The NFC West has been the butt of jokes now for years. In the very short term, this year's draft class will do little to change that.
The West has gone without a "respectable" division power since the days of the Greatest Show Rams and the Steve Hutchinson Seahawks. (Yes, I'm glossing over a surprising and thrilling Super Bowl appearance by a Kurt Warner-led Cardinals team, but that did more to burnish his HOF credentials than to cast the Cardinals as a dynasty in the making.)
And with the three non-horned teams all with desperate needs under center, this draft class sorely lacked in "impact" picks. Or "sexy" picks. Or anything that any barstool draftnik could hang his hat on and say "Oh yeah, they got way better! Look out!"
Here's the roundup, with skill positions highlighted.
|1. DE Aldon Smith
2. QB Colin Kaepernick
3. CB Chris Culliver
4. RB Kendall Hunter
5. OG Daniel Kilgore
6. WR Ronald Johnson
6. S Colin Jones
7. LB Bruce Miller
7. OL Mike Person
7. CB Curtis Holcomb
|1. OT James Carpenter
3. OG John Moffitt
4. LB K.J. Wright
4. WR Kris Durham
5. DB Richard Sherman
5. FS Mark LeGree
6. DB Byron Maxwell
7. DT Lavarius Levingston
7. LB Malcolm Smith
|1. DE Robert Quinn
2. TE Lance Kendricks
3. WR Austin Pettis
4. WR Greg Salas
5. S Jermale Hines
7. CB Mikail Baker
7. LB Jabara Williams
7. S Jonathan Nelson
|1. CB Patrick Peterson
2. RB Ryan Williams
3. TE Rob Housler
4. LB Sam Acho
5. FB Anthony Sherman
6. LB Quan Sturdivant
6. DT David Carter
7. WR Demarco Sampson
Team-by-team analysis after the break.
San Francisco 49ers
First off, I like the top of the 49ers draft quite a bit, even if Aldon Smith wasn't on the radar of many 49ers fans. (From The Red and The Gold: NFL Draft Round 1 React: Aldon Who?) Kaepernick is perhaps the most exciting prospect at quarterback in this year's draft -- think Tim Tebow with a better throwing motion. He will also get every chance to start as a rookie under coach Jim Harbaugh... which will make the December matchups between the Rams and Niners that much more exciting.
This is a team that doesn't really lack for talent, top to bottom. It lacked leadership, before this year. With Harbaugh and Kaepernick, they might have that in place.
Already, the Seahawks draft has been shredded by former player Trent Dilfer, although frankly, I think he's flat wrong in his assessment. The Seahawks had their "flash" draft last year, and while I think you have to deeply question whether Whitehurst can be the man, the fact is they badly needed an infusion of talent on their lines before any offensive impact could be felt.
Mike Parker from the Seahawk Addicts puts it perfectly. (From Round 3: Putting it All on the Line):
When you're rebuilding a unit that emphasizes cohesion -- such as the offensive line -- you have to start from the ground up. That's exactly what John Schneider and Pete Carroll have done tonight, on this second day of the 2011 NFL Draft.
However, until and unless the Seahawks find a real answer at quarterback, these investments won't bear fruit until next year or beyond.
St Louis Rams
The Rams draft will receive extended analysis in this corner, but the early reactions from draft graders are mixed to say the least. That's what drafting three projected fourth- and fifth-rounders in rounds 2-4, and three projected UFAs in rounds 5-7 will do.
However, having already done the hard work of rebuilding their core, the Rams did the most work in the division to add skill positions, raising the talent floor significantly on their roster even if they didn't wow with high-ceiling picks. The hope -- the keening, desperate hope -- here is that letting Josh McDaniels into the draft room won't backfire the way it did in Denver.
Meanwhile, the Cardinals' draft will do little to allay fears in the desert that the team is headed deeper into the division's cellar. While fans might have hoped for a quick rebound, this is looking like year two of a "five-year plan" ... the kind that rarely reaches year five. The kind that Cardinals fans have suffered almost without end since the end of the Air Coryell era in St Louis.
This quote, buried at the end of Mike Sando's NFC West review, says it all. Like Sherlock Holmes' "curious incident of the dog in the night time," the key to analyzing this draft is to see where the team should have been making noise, but inexplicably didn't:
The Cardinals haven't used higher than a fifth-round pick for an offensive lineman over the last four drafts.
Left guard Alan Faneca is nearing the end and could retire. Right guard Deuce Lutui is without a contract for 2011. Right tackle Brandon Keith is coming off a season-ending injury and still must prove himself as a long-term starter. Arizona had the oldest offensive line in the NFL last season, including backups.
As much as you might agree with supplanting Beanie Wells with Ryan Williams (and we do) or think Marc Bulger or another elder veteran can be respectable (and we don't), the top-to-bottom weakness of this line eviscerates their entire offensive mission.
All of which means the hopes of rescuing the NFC West from the title of "worst division in the NFL" for four years running rests in the hands of Sam Bradford, Josh McDaniels, and his new weapons on offense.