are both out of a job and there is only one person left and that is Jed York.  York could have avoided this problem if he didn’t side with Baalke over Harbaugh and now he is left with the least desirable coaching job in the NFL and a record of not giving people enough time to actually build anything up before a new regime comes in to knock it down.  If I were a director of player personnel or an assistant coach in the NFL or even a college coach, I would steer clear of the 49ers and Jed York.  The only thing he will bring to the franchise unless he changes in a big way, is a long, playoff-less drought that can rival the one currently held by the Buffalo Bills (who haven’t made the playoffs since 1999).

 

Arizona Cardinals: “Ca$hing in”

Cardinals Cowboys Football

Sports Elite

By: Matthew McCaughan

This week the Cardinals have been quite busy. While camp has been under way for just over a week now, management has decided to reward some key players with new deals and extensions. It is good timing if you ask me because players getting new deals while in camp is a bit more motivation and comfort knowing these guys will be around a bit longer. As we know, sometimes people see contracts and say wow look at all that cash. Not understanding these guys only see a partial amount of that money. And usually on new deals the first 3 years are really all they get to see because of the turnaround in this league.

IMG_4539The first move was probably the smartest as earlier this week the Cardinals were able to ink Tyrann “Honey Badger” Mathieu to a large extension worth $62.5 million dollars and $40 millions of that in guarantees. I talked last week about how Mathieu is currently working his way back from knee surgery but the club feels very good about his rehabilitation process and it showed with that big money deal. I don’t think anyone will argue against it because his play speaks for itself. It’s pretty amazing to me because before draft day there was quite a bit of critics concerned with behavioral issues with Tyrann, more towards smoking weed than anything else. While these guys get criticized quite a bit about this I think we need to give Tyrann quite a bit of credit. He not only earned his keep on the field but also stayed away from off the field chatter.

Another extension that was taken care of was for Carson Palmer. It’s smart that they are appearing to now take a year to year approach with Palmer since he cannot get any younger moving forward and has had his own injuries to deal with, but it’s good for Arizona because it gives Palmer reasoning to be better each year and protects against long term debt in case of injury or decline in play. His new extension is worth $23.45 million with a $6.75 million signing bonus. Not bad for both sides considering their current situation. You get an aging veteran quarterback, however last year Carson showed he can still sling it around and do it at a high level. And, as we know solid quarterbacks are not easy to find in this league, especially ones who you need to be there late in the year for playoff success. That is however, the one thing Carson will look to improve upon as he didn’t have a great exit last season vs Carolina.

The last extension of the week came for a guy who is the face of this organization. A guy who shows up every day, leaves everything on the field and continually leads his team game to game. Not to mention is also Palmers go to in clutch situations. That man is Larry Fitzgerald who also agreed to an $11-million-dollar extension. Whatever he was to get is well deserved as he has held his own in this league for years. The one thing that has me thinking with his and Palmers extension is I wonder if those two have spoken and decided to do this together and give Arizona a couple of last shots to go out on top.  I mean it does give us a story book ending if it were to happen right? Two aging veterans trying to bring a title to Arizona and then both retiring after. Sounds too good to be true but unfortunately we can’t just write the script it will have to be well earned as the rest of the league does not care for this story book ending.

Not a bad week for the Cardinals I guess huh? Solidify 3 positions on your team with 3 leaders who all look to be huge impacts on this team this coming year. It’s great for the new guys as well so they can see how to get it done and what’s expected day to day and game to game. You put that on top of having a coach in Arians who knows how to get it done and having these guys in the best place to succeed. The Arizona Cardinals may very well be able to get to the promise land this year. Their current s ruins certainly are telling that story.

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Russell Wilson for MVP

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Sports Elite

By Erik Peterson

Let me be the first to put this idea in your head…Russell Wilson will win the NFL MVP in 2016.

Now let me tell you why. Russell is widely thought to be a running quarterback. This stigma has followed him since college. At just under 5″11, the general thought is that Russell isn’t tall enough to stand in the pocket on a regular basis, but here’s what you might not know.

  • Over the last 8 games of last season, no QB threw more touchdowns from the pocket than Russell Wilson.
  • His QB rating over the last 5 games was the highest in the league at 143.6. The next closest was Cam Newton (2015 NFL MVP) at 121.3.
  • Wilson’s 143.6 rating over five games is an NFL record.
  • Wilson also led in yards per attempt, fewest sack yards, fewest interceptions, most touchdowns and highest completion rate over that period.
  • Russell’s 3rd down QB rating over the last 5 games was highest in the NFL at 150.6. The next closest was Teddy Bridgewater at 137.4.

If that’s not convincing enough for you, how about this? If you take those last five games and average them across a full season, you would end up with 4,300 yards passing, 50 touchdowns, 4 interceptions with a 124 passer rating. (By the way, all this was done after star TE Jimmy Graham went on season ending IR in week 11). That is a big part of why many people in and around the Seahawks think this could be an MVP year for Wilson.

Now let me get real with any of the nay-sayers out there. No one quite knows what to expect out of the offensive line this year. Not a single player is returning to the same position as last year and the Seahawks remain dead last in the NFL in money spent on their offensive line.

That helps to explain why among QB’s who have taken at least 50% of their team’s snaps, Wilson has finished dead last in time to throw since joining the league (according to ProFootballFocus.com).

Things seemed to turn around in the second half of last season. Russell went from throwing the ball every 2.7 seconds, to throwing under 2.5 seconds 80% of the time. This was in large part due to Wilson delivering the ball on time and in rhythm; learning to take his time in the pocket and improve his completion rate, instead of relying so heavily on his scrambling ability.

If #3 managed to set the records he did (all-time NFL passer rating and franchise wins for a QB in his first 4 years), despite the lack of support from the O-Line, I stand firm in my prediction that Russell Wilson will be this year’s MVP.

Through free agency and some unorthodox shifts in player positions, the team has made some moves that will only accentuate Russell’s success.

  • They used their first overall pick on Offensive Guard Germain Ifedi out of Texas A&M and sixth round pick on Joey Hunt, the Center out of Ohio State. Hunt is undersized for the position, but has shown some flashes so far in camp.
  • They picked up 3rd round pick, Offensive Guard Rees Odhiambo out of Boise State (although he is considered a bit of a project).
  • Former Right Guard, Mark Glowinski (a name you’ve probably never heard) is now at Left Guard and is someone who has a chance to be a real standout this year.

For now, it’s wait and see with the line, but I’m inspired by coach Pete Carroll’s response when asked about his off-season plan for Russell. Here’s Pete’s quote:

“Russell and I talked about this last night. I think it’s really the right time to turn his focus and broaden his awareness of what is going on in the game overall. He and I will spend a lot of time this off-season introducing him to the perspective of what it’s like to look at the defense from the defensive side of the ball. I want him to learn and understand what’s going on schematically, rotation-wise, fits-wise, even more than he knows now.”

No one is more qualified to help Russell better understand the way defenses work than Carroll; a defensive coordinator long before becoming a head coach. This type of program is not one Carroll takes lightly, but he is confident that Russell is ready.

I’ll end on this note… Currently, Vegas has the odds of Russell winning the MVP this season at about 8/1. If I were you, I’d take that bet.

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Rams Return Home, and Preparing to Breakout!

By Matthew Brice

Los Angeles! The city of angels, Hollywood and, once again, the National Football League’s Rams. They have returned home to their rightful place!

Between 1995-2015, the Rams called St. Louis home and, even enjoyed the highest of high moments, as they brought the city of St. Louis a Vince Lombardi trophy, during the 1999-2000 season. Undrafted free agent quarterback Kurt Warner, who tookover for injured starter Trent Green, lit up the city, and the entire NFL, with an offense that gave defensive coordinators nightmares. An arsenal of weapons that featured running back Marshall Faulk, wide receivers Isaac Bruce, Torry Holt, and Az-Zahir Hakim, Warner and company became “The Greatest Show On Turf”. This was a crew that tore into defenses in record fashion, from ’99 to ’02 and, while not impossible, we would still be hard pressed to come across an offensive juggernaut of that kind, to this day.

 Tough times eventually came, as Warner moved on to the New York Giants in 2004, while Bruce continued to play with Marc Bulger until 2007. Bruce moved on to San Francisco for 2 years, in 2008 and 2009, while Holt had a stint wth the Jacksonville Jaguars, and Hakim with the Detroit Lions. Sam Bradford showed promise in 2010, as he earned the NFL’s Rookie Of The Year award but, injuries started to haunt Bradford over the years, as he was eventually traded to the Philadelphia Eagles for Nick Foles, before the start of the 2015 season. For the past few years, led by head coach Jeff Fisher, the Rams have shown signs of improvement, in particular on defense, where they are led by lineman Aaron Donald, and linebacker Alec Ogletree. 2015 rookie of the year, Todd Gurley, has brought excitement back to the offensive side of the ball, as he has already established himself as one of the NFL’s premier running backs.  

The young nucleus of this improving Rams squad, makes the move home that more exciting, especially when you throw in California-native, and 1st round pick, Jared Goff at quarterback.

Jared Goff was drafted out of University of California-Berkley, to not only add competition to the QB position but, to bring in new blood for the future. Nick Foles had some bright spots for the then St. Louis Rams but, consistency, and holding the football too long, hampered and haunted him, as well as the Rams, before he was replaced by Case Keenum. This QB competition has heated up intensely and, in my opinion, will make the Rams that much better, whether it’s Foles, Goff or Keenum, leading the charge. Factor in the competition at QB, as well as a depth friendly backfield that features Tre Mason behind Todd Gurley, and one can assume that the Rams are excited to come home and challenge for a playoff spot. But, in order for that to happen, Foles, Goff or Keenum, will have to get going with wide receivers Kenny Britt, Tavon Austin, and Bradley Marquez, etc. Playing in what is still a tough NFC West that features the Arizona Cardinals, Seattle Seahawks, and a down but not out, San Francisco 49er squad, it is a must that the Rams become an offense that is not one demensional, in order to compete for a division title, as well as a wild card spot.

Are the Los Angeles Rams ready? The positive vibes say, they are! But, the vibes 
must transfer, from the minicamps to the field, in regular season play.