The final division is finally here. It’s a division I expect to be 3 strong in the playoffs this year. Therefore, their draft and free agency may be the difference between picking in the 20s come April and playing in the Superbowl.
Arizona Cardinals (A-)
Jordan Phillips had a breakout year with 9.5 sacks with the Bills. Therefore, a 3-year deal may be misguided but Phillips was signed on the bases of the Cardinals getting bigger on the D-Line whilst having athletic LBs flying from sideline to sideline. The 324lbs NT Phillips will also help the development of Fotu, the 335lbs rookie. Devon Kennard adds even further to the pass rush of the Cardinals, he will probably only be used in spells, but that will likely benefit him as he isn’t consistent in pass coverage. Kennard either needs to be in a blitz heavy scheme or have a top tier pass rusher on the other side, hello Chandler Jones. Campbell is a veteran tackling machine who will help down the strong running games of the 49ers and Rams in division. A one-year contract is an especially good idea. A decent free agency, signing a great interior O-Lineman would have improved it (like getting Connor McGovern to help protect Kyler Murray over current centre Mason Cole).
The draft was a great success. Getting the incredibly versatile Isaiah Simmons who gets to learn from Chandler Jones, Bubba Baker and Jordan Hicks at his LB/Safety hybrid position. Then their second-round pick was the best WR is football … DeAndre Hopkins. The steal of the decade. Now Murray can throw to Hopkins, Fitzgerald, Kirk, Isabella and don’t forget the above average catching skills of Kenyan Drake. Kingsbury’s air raid offense will take off this year. In the third, they grabbed the falling Josh Jones to protect Murray. Fotu and Lawrence are monsters on the D-Line. Lawrence has the pedigree of LSU but an injury history. Fotu has 335lbs of muscle and will eat up interior rushing games along with Phillips, they can help make holes for Campbell. Evan Weaver was Pac-12 defensive player of the year who’s instincts and understanding of the game will lead to him being a vital player in the future. Benjamin in a high ceiling flyer in the 7th who can take over from Drake is injury strikes.
Los Angeles Rams (B)
The Rams continue along the downward slope from losing Superbowl 53. Losing Fowler Jr isn’t the end of the world with the $15 million per year being put to better use. Brockers seemed to take a below market price deal to stay in LA which still leaves the Rams with a fearsome D-Line. Resigning Littleton was a good move, but he will have to play linebacker essentially by himself with the depth at that position non-existent. Extending Whitworth is a little worrying as the out is after 2 years, not 1. He is past his prime and makes his decision on retirement yearly. Losing Gurley isn’t worrying but the biggest loss may be Greg “The Leg” Zuerlein. Quality kickers are difficult to find and Zuerlein (despite some issues last year). Now they’ll just need to settle the payment disputes with Clay Matthews and others.
Cam Akers was a great pick in the second round. He had no help from his O-Line at Florida State but looked slick at the combine, easily catching the ball and with a sharp change of direction; he can step into Gurley’s shoes once he beats out Brown and Henderson. Jefferson is faster than many see, saving his speed for the pitch rather than a 40-yard dash. He is a great route runner as well so for a 3rd round pick, he was a good choice. Lewis needs to not get injured and he won’t be starting for a few seasons, he’s very raw. Burgess is the next defensive back out of Utah that can quietly become a starter in the NFL. For now, he gets to learn from Rapp and Johnson. His special teams value is high and makes up for some slight doubts in man coverage. Brycen Hopkins will be able to push Everett and Higbee, one of them will likely be traded before the season or at the trade deadline. Sam Sloman will have to replace Greg “The Leg” Zuerlein so a lot of pressure on his young shoulders.
San Francisco 49ers (B+)
The defending NFC champions were tasked with having to replace losses. These losses were mainly Deforest Buckner and Emmanuel Sanders. Buckner is one of the best DTs in the NFL and whilst he leaves a big hole behind, moving him for a first round pick when they wouldn’t be able to resign him next year was a good move. However, I would have signed him over Armstead so we’ll see if Buckner shines in Indy and if Armstead stops improving in San Francisco. While the defence is still going to be good without Buckner, the offense will be greatly affected by the loss of Sanders. The difference in Garoppolo’s game with/without Sanders was ridiculous. Garoppolo passed for an average of 232.6yds per game without Sanders (excluding the Washington game, the weather meant he would never throw for a lot of yardage), once Sanders turned up at week 8, Garoppolo threw for 266.4yds per game (excluding playoffs). Kittle is still the best tight end in the league and Deebo Samuel will only improve, but Sandres was a key part of the offense and Garoppolo needs a supporting cast. If Jason Verrett can keep healthy, he’ll be a steal but that is a big IF for him.
The draft was in the quality over quantity group. Kinlaw will regularly wins with a bull rush and is very quick for a man of his size 6ft 5in, 315lbs. He will be immediately tasked with replacing Buckner, he won’t be able to do this his rookie season but with Bosa and Armstead at the edges, Kinlaw should see double teams rarely. His small flaws are coachable, like losing his balance whilst trying to gain penetration to the pocket. Second of the 49ers first round picks, Brandon Aiyuk, is the Sanders replacement. He has a ridiculous wingspan (one of a 6ft 8in person yet he is only 6ft). Aiyuk won’t be dropping passes and he is likely better than his former teammate N’Keal Harry. Shannahan reportedly had him as the NO.1 WR on his board and they got him at pick 25, if the 49ers are to return to the Superbowl, Aiyuk will need to have an impact like Sanders did last year. Woerner and Jennigns will be fighting for roster spots.
Seattle Seahawks (C+)
If there are two teams that these rankings mean literally nothing for, it would be the Patriots and the Seahawks. Their drafts don’t look great, their free agent signings look shallow, but the teams are good every year. And this year will be no different. There O-Line went from average to flat out bad this year with the losses of Fant, Flucker and Ifedi. BJ Finney and Brandon Shell help but are not top tier talents. Wilson will be running for his life again, but he is a rare talent which can survive such a challenge. Losing Quinton Jefferson shouldn’t hurt the defence too much and Bruce Irvin will help bring leadership to this suddenly young defence. Olsen will do the same on the offensive side of the ball and will provide Wilson for a tight end if Dissly can’t stay healthy. Hyde adds to the rotation at running back and will be a big help if the injuries strike the position yet again.
Jordyn Brooks was never considered a round 1 talent, but he was selected at the end of the first round. He will instantly be starting in the Seattle defence. The good news is he will be trained up by Bobby Wagner, the best middle linebacker in the league. Brooks is a great run stopper which will help in a division with the 49ers rushing attack and QB Jared Goff forcing the Rams to be run heavy. However, he really struggles in zone coverage. Taylor is an edge rusher who flashes but is rarely consistent for a game at getting penetration into the backfield. He will be a 4-6 sacks a season guy. Damien Lewis is the jewel of the draft class, a great guard who will be starting by mid-season. Look for Wilson to be more comfortable in the pocket once Lewis Starts, early on he’ll be a backup, however. Colby Parkinson enters one of the best places in the NFL. He learns from Greg Olsen and is being thrown to by Russell Wilson, he has no excuses in the future, but this year he will hardly see the field. Deejay Dallas is a power runner, another player in a strong stable of running backs. Robinson is limited in his pass rush skills but is effective at what he does. He should get odd pressure but won’t be consistent.