Breaking down the NFC West

This is the sixth in a series about the NFL Draft, which will be held April 26 and 27.<br> <br> Today: The <b>NFC West</b>

Arizona Cardinals:
When somebody figures out what the Arizona Cardinals are trying to do, they should let management there know. Quarterback Jake Plummer? Gone. Ditto wide receiver David Boston. Running back Thomas Jones will likely join them after June 1 after the signing of Emmitt Smith. That's three recent former first-round picks that the Cardinals are going to let walk without compensation. Throw in free safety Kwame Lassiter, wide receivers Frank Sanders and MarTay Jenkins as others who won't be back with this team.

In addition to Smith, whom the Cardinals hope will sell tickets, the Cards signed aging veteran quarterback Jeff Blake to compete with youngster Josh McCown to replace Plummer, and overpaid Super Bowl MVP Dexter Jackson to play Lassiter's free safety position. It's hard to say those players are upgrades, even though Plummer and Jones never lived up to their first-round status.

With the sixth-overall pick in the draft, the Cardinals would love to keep Arizona State's Terrell Suggs at home. And given that defensive end is a glaring need - Fred Wakefield and Kyle Vanden Bosch? Puhleez - it would be a natural fit. Suggs' poor individual workout may help that happen.

If Suggs is off the board, that may mean that wide receiver Andre Johnson may fall into Arizona's lap. That's good, because with Boston, Sanders and Jenkins gone, the Cards have only Justin McAddley, Kevin Kasper, Bryan Gilmore and Nate Poole at wide receiver. Some college teams have more talent at the position. If both Suggs and Johnson are off the board, look for the Cards to go for a cornerback, with Marcus Trufant being a good fit here.

St. Louis Rams:
Will the last able-bodied cornerback please turn out the lights in St. Louis? The Rams let both Dexter McCleon and Dre' Bly walk, while future Hall of Famer Aeneas Williams is getting up in years and is coming off of a broken leg. Rookie Travis Fisher played OK at corner last season, but this is a team that could use a talent infusion at the cornerback position.

The Rams did add New Orleans offensive tackle Kyle Turley via a trade, giving them the league's highest-paid offensive line. That should provide quarterback Kurt Warner with more time this season. Who he'll throw to is another question. Isaac Bruce is getting up in years and valuable backup Ricky Proehl signed with Carolina. Coupled with the loss of Az-Zahir Hakim last season, the Rams are left with Bruce, Torry Holt and a bunch of bums, including former Steelers' first-round pick Troy Edwards. Head coach Mike Martz's offense relies on speedy wideouts and the Rams could use another one.

But perhaps this team's biggest need is at linebacker. Jamie Duncan was signed from Tampa Bay last season to replace middle linebacker London Fletcher and played poorly. Rookie Rob Thomas struggled on the outside and could replace Duncan inside this season.

With the 12th-overall pick, the Rams likely won't get a shot at either of the top two corners in this year's draft -Terrence Newman or Marcus Trufant. Top wideouts Andre Johnson and Charles Rogers will also be gone. Best case scenario would have Trufant available.

If Martz chooses to go for an offensive player, wide receiver Taylor Jacobs could be the pick. If he goes for a defensive player, it likely will be linebacker Boss Bailey.

San Francisco 49ers:
Longtime 49ers star Dana Stubblefield decided to stay at home, but did so by moving across the bay to Oakland. And considering Bryant Young has just 5.5 sacks the past two seasons, defensive tackle is a prime need for the 49ers, as is defensive end, as the team needs someone to get a push on the pocket opposite Andre Carter.

San Francisco could also use another corner as the team's third-down defense actually rivaled Pittsburgh's as the league's worst. Mike Rumph was brought in last season, but disappointed, while Ahmed Plummer struggled last season and fellow starter Jason Webster would be better suited to be a third-down player.

Wide receiver is another area of need for San Francisco as Tai Streets, while a solid possession receiver, isn't a great compliment to Terrell Owens. With pick 26 in the first round, the 49ers are going to watch longingly as player after player that could help them immediately is pulled off the board.

But a good young defensive lineman such as Miami defensive end Jerome McDougle or Chris Kelsay, or defensive tackles Ty Warren or William Joseph would be a nice pick here.

Seattle Seahawks:
Things have been pretty quiet in the great Pacific Northwest during this offseason, as the team feels like it's poised for a playoff run after a strong finish in 2002.

And owning the 11th-overall pick in this year's draft, head coach Mike Holmgren could very well get the impact player he needs to put this team over the top.

Help is needed at defensive tackle, where Chad Eaton is solid as one starter, but John Randle is clearly on the downside of his career at 35 years old.

Defensive end is also a problem area, as starters Lamar King and Antonio Cochran don't exactly make opposing quarterbacks quiver.

Later in the draft, middle linebacker and cornerback will be priorities.

With pick 11, the Seahawks should have their pick of defensive linemen, including Michael Haynes, Jerome McDougle, Kevin Williams, Ty Warren or Jonathan Sullivan. Haynes would be a good fit.

Dale Lolley

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