NFC West best bets to break through in 2011

Posted June 24, 2011 @ 9:09 a.m.
Posted By PFW staff

Pro Football Weekly presents the eighth of an eight-part divisional breakdown of the players most likely to be attending 2011 coming-out parties in the NFC West.

Arizona Cardinals

NT Dan Williams — Arizona's top draft pick last season steadily improved as the season wore on sharing time at nose tackle with 14-year veteran Bryan Robinson and five-year pro Gabe Watson. Williams is expected to take over the starting NT job in 2011 from Robinson, a free agent who looks like a long shot to remain with the team. Williams admitted to having some problems adjusting to the pro level initially, but by year's end, he was consistently occupying the middle and forcing more than one opposing blocker to keep him from penetrating. The 6-2, 327-pound Williams did his best work near the goal line, clogging up the interior for a Cardinals defense that was the league's best inside the red zone. Williams showed an ability to beat top centers (like Carolina's Ryan Kalil) en route to making plays and figures to be much more consistent in his second season.

St. Louis Rams

CB Bradley Fletcher — Fletcher, a third-round pick in the 2009 draft out of Iowa, had moved into the starting lineup in the fifth game of his rookie season and was starting to come on strong when he suffered a season-ending knee injury in Week Seven. He bounced back from major knee surgery in impressive fashion last season, finishing third on the team in tackles (75) and registering a team-high four interceptions. Fletcher has the size, long arms and press-coverage skills that Rams head coach Steve Spagnuolo likes his cornerbacks to possess. He made a big improvement in his ball skills and awareness in '10 and has a strong work ethic. Fletcher goes 100 mph all the time, but he is still developing. He leveled off a bit in mid-November but remains very eager and willing. He should be helped by the Rams' up-and-coming pass rush, which has been bolstered by the addition of first-round draft pick Robert Quinn.

San Francisco 49ers

ORT Anthony Davis — The Niners won't be happy if Davis does not show major improvement after what turned out to be a very rough rookie campaign. Immediately thrust into the starting lineup at right tackle along with fellow first-rounder Mike Iupati, who started at left guard, Davis was called for 10 penalties and yielded 11½ sacks. He proved to be a strong run blocker right out of the chute, but he whiffed in pass protection at least a couple of times per game. It's worth noting, though, that Davis is only 21 years old and is still considered to have a huge upside. He is extremely quick out of his stance and has great natural size and strength.

Seattle Seahawks

OLT Russell Okung — The Seahawks' 2010 first-round draft pick (sixth overall) played at less than full strength in his rookie campaign because of high sprains on both ankles that forced him to sit out 6½ games. Okung showed impressive agility and footwork in his pass blocking and a mean streak when drive-blocking in the run game. He first showed how good he could be when he made Bears Pro Bowl DE Julius Peppers a virtual nonfactor in Seattle's Week Six upset victory in Chicago last season. Okung looked dominant in some games but overmatched in other games. Okung missed the first three regular-season games with an injury to his right ankle midway through the preseason. He later hurt his left ankle in his third start. Okung showed great toughness and a willingness to play through pain. If he can stay healthy, he has Pro Bowl potential.