- NFC West
- NFC North
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Our Roster Reset series takes a division-by-division look at where things stand across the league heading into the 2019 NFL Draft. Gennaro Filice examines the current makeup of the NFC West below.
The league-wide obsession with Sean McVay reached satirical heights earlier this year, when the coaching carousel seemingly became the football version of Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon, with the Los Angeles Rams’ head coach playing the gravitational role of the prolific thespian. "Ever shared oxygen with Sean? Wanna coach an NFL team??!" Admittedly, though, it’s impossible to deny McVay’s current place atop the NFC West marquee.
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In the 15 years prior to McVay’s arrival, the Rams won the NFC West once, while finishing in the bottom half of the division nine times. Two years into McVay’s tenure, the Rams have two division titles — and they just went 6-0 against NFC West foes, winning each game by an average of 18 points. So, yeah, McVay has earned all the shine in these parts. Heading toward the 2019 campaign, Los Angeles isn’t just the front-runner in the division, but a leading candidate to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl, as the organization did this past February. That’s not to say the Rams will cakewalk their way to a divisional threepeat, though. The NFC West doesn’t lack for savvy coaching and capable quarterback play — two vital ingredients for competitive Sundays in today’s NFL.
Seattle was the one NFC West team that played the Rams tough last year, with the Seahawks losing the two showdowns by a combined seven points. Pete Carroll’s club was supposed to be rebuilding, but the ‘Hawks caught fire down the back half of the season, winning six of their last seven games and snagging a wild-card slot. A playoff loss at Dallas doesn’t change the notion that the transitioning Seahawks were ahead of schedule in 2018 — and could truly arrive in 2019.
Meanwhile, the 49ers are trying to regain relevancy after a season in injury-induced purgatory. At this time one year ago, San Francisco was hype central. Jimmy Garoppolo had replenished the Faithful with hope, winning all five of his post-trade starts to close out the 2017 campaign, and the Niners were a sexy playoff pick. When free-agent acquisition Jerick McKinnon tore his ACL on Sept. 1, it was a gut punch. When Jimmy G tore his ACL 22 days later, it was a knockout blow. With those two back in the fold and some talented free-agent reinforcements coming aboard (LB Kwon Alexander, who’s recovering from a torn ACL of his own, DE Dee Ford and RB Tevin Coleman), are the post-hype 49ers poised to break through this fall?
Arizona holds up the rear in this division, but currently leads the pack in offseason intrigue. Are the Cardinals, with a new head coach (and a new Air Raid offense), about to spend a top-10 pick on a quarterback for the second year in a row? According to the good folks over at NFL Media Research, this has only happened once in the common draft era (going back to 1967): When the Baltimore Colts took Art Schlichter at No. 4 in 1982 and John Elway at No. 1 in ’83. Of course, Elway, who didn’t want to play for the Colts and threatened to play baseball instead, was traded to the Broncos within a week of his selection. If Arizona takes a certain baseball-playing quarterback at No. 1 in this year’s draft, something tells me he won’t be traded by Cinco de Mayo.
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BIGGEST ADDITION: Kliff Kingsbury, head coach.
Old team: Texas Tech (and USC, sort of). New team: Arizona Cardinals.
In November, Kingsbury was fired by Texas Tech after a third straight losing season dropped his career record to 35-40. In December, Kingsbury was hired to be USC’s offensive coordinator. In January, Kingsbury became the Cardinals’ head coach. Interesting winter, eh? Kingsbury, who was recently pranked by McVay (does that count for anything, resume-wise??), is known for his prolific offensive production. As a former Texas Tech star quarterback himself, Kingsbury put up video game numbers in Mike Leach’s Air Raid attack. Then, as an offensive coordinator (at Houston and Texas A&M) and a head coach (Texas Tech), Kingsbury directed high-octane offenses while fostering a series of future NFL QBs, including Case Keenum, Johnny Manziel, Baker Mayfield (briefly, and though not exactly swimmingly) and Patrick Mahomes. Clearly, Kingsbury’s reputation as a QB whisperer was the driving force in Arizona’s bold hire, but which QB do the Cardinals want Kingsbury whispering to: Josh Rosen (the 10th overall pick last year) or a potential target at No. 1 overall this year? That’s the question that has owned the pre-draft rumor mill, and whatever the answer ends up being will play a decisive role in determining whether Arizona’s polarizing gamble on Kingsbury pays off.
BIGGEST LOSS: Earl Thomas, safety.
Old team: Seattle Seahawks. New team: Baltimore Ravens.
With Richard Sherman playing for the rival Niners, Kam Chancellor unlikely to ever take the field again due to a neck injury and now Thomas relocating to Baltimore, the Legion of Boom has fully exited the room. Not to take anything away from Sherman and Chancellor, who each earned four Pro Bowl nods in Seattle, but Thomas was the most gifted Legionnaire. With instincts that can’t be taught and range that can’t be explained, Thomas was the dream single-high safety in Pete Carroll’s Cover 3 defense. At 29 years old, with six Pro Bowls and three first-team All-Pros under his belt, the guy’s on a Hall of Fame track. It’ll be exciting to watch his second act in Baltimore. But who will (attempt to) fill his shoes back in Seattle? Tedric Thompson got a crack at the job last season, after Thomas broke his leg in late September. Results were … mixed. While he’s penciled in as the starter right now, the ‘Hawks could look to an intriguing safety class in this month’s draft. Let’s throw a dart at one prospect who could fit the bill: Maryland’s Darnell Savage, a smart, instinctive center fielder whose 4.36 40 speed is on full display when he’s closing on the football. And he just so happens to be on Seattle’s list of pre-draft visitors.
SLEEPER ADDITION: Jason Verrett, cornerback.
Old team: Los Angeles Chargers. New team: San Francisco 49ers.
A first-round pick of the Chargers back in 2014, Verrett’s body has, quite simply, failed him. Limited to just 25 games due to various injuries over the last five seasons, the cornerback missed the entire 2018 campaign after tearing his Achilles tendon on the first day of training camp. When he actually hits the field, Verrett plays the position at a high level. In 2015 — the only season in which he’s eclipsed four starts — Verrett made the Pro Bowl and tied for Pro Football Focus’ highest coverage grade among cornerbacks. With San Francisco still seeking a starting cornerback opposite Richard Sherman, handing Verrett a one-year, $3.6 million deal is the kind of low-risk, high-reward deal that could pay off in spades.
Arizona Cardinals: The 2019 NFL Draft’s No. 1 question: What’s going on with the No. 1 pick? No one knows anything in the NFL’s silly season, but it sure seems like Kyler Murray is on the verge of replacing Josh Rosen as Arizona’s quarterback of the present and future. Yes, Arizona just traded up to nab Rosen 12 months ago. No, the pocket passer wasn’t put in a position to succeed, given the sieve of an offensive line fielded by the Cardinals in 2018. Life isn’t fair. And Murray, with his rare playmaking talent, appears to be a better fit in Kingsbury’s modern offense — not to mention, he offers the kind of escapability that would come in real handy with an O-line that remains suspect (though the recent acquisitions of OT Marcus Gilbert and OG J.R. Sweezy didn’t hurt). If Arizona is indeed zeroing in on the reigning Heisman Trophy winner, the Cards will almost certainly flip Rosen to a team seeking a more traditional dropback quarterback. (Everyone’s looking at you, Giants.)
Los Angeles Rams: With just one pick in the top 90 — No. 31 overall — the Rams aren’t likely to net a whole lot of instant-impact players in the coming draft. Fortunately, there aren’t many glaring holes on this roster. The thinking here is that Les Snead will spend that first-round pick on a big body for the trenches. Los Angeles cut loose starting center John Sullivan, while Andrew Whitworth could be heading into his final season at age 37. Meanwhile, Ndamukong Suh’s departure leaves a big hole at the nose, while Dante Fowler Jr. and Clay Matthews could be short-term solutions on the edges.
San Francisco 49ers: The good news: With QB Kyler Murray seemingly destined to go No. 1 overall (one way or another), the Jimmy G-led Niners should be able to get the top player on their board at No. 2. The bad news: The top three players on most big boards (Nick Bosa, Quinnen Williams and Josh Allen) all line up on the defensive front, an area where San Francisco has already expended significant first-round capital in recent years. The fake news: That the bad news actually matters enough to alter this year’s draft plan. How does a defensive line featuring Bosa, Dee Ford and DeForest Buckner sound to you? Like QB nightmare fuel? Good. Don’t overthink it.
Seattle Seahawks: First and foremost, the Seahawks need to figure out a path forward with their franchise quarterback. Heading into the final year of his current contract, Russell Wilson now wants a new deal by April 15, when Seattle begins its offseason program, according to NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport. While the price tag figures to be steep (potentially highest-paid-player-in-NFL-history steep), deadlines spur action. And it’s hard to imagine the ‘Hawks playing hardball in negotiations with the 30-year-old signal-caller. On the draft front, Seattle holds a league-low four picks, with only two in the top 120. So GM John Schneider will have to allocate his limited resources wisely. On the plus side: For the first time in recent memory, O-line isn’t a crying need.
Follow Gennaro Filice on Twitter @GennaroFilice.
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