NFC West Draft Grades: 2016 NFL Draft
It wasn't long ago that the 49ers were the bullies of the NFC West and it was commitment to physicality along the line of scrimmage that returned in the first round, with San Francisco nabbing the 6-7, 291-pound DeForest Buckner at No. 7 overall and then trading back up for guard Joshua Garnett, the Defensive and Offensive Lineman of the Year, respectively, in the Pac-12. The 49ers took the same double-down approach at cornerback next, nabbing former SEC standouts in Will Redmond and lanky press corner Rashard Robinson. Each comes with significant concerns, however, with Redmond coming off an ACL tear and Robinson kicked off the team at LSU. Of San Francisco's day three selections, I'm most intrigued by former Appalachian State edge rusher Ronald Blair, who dominated at the lower level. Jeff Driskel struggled at Florida but resurrected his career at Louisiana Tech and is an ideal match in Chip Kelly's offense, making him an intriguing late-round selection for a club with plenty of questions at quarterback.
The clear top priority in Seattle was upgrading the offensive line, which the Seahawks did with Germain Ifedi in the first round, a long and powerful blocker used to protecting for a mobile quarterback and with the positional versatility offensive line coach Tom Cable prefers. The Seahawks nabbed Ifedi while also acquiring an extra third-round pick by trading down just five spots. Durability issues plagued Rees Odhiambo at Boise State and he will be asked to make the conversion inside to guard after playing tackle, but when healthy he showed top 50 talent, making him a nice value for the Seahawks in third round, as well. The most immediate impact might be made by defensive tackle Jarran Reed, however, a powerful run stuffer who will take over for free agent departure Brandon Mebane (San Diego) at nose guard. Seattle added talent at running back in ultra-athletic C.J. Prosise, hard-charging runner Alex Collins and little-used former Clemson rusher Zac Brooks to complement last year's rookie phenom Thomas Rawls and could see contributions from tight end Nick Vannett (who can block as well as catch) and fifth-round defensive tackle Quinton Jefferson. Center Joey Hunt lacks size but not smarts. Kenny Lawler has the body control and strong hands to surprise, as well.
If the Cardinals can light a fire under talented defensive tackle Robert Nkemdiche, the team's offseason acquisitions of Nkemdiche and edge rusher Chandler Jones could put Arizona in the driver's seat in the NFC West. Nkemdiche had his effort questioned at Mississippi, but his tape against Alabama was outstanding, and the Rebels' shocking loss to Memphis and Paxton Lynch was spurred by Nkemdiche being knocked out of the game with a concussion. Powerful and athletic, Nkemdiche could remind Cardinals fans a bit of a young Darnell Dockett, who also entered the league with some character concerns. I like the raw talent of later picks like cornerback Brandon Williams and Harlan Miller, as well as offensive lineman Cole Toner. However, the only other immediate contributor from this draft is likely to be center Evan Boehm, who fills a significant area of concern for the Cardinals, offering the grit and strength to possibly start as a rookie.
Los Angeles Rams
Some will characterize the Rams as moving up aggressively to nab quarterback Jared Goff as a public relations ploy to woo the notoriously fickle Los Angeles market, but his anticipation, pocket awareness and mobility and accuracy make him a legitimate franchise quarterback candidate. Given that the Rams went 4-2 in the division a year ago -- including sweeping the Seahawks and defeating the Cardinals once -- is an indication that this club is ready to win now with any kind of consistency at the position. And give general manager Les Snead credit, he protected the investment in Goff with the type of weapons that will help his young quarterback. Tight ends Tyler Higbee and Temarrick Hemingway and wideout Pharoah Cooper are players who can attack down the seam, taking full advantage of Goff's touch over the middle and mitigating his lack of elite velocity to the perimeter, where the NFC West's lanky, physical press corners like Richard Sherman and Patrick Peterson reside. Southern Miss wideout Mike Thomas has deceptive speed and good ball skills, as well.