Tag Archives: NFC West

NFC West: First Round Mock

It was just less than five years ago that the NFC West was thought to be the toughest division in football.  Every team had a tough defense, and the division games were grueling matches, usually decided at the line of scrimmage.  Now a days, it’s more like a Seahawks team with a lot of bark, an under achieving Cardinals team and two of the most poorly run franchises in the league in the Rams and the 49ers.

Here we will discuss the best option for these squads and what they should do with their first round pick.

San Francisco 49ers: 2nd Overall Pick
Finished 2016 with a 2-14 record
Def Yards: 32nd Off yards: 31st

Talk about a complete disaster.  The San Francisco 49ers were once considered one of the most cherished franchises in the league, but last year further cemented the “bottom feeder” persona that they really are.  The team’s best player is an above average running back in Carlos Hyde and a veteran left tackle in Joe Staley.  They went out and signed wide receiver Pierre Garcon but at quarterback they are looking at Matt Barkley and Brian Hoyer.  The “woes” don’t stop there either.  Defensively they are led by two veteran linebackers Ahmad Brooks and Navorro Bowman – but as 2016 showed, that isn’t scaring anybody. . .


Automatically, people may say: “You need to build this team around a quarterback,” and if that’s the case, have your pick with these “maybe-average-at-best” options, in Deshaun Watson and Mitchel Trubisky.   But just what can a rookie quarterback do with this team?  Exactly.  The only real option for the 49ers here is to auction off this pick to the highest bidder.  There is no shame in trading back and getting more picks, when you have one of the worse rosters in the NFL.  Since nobody has been able to get a clear feel on how teams feel about these quarterbacks, trading back may still ensure the Niners securing Watson or even maybe a Pat Mahomes or Brad Kaaya (Kaaya in maybe the 4th round).  But aside from the quarterback position, the Niners can benefit by getting multiple picks in rounds as last as the 4th or 5th and start plugging in players in positions of need. . . which will be easy because the 49ers need everything.

Los Angeles Rams: 5th Overall Pick
Finished with a 4-12 record
Def Yards: 9th    Off Yards:32nd

The draft helps bad teams like the Rams, get a good early pick to bolster areas needed.  Defensively, they were in the NFL’s top ten of yards given up, but finished dead last in offensive yardage.  They have a potential bust in their quarterback selection last year, have a weak offensive line and no real receiving threat.  .  . They most likely would’ve went on the offensive side of the ball, but unfortunately this pick is owned by the Tennessee Titans, so. . . that’s it for the Rams, who will continue to be a brutal on the offensive side of the ball.

Arizona Cardinals: 13th Overall Pick
Finished with a 7-8-1 record
Def Yards: 2nd    Off Yards: 9th

This Arizona team confused just about everybody.  Even I touted them as the best team in the league last year and was left looking as if I had no business talking football ever again. . . keeping that in mind, let me continue to talk about this sport of football. . .  The Cardinals lost two safeties in the off-season, but at the start of 2017 they’ll have a healthy Tyrann Mathieu back there, and he is possibly the best at the position.  Patrick Peterson is the lone corner on this team, so expect the Cardinals to go after Alabama’s Marlon Humphrey. BleedingGreenNation.com referred to him as “a tone setter in the secondary,” and his aggressiveness proves this to be true.  The issue is, he’ll probably be scooped up by Buffalo with the tenth pick, because they just lost Stephon Gilmore to the Patriots in free agency.  This leaves them with options though at corner, and the versatile  Adoree’ Jackson of USC comes to mind.  Not only is he a great athlete at the position (11 passes defensed and five interceptions) – his versatility as a kick returner and a wide receiver can open the door for a mad-scientist-head-coach like Bruce Arians.

The Cardinals, lacked a “spark” or “energy” last season, Jackson is the kind of electric player who can provide that to this franchise. It may be a bit of a stretch at the 13th spot, but I just believe he’s a better corner than Ohio State’s Marshon Lattimore and way better than Washington’s Sidney Jones.  Jackson is a player, who loves the spotlight and his kind of attitude would fit in great with Mathieu and Peterson.

Seattle Seahawks: 26th Overall Pick
Finished with a 10-5 record
Def Yards: 5th  Off Yards: 12th

The Seahawks are the one team in this division that seem to take winning seriously.  Even with that being understood, their franchise quarterback Russell Wilson has a tough go the last few years when it comes to not being sacked.  Some of it may be attributed to his inability at times of trying to do more than he can, but the sack numbers since 2013 to 2016 are: 44, 42, 45 and 41 — and last year he coupled that forty-one with his lowest number of touchdown passes, 21.  Seattle “helped” Wilson by signing tackle Luke Joeckel to a one year deal. . . Joeckel has been more of a “joke-el” after being selected with second pick overall in the 2013 draft by the Jacksonville Jaguars.


Seattle will most likely address this offensive line issue, although this draft doesn’t really have any standouts – at least not too many ‘first-round’ standouts.  The minds at Pro Football Focus ranked this unit as the worst in the league, and although my pick for them is somewhat of a gamble, the selection here is LSU guard Ethan Pocic. He can play both center and guard, but it is likely when drafted he would start out at guard.  LSU’s offensive line is one of the more dominant in college football, it didn’t matter if Leonard Fournette or Derrius Guice ran the ball – the ground game was able to pick up yards in chunks.  He is a patient player, who was trusted to make adjustments from the line.  He finished 2016 as a First-Team All American and SEC player. Some folks have him as a late second round talent, but I have him as one of my top three offensive linemen in the draft.

G.W. Gras
twitter @GeeSteelio

St. Louis Rams 2015 Preview

Jeff Fisher is now in his fourth year coaching the St. Louis Rams.  Fisher is one of the more respected coaches in the league, who holds on to a lot of old school values that he’s able to implement onto younger teams.  One has to wonder how long the leash is going to be on Fisher though after this season.  He has twenty wins and twenty seven losses along with one tie, since he’s coached the Rams, who are one of the teams rumored to be leaving for Los Angeles.  Fisher had been a big supporter of often injured quarterback Sam Bradford, but now his quarterback is Nick Foles.  In 2013, Foles shocked the world by finishing the season with twenty seven touchdowns and two interceptions but in 2014 injuries and reality set in as Foles finished with thirteen touchdowns and ten interceptions.  Chances are Fisher might be quick on the trigger to pull Foles if he struggles early to go back to his guy Austin Davis who filled in admirably last year for an injured Bradford.  Rams also went and drafted Sean Mannion of Oregon State who has some pro potential but is still a project.

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If rookie running back Todd Gurley has a successful return from his torn ACL, Tre Mason may find himself in a back up role more sooner than later.  Gurley has the blend of speed and power that some are comparing to Adrian Peterson.  In a tough division and with questions at quarterback, a healthy Gurley may see north of twenty five touches a game if he’s at full health.

It’s not a stretch to say the passing game had it’s struggles last year when the leading receiver was your tight end with 52 catches and 634 yards.  Jared Cook is a good, big bodied tight end who would probably flourish in a better system, but there has to be little belief that this offense will turn high-flying anytime soon.  Kenny Britt led the team in receiving yards with 748, but Britt is undependable off-the field and seems to be uninterested in football most of the time.  The Rams drafted West Virginia wide outs Tavon Austin and Steman Bailey in 2013 and both have been underwhelming.  Bailey has shown flares of being a better wide receiver than Austin, who is more of a Percy Harvin type of player, but with a small frame.   Austin just hasn’t gotten his footing in the pro game.  Brian Quick might be the best option for the team at wide out, but there is not number one corner in the league who is scared of him.

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The offensive line looked as if it was on its way to being one of the best in the league, but with Joe Barksdale now in San Diego and Jake Long looking for a new team (at present time, Atlanta is the favorite) things are looking shaky.  Young Greg Robinson is their starting left tackle for the next decade or so, if things go according to plan but it’ll be a tough season as he’s the only formidable member of this offensive line.

This defensive line must eat this offensive line for lunch when they practice though. . .

The Rams added free agent Nick Fairley to a mix that already has reigning defensive rookie of the year Aaron Donald who finished the season with nine sacks and proved from day one to have unnatural power at his disposal.  Robert Quinn’s sack numbers were down last year, but one might equate that to the fact that Chris Long was sidelined due to injury.  At full health this is a pass attack that makes offensive tackles lose sleep.   At the linebacker spot it seems that James Laurinattis and Alec Ogletree have a friendly competition as to who is the best linebacker on the team.  Laurinattis has the better instincts where Ogletree is the better athlete.

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Mark Barron is an aggressive safety that gives defensive coordinator Gregg Williams flexibility in his blitzing packages.  When considering those packages though, corner Janoris Jenkins needs to become more disciplined.  He bites on pump fakes and jumps on double moves to often.

The Rams are a team people keep saying will make a leap, but where and when?  Sure, the 49ers will have a down season, but Arizona and Seattle are still viable opponents in their division.  Asking this defense to keep their team in games week after week is a tall order especially when the offense will be generally predictable throughout the year.

Predicted Record: 7-9

Predicted Pro Bowlers: Aaron Donald, Chris Long, Todd Gurley

G.W. Gras

@GeeSteelio

Seattle Seahawks 2015 Preview

Why didn’t they give the ball to Marshawn Lynch?

That’s a question that will be asked throughout history like:

“What was first, the chicken or the egg?”

“What’s the meaning of life?”

“Who shot J.R.?”

Coach Pete Carroll said:  “It’s much easier for me to move forward than most people,” and Seahawks fans hope that’s the truth.  They also hope that quarterback Russell Wilson is the truth as the Seahawks and Wilson have inked a four year extension worth over $87 Million.  Every quarterback is grossly over-paid and here at NGSC we have already gone over why it’s a bad idea to give in to Wilson’s demands.  Regardless of our economic stances, Wilson is under center and this team wouldn’t want it any other way. . . for now. His options at wide receiver are still nothing that blows you away, but they get the job done. Doug Baldwin is a tough receiver that doesn’t mind doing the dirty work or going over the middle and Jermaine Kearse pretty much fits that same mold.  Everyone is expecting Chris Matthews to capitalize on his “out of nowhere” Super Bowl performance, but that’s doubtful.  The best wide receiver on the team may be the rookie out of Kansas State – Tyler Lockett.  At five foot ten inches tall and a buck-eighty in weight, he isn’t the biggest threat, but he has great hands, good speed and loves big moments – which is what the Seahawks are all about.

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The Seahawks went out and traded for tight end Jimmy Graham as Wilson’s go-to-target but the gamble here is one to watch.  In order to obtain Jimmy Graham, the Seahawks traded away offensive lineman Max Unger to the Saints.  Keep in mind they also lost guard James Carpenter to free agency and then there’s the fact that Jimmy Graham isn’t the best blocking tight end in the world.  All of a sudden one of the league’s most offensively aggressive teams, seems to have lost some of that aggression.   Luckily, they have the most aggressive player in the league running the ball: Marshawn Lynch.

Lynch seems to be a malcontent but he generally keeps it to himself and it doesn’t apparently bother anybody.  Lynch might be a little more vocal this year because of the previously mentioned “softening” of his line up front though.  Lynch has been trucking over people for years and there is no reason to assume he’ll drop off anytime soon, but something’s got to give eventually.   After the Super Bowl loss and the acquisition of Jimmy Graham, it’s obvious this team is leaning in the direction of putting the ball in Wilson’s hands over Lynch’s.

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The funny thing about Seattle is, even if Lynch AND Wilson weren’t on this team, this defense would keep them in and win them games on its own.   Cliff Avril’s signing went with not much fan fare in 2013, but it was one of the best “gets” for this Seattle defense.  Avril brought an athleticism to a defensive line that – didn’t even need it – along with Michael Bennett and Brandon Mebane they make life easier for one of the elite line backing corps in the league.

When a former first round pick, Bruce Irvin is the weakest part of your linebacker group, things can’t be bad.  K.J. Wright and Bobby Wagner have great vision and lateral movement – they can cover most tight-ends and collapse on the running game quickly.

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The “Legion of Boom” may have lost Byron Maxwell, but if nickel corner Jeremy Lane comes back quickly from injury he may slide into that number two corner spot held, for the time being, by Cary Williams.  If Richard Sherman isn’t the best corner in the game – he’s definitely the most confident – and with good reason.  Sherman’s size and athleticism makes it hard for opposing quarterback’s to look his way – although Sherman’s one fault is that he does NOT cover opposing team’s best wide outs every week.  He simply stays on his side of the field.  The safeties are the heart and soul of this defense and their hasn’t been a more talented / feared pair in quite some time – of course we’re talking about Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor.  Earl Thomas is literally everywhere while Kam Chancellor is where receivers don’t want to end up.

Seattle has a tough road schedule including games at Green Bay, Dallas and Baltimore; and playing in the NFC West guarantees that every division contest will be a long and grueling one.  Even with that, Seattle has what it takes to win the division and still make a run at the conference.

Predicted Record: 9-7

Predicted Pro Bowlers: Earl Thomas, Kam Chancellor

G.W. Gras

twitter @GeeSteelio

San Francisco 49ers 2015 Preview

*Editor’s Note: This article was written two days before the retirement of offensive lineman Anthony Davis and the arrest of Aldon Smith.

Forget everything you thought you knew about the San Francisco 49ers of recent history.  No more Jim Harbaugh. No more Frank Gore.  Patrick Willis is gone and so is Chris Borland.   How could things go so downhill so fast?  Ego, may have played a part in it, but now it doesn’t matter.  The 49ers find themselves in an unwanted position in the most physical division in football.

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Quarterback Colin Kaepernick has supposedly worked on his mechanics in the off-season and let’s all hope this is true.  At times Kaepernick looked like he was engaged in a shot-put competition when he was throwing a football.  Kaepernick is not the quarterback you want under center if trailing by double digits in the fourth quarter and last season he seemed to either second guess his dual-threat ability or not know how to use it to his advantage.  The 49ers need to remain focused on running the ball this year but without Frank Gore in the backfield, the assumption is that second year man Carlos Hyde becomes the guy.  People expected more from Hyde (albeit in a backup role) but four yards a carry isn’t too shabby and it’s something he can build on.  The 49ers didn’t show much faith in Hyde being the next Gore – as they will most likely have a running back committee.  They signed the versatile Reggie Bush, who for all things considered is on the downside of his career and they drafted South Carolina running back Mike Davis, who might end up stealing the number one spot on the depth chart by mid-season. Davis is a patient runner, who has big play potential as well as three-down-back potential.

The offensive line took a loss with Mike Iupati departing via free agency, but their tackles Joe Staley and Anthony Davis are the oxen on the o-line and love being physical.  This is a team that will depend on the interior of the line more than the outside of it, if they do intend on using a power-run-attack, relying on the presence of their guards which is where the Niners have nothing spectacular.

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The same can be echoed, with all due respect, to the wide receivers on the 49ers.  They signed Torrey Smith to reunite him with former Ravens wide out Anquan Boldin, but this isn’t 2011 so there isn’t much to get excited about it.  Smith provides the deep threat, but how will that work out with “Ol’ Shot-Put Colin” tossing the pigskin?  Boldin is a man’s man.  He’ll do the dirty work, and even in his 13th season he still managed 1,000 yards receiving.  Smith may be more flash than anything else though as he never became what they wanted him to be in Baltimore.  At tight end, Vernon Davis was downright dreadful last year but he’s all they got at that position.  It’ll be rare to see the Niners go Three-Wide, but if they do expect Bruce Ellington or Quinton  Patton to catch feelings as one will be the odd-man out.

This defense used to be a monster – and the 49ers coaching staff will need Aldon Smith to return with a clear head and become one of the elite pass rushers in the league again.  Aldon is a ticking time-bomb though and it’ll be interesting to see how free he gets off the edge without Justin Smith there to clear him a path.   The 49ers drafted Arik Armstead out of Oregon in the first round to help beef up the line – but it’s their second round pick Tank Carradine out of Florida State who will make more of an impact.  Carradine has a non-stop motor and power that you just can’t teach – while Armstead is the type to get stood up more often than not and kind of gives up if his first attempt is stopped.

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The return of NaVorro Bowman will be a nice sight as he is returning from the game after being sidelined for over a year after a grotesque knee injury.  This used to be the best linebacker group in the NFL with Bowman, Willis, Smith and Ahmad Brooks – but Willis is gone, Smith is a certified nut-job and Brooks might lose his job to Aaron Lynch if he doesn’t show better production early.  Not the softest of landing spots for Bowman, who will be depended on to direct a defense that will probably be on the field a lot. . .

The 49ers secondary seems to get destroyed by free agency every year and this year was no different.  There is a lot of youth and inexperience at the corner back spots, but at least the safeties Eric Reid and Antoine Bethea are still there.  Reid and Bethea will probably be taken out of their comfort zone and asked to do a lot more one on one coverages because of the lack of experience at corner – it could get ugly.

Predicted Record: 4-12

Predicted Pro Bowlers: None

G.W. Gras

Twitter @GeeSteelio

Who’s Left to Challenge the Seahawks?

Pound for pound, the Seattle Seahawks have been viewed as  the most balanced and deepest team in the NFL.  It’s rare to see a team get built from the ground up and have more than formidable depth on both sides of the ball.  The Seahawks get the best out of every team that they face every week, but no team has been a bigger thorn to their side than the San Francisco 49ers.

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The NFC West used to be decided by these two squads who basically were mirror images of each other.  They both had offenses that lived off the running game, while their defenses were aggressive and in some ways paid tribute to the style of defenses played in the NFL of yesterday.

For the 49ers it was almost literally yesterday that they were a team that could go toe to toe with Seattle.   After the much publicized breakup between head coach Jim Harbaugh and the San Francisco 49ers – things started to fall apart with this roster.  Running back Frank Gore signed an off-season deal with the Indianapolis Colts and with that the 49ers all time leader in rushing yards and attempts is gone.  Long time defensive linemen Justin Smith retired from the game of football,  linebacker Patrick Willis retired at age 30 and that loss wouldn’t be too bad if it wasn’t for the following retirement by much heralded rookie linebacker Chris Borland announcing his retirement for fear of long term brain damage.  For the same reasons, 25 year old right tackle Anthony Davis has retired as well.

Add to the fact that last season tight end Vernon Davis didn’t look the part of the pro-bowl caliber tight end he is paid to be and that now there are trade rumors circulating quarterback Colin Kapernick – the 49ers are simply not the same.  And won’t be for a while.

So who in this division will step up and challenge the Seahawks?

The options are the St. Louis Rams and the Arizona Cardinals.  Let’s start with the Rams.

Head coach Jeff Fisher knows how to coach teams well enough to hang around in games they have no reason hanging around in.  That’s a testament to his coaching ability and how he tends to get players to play for him.  Fisher will most likely look to protect newly acquired quarterback Nick Foles with a punishing running attack from rookie Todd Gurley and second year man Tre Mason.  They have a head case at wide receiver in Kenny Britt and the two West Virginia wideouts who can’t seem to get anything right on the field in Stedman Bailey and Tavon Austin – defensively though – they are solid. With Chris Long and Robert Quinn applying pressure from the end positions and second year defensive tackle Aaron Donald coming through the middle – it makes life easier for this talented secondary and linebacker group.   Their secondary isn’t as talented as Seattle’s but they are talented enough for Seattle’s wideout group.  St. Louis needs to put this all together though.  With all of this talent they have on the defensive side of the ball the Rams were still “middle of the pack” in terms of rushing and passing yards given up per game.

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Everyone’s darlings of last year, the Arizona Cardinals are a team that’s easy to like because they don’t come with the “rah-rah” mentality that the rest of their division opponents have.  They also have (arguably) the best coach in the NFL in Bruce Arians.  One can make an easy argument that Arians has been the best coach in the NFL in the last three years.  He seemingly resurrected Carson Palmer’s career – then Palmer got hurt.  No problem, the team and Arians were confident with Drew Stanton under center. . . then came the injury to Stanton and even the amazing coaching of Arians couldn’t lift the below average talents of Ryan Lindley and Logan Thomas at quarterback.  Never-the-less, at full strength the Cardinals are a team that can put up 10 wins in a season AND give Seattle trouble for the division.

Defensively Calais Campbell is one of the best defensive ends in the league that nobody talks about but it’s their hybrid-like 3-4 defensive scheme that drives offensive coordinators crazy.  Arizona’s defense only averaged about 18 points a game to opponents and a lot of that was based more on a bend and don’t break (before the 20 yard line) mentality.

So when the question is posed : “Who will challenge the Seahawks in the NFC West?,” — there is one obvious answer: The Arizona Cardinals.

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They have the talent on offense to at least spread out the Seattle defensive attack and minimize their blitzing abilities.   With Harbaugh out of this division and with Jeff Fisher’s best coaching days seemingly behind him – Bruce Arians is the one in this division with the savvy and intellect to top Seahawks coach Pete Carroll in a game of X’s and O’s.

Let’s be honest, if Bruce Arians was coaching the Seahawks in the Super Bowl – he would’ve handed the ball off to Marshawn Lynch. . .

 

G.W. Gras

twitter GeeSteelio