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NFC West team needs

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Dan Arkush

darkush@pfwmedia.com
Executive editor

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Posted March 01, 2010 @ 2:56 p.m. ET
By Dan Arkush

Updated April 21, 2010 @ 4:50 p.m. ET

Second in a series of analyses of team needs, by division.

Arizona Cardinals

Quarterbacks: With Kurt Warner retiring, and Brian St. Pierre entering the offseason as an unrestricted free agent clamoring for a starting opportunity, the Cardinals signed ex-Brown Derek Anderson to compete with former first-rounder Matt Leinart for the starting QB job. The Cardinals might still consider drafting another quarterback with a late pick who they can groom behind Leinart and Anderson, unless they re-sign UFA Brian St. Pierre

Running backs: Don't look for the Cardinals to spend too much time contemplating running backs, unless they run into an opportunity too good to pass up. The combination of 2009 first-rounder Chris "Beanie" Wells and steadily improving Tim Hightower gives the team a potentially potent 1-2 punch out of the backfield for a long time to come. The Cards could consider drafting a fullback with UFA Dan Kreider experiencing shoulder problems late in the year. 

Receivers: Another pass catcher or two figures to be acquired. The trade of Anquan Boldin to Baltimore creates a potentially debilitating domino effect. Restricted free agent Steve Breaston takes over as the No. 2 receiver behind Larry Fitzgerald, while Early Doucet, who has had problems staying healthy, moves up to the No. 3 role. The door would then be opened wide for a new No. 4 WR, with UFA Jerheme Urban, who filled that role last season, signing with the Chiefs. With the Cardinals re-sgning UFA Anthony Becht, who proved to be an excellent run blocker in 2009, and RFAs Ben Patrick and Stephen Spach, tight end doesn't appear to be a major need.

Offensive line: Help at tackle could be on the way with UFA OLT Mike Gandy likely to move on. Former first-round draft pick Levi Brown, who has not lived up to expectations as the starting right tackle, is expected to switch to the left side. That would create uncertainty at right tackle, with the prime candidates currently being Brandon Keith, a raw but unproven talent, and newly re-signed Jeremy Bridges, who tailed off after excelling in place of the injured Gandy against the Vikings and Pro Bowl DE Jared Allen. Free-agent addition Rex Hadnot, who made six starts at right guard for Cleveland in 2009, figures to compete with incumbent OGs Deuce Lutui and Reggie Wells for a starting role.

Defensive line: Another quality edge pass rusher to complement Darnell Dockett in four-man fronts would be hard to pass up. The situation at nose tackle is a bit unsettled, with UFA starter Bryan Robinson conceivably nearing the end of the line at the age of 35, and neither Gabe Watson nor Alan Branch being able to sufficiently replace Robinson despite numerous opportunities. 

Linebackers: This position could command the most attention in late April — especially inside, where UFA Karlos Dansby must be replaced after signing with the Dolphins, and Gerald Hayes struggled with back problems much of the second half of the '09 campaign. The need to find an upgrade on the right side was also considered great until the March 19 signing of accomplished sacker Joey Porter. Fellow free-agent addition Paris Lenon adds depth both inside and outside.  

Defensive backs: The Cardinals could still use some help at safety even after trading for Kerry Rhodes to replace 2009 starting FS Antrel Rolle, who signed with the Giants. S Rashad Johnson must make a quantum leap after a shaky rookie campaign.The Cardinals have plenty of bodies on the corners, but considering how they got picked apart in the playoffs — especially the undersized Michael Adams — they might consider more help at the position.

Special teams: Jay Feeley, most recently with the Jets, replaces Neil Rackers as the Cardinals' placekicker. P Ben Graham is signed through 2010, but he has struggled with hamstring problems near the end of the past two seasons. If Breaston becomes a starting wideout, the team will have to find a new punt returner.

Summary: After surrendering 90 points and 911 yards in their two playoff games and losing two key defenders in Dansby and Rolle, the Cardinals will probably focus more on the defensive side of the ball in the draft. But it's possible they could still spend high picks on wide receivers, offensive tackles or quarterbacks should the right fits be there for the taking.

 

St. Louis Rams

Quarterbacks: It's widely assumed that the Rams' starting QB in 2010 is currently not on the roster. With that in mind, look for the team to consider four options: (1) select their QB of the future (Oklahoma's Sam Bradford?) with the first overall pick; (2) trade down in the first round with the intention of picking up a new signalcaller along with some extra picks; (3) draft a QB high in the second or third round and gamble that he immediately becomes another Drew Brees; or (4) pick up a new QB as a "bridge" starter in either a trade or free agency. Although he is familiar with the Rams' offensive system, free-agent addition A.J. Feeley projects as the primary backup.

Running backs: The need remains great for a change-of-pace backup who could help keep undisputed centerpiece Steven Jackson at peak efficiency and actually move the chains when called upon, which primary '09 backups Kenneth Darby and Samkon Gado have had a hard time doing on a consistent basis. Chris Ogbonnaya, a 2009 seventh-rounder, did show some late-season flashes, but the Rams need a lot more than an occasional pick-me-up behind Jackson.  

Receivers: A consistent downfield threat is a top priority for arguably the league's most impotent offense. Donnie Avery seems better suited as a slot receiver than the legitimate No. 1 wideout the team first envisioned. Three likely keepers — Laurent Robinson, Keenan Burton and Brooks Foster — finished the '09 season on injured reserve, and none of them is considered a No. 1-caliber pass catcher. With underachieving UFA TE Randy McMichael unlikely to be re-signed, it would not be a shock if the Rams used a high pick on a receiving tight end that can stretch the field. The Rams re-signed free agent Daniel Fells, who fills the bill nicely in a complementary role. They also signed ex-Giants TE Darcy Johnson.

Offensive line: The Rams believe they are in better shape on the O-line than they have been in a long time. But a bit more depth wouldn't hurt, especially at the tackle spots, with RFA Alex Barron not guaranteed to remain on the roster, and 2009 first-round draft pick Jason Smith having his share of health issues in his first season with the team. The team added veteran free agent Hank Fraley, who has played mostly center in his 10-year career but can also play guard, and also re-signed interior lineman Mark Setterstrom to a one-year deal.

Defensive line: With Clifton Ryan considered the only truly legitimate starting defensive tackle — unless you include free-agent addition Fred Robbins, who shapes up more as an experienced sub at this stage of his career — and entering a draft top-heavy with blue-chip talent at the position, it could be difficult for the Rams to resist using the first overall pick in the draft on either the highly regarded Gerald McCoy or Ndamukong Suh. Defensive end also figures to be a relatively high priority with veteran UFA Leonard Little's status up in the air. The team did re-sign UFA James Hall.

Linebackers: In Steve Spagnuolo's first season at the helm, the defense had consistent problems on the perimeter, where the new head coach appeared willing to get by with merely serviceable linebackers on the flanks. One or two talented outside 'backers to complement James Lauriniaitis, who was most impressive in the middle as a rookie, could be on the Rams' radar screen. The team signed Na'il Diggs, most recently with Carolina, April 7, and he figures as the starter on the weak side entering the draft. 

Defensive backs: The Rams seem satisfied enough with their starters in the secondary, but keeping them healthy was a major challenge last season. With so many injury-prone DBs on the roster, more depth at both cornerback and safety wouldn't be a bad idea. The Rams signed ex-Giants CB Kevin Dickery March 22.

Special teams: For the first time in a long time, the Rams appear to be in pretty decent shape after steadily improving last season under the direction of first-year special-teams coach Tom McMahon. PK Josh Brown, P Donnie Jones and workhorse return specialist Danny Amendola headline what has become a solid unit. But the team might look for some kick-return help to lessen the load of Amendola, who also made his presence felt as a receiver.

Summary: After setting a franchise record with 15 losses, it's rather obvious that the Rams need lots of help just about everywhere. The major goal of GM Billy Devaney will be to procure as many playmakers on both sides of the ball as possible.

 

San Francisco 49ers

Quarterbacks: Even though head coach Mike Singletary's commitment to Alex Smith was lukewarm at best at season's end, the Niners don't figure to make QBs much of a priority in the draft, especially after signing free-agent David Carr to compete with Smith this offseason. Smith, Carr and the promising Nate Davis provide plenty of depth.

Running backs: The Niners also appear to be in decent shape in the backfield, with featured back Frank Gore leading the way. But a bit more depth at the position probably wouldn't be a bad thing, especially if they can draft a shifty change-of-pace back who could double as a respectable kick returner.

Receivers: Assuming the Niners continue to employ the "Raygun" spread offense at least some of the time, they are going to need more receivers. 2009 first-round draft pick Michael Crabtree and Josh Morgan have the makings of a solid starting duo, although Morgan's speed is somewhat suspect. But behind them, there are plenty of questions, with veterans Isaac Bruce and Arnaz Battle out of the mix and the team appearing to have mixed feelings about Jason Hill and '09 free-agent addition Brandon Jones. Ex-Dolphin Ted Ginn Jr. was obtained in a trade April 16 and provides a new deep threat. It's possible the team uses a late pick on a No. 3 tight end candidate behind the potent duo of Vernon Davis and Delanie Walker.

Offensive line: After free-agent addition Marvel Smith retired late last August due to back problems, right tackle remained a season-long weak link, although Tony Pashos, who signed with the Browns, was just beginning to settle in as a starter when he fractured his shoulder in Week Seven. Using one of the team's two picks in the first round on a possible new starting right tackle is a strong possibility. Veteran UFA Barry Sims was re-signed. Look for the team to also possibly draft a couple of guards to push projected starters David Baas, who signed his RFA tender, and Chilo Rachal.

Defensive line: With UFA NT Aubrayo Franklin assured of remaining with the team after receiving the franchise tag, the D-line shapes up as a team strength that wouldn't appear to require too much help from the draft. A bit more depth at the end position wouldn't hurt, considering Ray McDonald's injury history.                    

Linebackers: Even though the Niners' pass rush improved greatly in 2009, with at least four sacks in five different games, it was still too inconsistent. Another outside 'backer capable of applying steady pressure could prove very useful. Inside, starting "Ted" backer Takeo Spikes is 33 years old, and reserve Matt Wilhelm is an unrestricted free agent. The team added some depth outside with the signing of five-year veteran Travis Laboy April 20.

Defensive backs: A dynamic, playmaking cornerback could be the Niners' No. 1 need. Shawntae Spencer turned out to be surprisingly reliable as the starting right corner, but there are issues with just about everybody else at the position. UFA Walt Harris is a long shot to return after undergoing major knee surgery that forced him to miss the entire '09 season. UFA Dre' Bly, who was starting at left corner at the end of last season, is less of a long shot to leave than Harris, but far from a lock to be back. Former starting CB Nate Clements appears to have slipped significantly. Free-agent addition Karl Paymah could figure in the CB mix. Some more depth at safety would also be nice, with starting SS Michael Lewis having concussion issues, and former starter-turned-useful-reserve Mark Roman being an unrestricted free agent.

Special teams: The addition via trade of Ted Ginn Jr. April 16 probably eliminated what looked to be a strong possibility that the Niners would spend a pretty high pick on a kick returner. The Niners were last in average punt-return yardage in 2009. Battle, the primary punt returner much of the time last season, will not return, and the team would much prefer that '09 primary kickoff returner Josh Morgan concentrate solely on receiving next season.

Summary: It should be interesting to see what GM Scot McCloughan does with the team's two picks in the middle of the first round (13th and 16th or 17th). Despite much more pressing needs for an offensive tackle and a pass rusher, McCloughan made Crabtree the Niners' first pick in '09. Will he stick with a "best available athlete" strategy again this season? Or will he use his first-round picks on a top-grade cornerback and a quality right tackle, the team's top two needs? Stay tuned.

 

Seattle Seahawks

Quarterbacks: New head coach Pete Carroll said he was committed for the time being to incumbent signal caller Matt Hasselbeck. But with the 34-year-old Hasselbeck entering his contract year next season and coming off a very forgettable '09 campaign, newly acquired Charile Whitehurst, for whom the Seahawks paid a hefty price, just might end up replacing Hasselbeck under center sooner than later.

Running backs: For the zone-block run scheme that is expected to become an even more prominent factor in the Seahawks' offense with Alex Gibbs taking over the O-line, the team needs to find more backs who can pick up the tough yards and come through consistently in short-yardage situations. Diminutive Justin Forsett had some impressive stretches last season, but he is considered far from featured-back material. As for Julius Jones, since becoming a Seahawk he has been injury-prone and inconsistent. The Seahawks could also consider a late-round fullback with Justin Griffith being an unrestricted free agent. UFA Quinton Ganther, who gained more than 200 yards for the Redskins last season, ads depth.

Receivers: With UFA Nate Burleson signing with the Lions and Deion Branch remaining a high-priced disappointment, the Seahawks could spend a few picks on some pass catchers who can get downfield and help open up an offense that completely fizzled out the second half of the '09 season. A big target was added to the mix in free-agent addition Ruvell Martin. The team appears to be in good shape at tight end, with emerging force John Carlson and free-agent addition Chris Baker. 

Offensive line: Clearly, a top priority will be to find a promising left tackle who can make a quick impact with nine-time Pro Bowler Walter Jones a good bet to announce his retirement. Even if Jones decides to continue playing, he's 36 years old and has missed 20 games over the past two seasons. The best-case scenario would be to draft a stud tackle that could immediately begin effectively protecting Hasselbeck's blind side. That way the team could keep Sean Locklear at right tackle, where he is much better suited, or possibly switch Locklear to right guard. RFA Chris Spencer has failed to live up to expectations at center and guard, and RFA OG Rob Sims was traded to the Lions. Max Unger looks like a fixture in the making at center, but upgrades are needed at every other position on the line, as Hasselbeck took a major beating last season. The team signed former Broncos veteran OG Ben Hamilton April 20.  

Defensive line: The pass rush just kept regressing last season, managing only two sacks the last five games. A consistently disruptive pass rusher off the edge would come in handy. In 2009, the defense never was able to get to the opposing QB with four-man rushes. It remains to be seen just how much newly acquired Chris Clemons, who was obtained in a trade with the Eagles in exchange for Darryl Tapp, will improve the situation. Patrick Kerney, who led the team in sacks in ’09, retired April 13. UFA DL Cory Redding signed with the Ravens. Inside, the team seems reasonably satisfied, even though Brandon Mebane's numbers were very disappointing last season (only 1½ sacks).

Linebackers: If everybody can stay healthy, linebacker should be a team strength, with hyperactive David Hawhtorne breathing down the necks of projected starters Aaron Curry, Lofa Tatupu and Leroy Hill. But valuable backup D.D. Lewis is an unrestricted free agent, and the team might consider a 'backer or two who could add depth and also help out on special teams. The Seahawks signed free-agent Matt McCoy, who played for Tampa Bay the past two seasons, in mid-March.

Defensive backs: More plays from the secondary in 2010 are imperative if the Hawks are to have any shot at turning things around. Jordan Babineaux improved as the season wore on and provided some big plays at free safety, but it remains to be seen who will start on the strong side with the release of longtime starter Deon Grant leaving Babineaux and Jamar Adams as the only safeties on the roster as of mid-March. At cornerback, the team needs Marcus Trufant to regain the form he showed prior to last season, which is hardly a given. Trufant started off the '09 season on the PUP list and never appeared right once he got back into the starting lineup. In addition, Ken Lucas, who never came through the way the team hoped he would, is an unrestricted free agent.

Special teams: The Seahawks gave the franchise tag to veteran PK Olindo Mare, who really got his act together after publicly getting ripped by former head coach Jim Mora after missing 2-of-6 field goals against the Bears in Week Three. Jon Ryan, who just received a well-deserved new contract, provides rock-solid punting. The team could draft a potential new primary kick returner should it decide it wants to keep Forsett totally focused on his RB duties.

Summary: There are a number of directions Carroll and new GM John Schneider could go with three of the first 40 selections in the 2010 draft. If the team were to use those three picks based purely on need, which isn't likely, they would probably go after a left tackle, a potential starting safety and a quality pass rusher — in no particular order.

 

For the most authoritative NFL draft news and free-agency analysis, visit ProFootballWeekly.com.

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