Around the NFC West: Top team needs

As NFL teams begin construction on their 2012 rosters this month, here's a look at the top needs of the 49ers and their three divisional rivals in the NFC West.


Wide receiver: The 49ers have only three receivers under contract: Veterans Michael Crabtree and Kyle Williams along with youngster Joe Hastings, who spent most of last season on the practice squad as an undrafted rookie free agent. Joshua Morgan and Ted Ginn Jr. – two of the top receivers in the team's rotation last year who both started games – are scheduled to become free agents later this month. The glaring lack of a receiver was abundantly evident in the NFC title game with Crabtree's one catch for three yards being the only reception by a wideout. The 49ers could delve into the draft and the deep pool of free-agent receivers for help.

Cornerback: The 49ers are likely going to lose Shawntae Spencer and they could lose Pro Bowler Carlos Rogers as well. The team actually seems more high on Tarell Brown than Rogers. They also have promising youngsters Chris Culliver and Tramaine Brock from last year, but NFL teams always need corners and the 49ers could be down by two of them after free agency starts.

Running back: Frank Gore is now over 1,500 career carries and it showed at the end of the season. Anthony Dixon failed to impress with his limited carries and while Kendall Hunter provided a spark, he's only 5-7, 199 pounds. The team doesn't have a ready heir apparent to Gore and they may look for one in free agency and the draft.

Arizona Cardinals

Offensive tackle: The club is trying to re-sign left tackle Levi Brown, figuring he is their best option. Brown played well over the last half of the 2011 season after playing below expectations for most of the previous 4½ years. His cap number is due to escalate to $17 million, so he will be released and hit the market if a deal can't be reached. Brown has value, too, because he can play right tackle. The starter there, Brandon Keith, has shown flashes of ability, but hasn't produced consistently. If Brown re-signs, the team is most likely to address this position via the draft rather than free agency.

Wide receiver: Coaches still like Andre Roberts, the starter opposite Larry Fitzgerald. But Early Doucet, the No. 3 receiver, is an unrestricted free agent and there isn't much proven talent behind those three players. The Cardinals could still use someone with the ability to get deep. It's not likely to be addressed in the first round but somewhere in the fourth and fifth rounds makes sense. Free agency is also a possibility. If, say, Pierre Garcon, comes at a reasonable price, that would be a quality acquisition.

Outside linebacker: The projected starters, O'Brien Schofield and Sam Acho, are young but there the depth is shallow. Joey Porter won't be re-signed. Clark Haggans is 34 and a free agent. The Cardinals are committed to a 3-4 so drafting an outside linebacker or two every year makes sense.

St. Louis Rams

Wide receiver: The Rams are looking for talent outside the numbers that can support quarterback Sam Bradford. Brandon Lloyd is an unrestricted free agent the Rams say they are interested in bringing back, but Lloyd could be destined to follow offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels to New England. Danario Alexander has shown the ability tom make plays down the field, but injuries have kept him off the field. The Rams will look closely at the league's unrestricted free agents as well as considering the selection of Justin Blackmon in the draft.

Defensive tackle: This is a strong year for the position in the draft, and the Rams could be tempted, especially if they trade out of the second overall pick in the first round. Fred Robbins could be a salary-cap casualty. The other main players in the rotation last season were Justin Bannan, Gary Gibson and Darell Scott.

Cornerback: Injury question muddle the evaluation of this position goring forward. Ron Bartell was cleared to play late in the season after suffering a broken bone in his neck in the first game. Bradley Fletcher suffered a torn ACL in October during the team's bye, and it's unknown when he will be cleared to play. Jerome Murphy missed the entire season with a broken ankle suffered early in training camp. It has been a popular notion to link potential free-agent cornerback Cortland Finnegan to the Rams because he played for Fisher in Tennessee. However, the price tag could be very high for Finnegan.

Seattle Seahawks

Quarterback: Starter Tarvaris Jackson finished 7-7 as a starter in his first year in Seattle, and showed toughness by playing with a torn pectoral muscle for most of the season. But Jackson also failed to lead the Seahawks to a win in four late-game situations where Seattle needed to come from behind for a victory. The Seahawks would like to see Jackson take a major step in his performance similar to San Francisco's Alex Smith in 2011. Charlie Whitehurst will become a free agent, and likely will not return. And the Seahawks like the potential of undrafted rookie free agent Josh Portis.

Defensive end: The Seahawks struggled to generate much of a pass rush in 2011, and finished with just 33 sacks, tied for 19th in the league. Once again defensive end Chris Clemons led Seattle with 11 sacks, but the next guy behind him was linebacker Leroy Hill with four. The Seahawks have one of the best young defensive backfields in the league, but they'd like to add a couple explosive pass rushers up front.

Linebacker: Pete Carroll has said he'd like to get faster at linebacker. Veterans David Hawthorne and Leroy Hill are scheduled to become free agents. Hawthorne has led Seattle in tackles the past three seasons, but Carroll liked the way rookie K.J. Wright played at middle linebacker early last season, although he sees his best spot at outside linebacker.

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