Around the NFC West: Draft strategies & needs

A detailed look at the draft strategies of the 49ers' three rivals in the NFC West, along with a breakdown by position of each team's top needs in the upcoming college lottery.



The Cardinals have never been wheeler-dealers in the draft, and given the results of recent trades, that might be a good thing.

In 2003, they traded down from No. 6 and ended up with receiver Bryant Johnson and defensive end Calvin Pace, two players many people rated as second-round choices. Last year, they gave up a fourth-round pick to move up to take nose tackle Alan Branch in the second round. Branch did little as a rookie, although it's too early to call him a disappointment.

The Cardinals only had five picks last year, and one of those, Florida State linebacker Buster Davis, didn't make the team. You would think the club would have great motivation to trade down from the 16th pick in exchange for more selections.

But it's going to take an overwhelming offer to get the team to do that, GM Rod Graves acknowledged. The Cardinals' tendency is to stay at No. 16, and if they move down, they don't want to go far.

Owner Bill Bidwill is thrilled the team isn't picking in the top 10, as is its usual custom, so there is virtually no chance the team will move up. Beside, the Cardinals need depth and an infusion of young talent, so it doesn't make sense to give up picks.

The Cardinals need help defensively. They especially need a corner who can contend for a starting job, or at least be the No. 3 guy, and they need a young pass rusher. Some of their best pass rushers, Bertrand Berry, Chike Okeafor and Travis LaBoy, have had various issues with injuries. The team needs to start developing their replacements.

The Cardinals could well draft a couple of corners this year. The starters, Rod Hood and Eric Green, are decent but there is little behind them, especially with Antrel Rolle moving to free safety.

This draft will be tilted toward defense, but that doesn't preclude the Cardinals from taking an offensive player with the first pick.

They would like to add a running back with some speed, and players such as Rashard Mendenhall of Illinois or Jonathan Stewart of Oregon will be tempting if available. But this draft is deep in running backs, so the best guess is the Cardinals will take a back after the first round.

While they want someone more explosive than Edgerrin James, they are not in a rush to replace him, either. They would like to get someone to share time with James and be ready to take over in a year or two.

CB: The No. 3 corner right now is Ralph Brown, a solid veteran but not a guy who is going to push starters Eric Green and Rod Hood. The Cardinals need a couple of corners in this draft.
DE/OLB: The Cardinals added some depth in free agency at these spots, but they need some young players. The team's front seven is average and it could use another playmaker, or at least someone who could develop into one.
RB: Starter Edgerrin James is great at turning a three-yard gain into seven or eight. But he's not going to break many long runs. The club needs a big-play threat. Backups J.J. Arrington and Marcel Shipp aren't the answers.
WR: The starters, Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin, are elite. But there is no solid No. 3 now that Bryant Johnson has left for the 49ers. Steve Breaston, Jerheme Urban, Ahmad Merritt and Sean Morey are the backups now.
ILB: The starters, Karlos Dansby and Gerald Hayes, are good players, but there isn't much depth. The Cardinals tried to address it last year by taking Buster Davis in the third round, but he didn't make the team.
OG: There isn't much depth now that veteran Keydrick Vincent signed with Carolina. Elton Brown has turned into a decent player, but the club needs more.
OT: Not a desperate need, but the team could really use a tackle who might develop into a starter in a few years. Left tackle Mike Gandy is in the last year of his contract.



The options are plentiful for the Rams, sitting with the second pick in the draft, and they know how important it will be to not only select an impact player, but also add potential starters with their second- and third-round choices.
The Rams have the 33rd overall and 65th overall picks in those rounds, so filling needs will be of paramount importance. The "need vs. best player" debate is what also lends itself to figuring out what to do.

A pass-rushing defensive end is a priority, with Chris Long and Vernon Gholston considerations. Tackle Jake Long would fill a long-term need even with Orlando Pace and Alex Barron currently on the roster.

But what about top-rated prospects such as defensive tackle Glenn Dorsey and running back Darren McFadden? The Rams selected defensive tackle Adam Carriker in the first round last year, while nose tackle Clifton Ryan was a fifth-round pick. Both should continue to improve.

Selecting Dorsey would result in pushing need picks into later rounds. McFadden is intriguing, even with Steven Jackson on board. McFadden is a game-breaker, and can also contribute as a receiver. Jackson's style of play also leads to injury, and he missed almost five full games last season. In addition, this is the final year of Jackson's contract.

It could be argued that McFadden would make the most immediate impact on a team that struggled to score points in 2007.

Both Longs, Dorsey, Gholston and McFadden visited the team facility two weeks before the draft, as the Rams wrestled with their looming decision.

Why have players visit when the team has already spent time with them at the combine or other venues?

"Picking up that high, it's just such an investment," said Billy Devaney, the team's executive vice president of player personnel. "We just like as many people that haven't met them to just spend a few minutes."

One of them will be spending a lot more than a few minutes after April 26.

DE: Even with James Hall re-signed, the Rams are looking closely at Vernon Gholston and Chris Long because they got only 5.5 sacks from their defensive ends last season. Leonard Little is returning from toe surgery and will be 34 in October. Even with Little healthy, the need for another end is strong.
OT: Left tackle Orlando Pace has played in just 11 games the last two seasons, and is coming back from a torn labrum in his shoulder. Right tackle Alex Barron, who played mostly on the left side last year after Pace's injury, is solid, but gets too many penalties and there are questions whether the team will commit to him after his current contract expires. This is a draft deep in tackles, so one could be added after the first round if they don't end up with Jake Long.
WR: Drew Bennett was very disappointing as the No. 3 receiver last year, and for now, he is a starter after the departure of Isaac Bruce. The Rams hope Bennett's struggles last season were more due to injuries than declining skills. Still, there is a need for youth at the position, especially considering Torry Holt will be 32 in June and has continuing knee issues.
CB: Starter Fakhir Brown is one slip away from a one-year suspension, and depth is always needed. Tye Hill suffered a serious wrist injury last season, and it is unknown how much progress Jonathan Wade will make from his rookie season. Ron Bartell is solid.
QB: Yes, the Rams expect Marc Bulger to return to the form that got him to the Pro Bowl in 2006 and they like Trent Green as the backup. But it could be time to bring in a rookie quarterback to develop behind the two veterans. The first three rounds might be too early, but getting a prospect in the fourth or fifth round might not be out of the question.



Because Seattle Seahawks general manager Tim Ruskell filled out his backfield via free agency, and signed left guard Mike Wahle when he was cut by Carolina, the Seahawks have really only one pressing need as they enter the draft: a tight end.

It has been Ruskell's strategy since he took over four drafts ago that he does not want to go into a draft feeling like he has to target players at one specific position.

Which means that Ruskell in the first round is free to take whichever player falls his way regardless of where he lines up.

"We didn't want to go into the draft being hostage to a position, which I don't know that we've really had that since we've been here," Ruskell said. "So we feel free to go in any direction, first round on down. That was important to fill some holes in the roster."

Although this draft is deep in tight ends, probably none warrant a first-round pick, which means the Seahawks are likely to wait until the second round -- and possibly the third -- to fill that position. Whoever comes to them with the 55th pick is who will be taken, likely Notre Dame's John Carlson or Texas A&M's Martellus Bennett -- though there is an outside chance that USC's Fred Davis falls to them.

In the first round, depending on who falls to the 25th pick, Ruskell could go any number of ways, including the possibility of trading down to get an extra pick because the Seahawks are missing a fifth-round selection this year.

He may be able to get an offensive tackle or Virginia's Branden Albert as an eventual replacement for 34-year-old Walter Jones, who still is playing at a Pro Bowl level but who has had shoulder surgeries for two consecutive seasons.

He may be able to get a running back to be the long-term answer to replace Shaun Alexander, and would nab Oregon's Jonathan Stewart if Stewart's turf toe surgery allows him to fall that far.

He could go after a defensive end or tackle like Miami's Calais Campbell to add depth to a position that was erratic last season and took some hits this year in free agency.

Later in the draft, Ruskell needs to add depth to a linebacker unit that lost two key special teams players and backups in free agency and currently only has six linebackers on the roster, one less than coach Mike Holmgren's usually keeps.

He also is likely to draft a kicker in either the sixth or seventh round to compete with veteran Olindo Mare, who was signed after Josh Brown left for St. Louis in free agency. Both Holmgren and Ruskell have said they would like to see a kicker competition in training camp.

Mike Holmgren expected Marcus Pollard to catch 50 or 60 passes last season. He caught only 28, dropped two in the team's playoff loss to Green Bay and was allowed to leave. Now, the team needs to find a productive player who can fill the role for a long time, either in Holmgren's West Coast offense or whichever system coach-in-waiting Jim Mora will use.
RB: The Seahawks averaged only 103 yards a game last season and were stopped multiple times in short-yardage situations. They attempted to rectify that by signing Julius Jones and T.J. Duckett in free agency. Still, they are not thought to be the long-term answer at the position.
OL: Though Shaun Alexander was blamed for much of the team's running woes, the offensive line was at times dreadful, prompting the team to sign Mike Wahle when he was released by Carolina. Still, they need depth along the line and an eventual replacement for anchor Walter Jones, and Tim Ruskell said he believes in always drafting at least one offensive lineman.
LB: The Seahawks have one of the best starting units in the NFL, but their depth took a hit when Niko Koutouvides and Kevin Bentley both left in free agency. They were key backups and talented special teams players. Also, Ruskell may need insurance in case Leroy Hill leaves in free agency next offseason.
K: Josh Brown left in free agency, prompting the Seahawks to sign Olindo Mare. However, he did not get a guarantee that he would make the team, and his accuracy has gone down each of the last three years. Ruskell wants competition in training camp.

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