NFC West: Needs filled, unfulfilled

Last year’s biggest challenger to the Seahawks, the Arizona Cardinals, saw plenty of free-agent movement in and out, while the 49ers suffered a major defection of talent and the Rams upgraded their running game significantly.

Las Vegas is betting on only one winning team in the NFC West, and it should come as no surprise it is the conference’s entrant into the Super Bowl the last two years, the Seahawks. Their big move came in acquiring TE Jimmy Graham in a trade to help their passing game.

The rest of the NFC West saw plenty of free-agent movement – some helpful, some that thinned their depth charts.

The Cardinals significantly altered their defense, losing several starters but gaining those back with other signings.

The 49ers lost a ton of talent with retirements and free-agent defections, so new coach Jim Tomsula will have a daunting task in front of him if he plans to keep them relevant in the division.

The Rams are going with a new starting quarterback, but their big play came in the draft when they selected RB Todd Gurley 10th overall. If Nick Foles can adequately fill the quarterback spot, the offense should be upgraded to keep up with their imposing defense and make them relevant again.

So how did the teams of the NFC West do in offseason overall? We take a look at the most significant movements out West.

NFC WEST

Arizona Cardinals
Last year’s record: 11-5
Vegas over/under on 2015 wins:
Top free agent signings: After a relatively successful season, the Cardinals lost most of their relevant free agents that have already signed. Gone are CB Antonio Cromartie (New York Jets), DT Darnell Dockett (San Francisco), LB Sam Acho (Chicago), G Paul Fanaika (Kansas City), WR Ted Ginn (Carolina), TE Rob Housler (Cleveland) and DT Dan Williams (Oakland). Most of those aren’t debilitating, but they have thinned the ranks, especially on defense. However, they countered those moves nicely with the signings of LaMarr Woodley (Oakland), LB Sean Weatherspoon (Atlanta), LB Darryl Sharpton (Chicago), DL Cory Redding (Indianapolis), DT Corey Peters (Atlanta), C A.Q. Shipley (Indianapolis) and perhaps the prize of their free-agent class, G Mike Iupati (San Francisco).
Needs entering draft: NT, RB, S, QB, CB
Draft picks: D.J. Humphries could compete for a starting job at right tackle and second-round pick Markus Golden should find at least a rotational role in the front seven. Will RB David Johnson be able to work his way from Northern Iowa into a contributing role in Arizona?
What’s left at need areas: The Cardinals ranked 29th in pass defense last year, yet they still didn’t draft a defensive back, even after losing Cromartie. They were even worse in rushing offense, ranking 31st, so will the additions of Humphries and Johnson be enough for significant improvement? They are running big risks in those two areas, and the future of their quarterback position is also still anyone’s guess.

San Francisco 49ers
Last year’s record: 8-8
Vegas over/under on 2015 wins:
Top free agent signings: A big defection of talent in San Francisco has fans wondering what’s ahead? Justin Smith and Chris Borland retired, and the free-agent defections were massive – G Mike Iupati to Arizona, WR Michael Crabtree to Oakland, WR Stevie Johnson to San Diego, RB Frank Gore to Indianapolis, CB Chris Culliver to Washington and CB Perrish Cox to Tennessee. The main additions were WRs Torrey Smith (Baltimore) and Jerome Simpson (Minnesota), OL Erik Pears (Buffalo), RB Reggie Bush (Detroit) and CB Shareece Wright (San Diego).
Needs entering draft: ILB, WR, CB, NT, G
Draft picks: The 49ers focused first on defense, drafting DT Arik Armstead in the first round, S Jaquiski Tartt in the second round and LB Eli Harold in the third round. The offseason losses in free agency were substantial on defense, so those picks are understandable, but the 49ers’ strength in the 2014 rankings was on defense, ranking in the top seven for overall defense, rush defense and pass defense. Armstead should be a Day One starter, but where Tartt and Harold fit in immediately is to be seen.
What’s left at need areas: For a team that was contending for the NFC title just a few years ago, the 49ers have seen a mass exodus of talent this year. The reality is there might have been too many holes to fill with one draft, even with 10 picks. Cornerback appears to be their biggest weakness, but there remains plenty of roster improvement needed in the coming years for new coach Jim Tomsula.

St. Louis Rams
Last year’s record: 6-10
Vegas over/under on 2015 wins: 8
Top free agent signings: The Rams mostly re-signed their own, including WR Kenny Britt, QB Austin Davis, S Rodney McCleod and TE Lance Kendricks, but the additions of LB Akeem Ayers and DT Nick Fairley should upgrade the defense.
Needs entering draft: RB, G, C, OT, QB, WR, LB
Draft picks: If RB Todd Gurley can stay healthy, he might prove to be a steal, even at No. 10 overall. He broke the two-year drought of no running backs being drafted in the first round and is the latest in line to get “the next Adrian Peterson” tag. This time, the talent comparisons could be legit. Clearly, the Rams were drafting for need in an attempt to upgrade the offense, and that doesn’t have to be a bad thing, but did their first seven picks need to be on offense? Those included Gurley, OTs Rob Havenstein, Jamon Brown and Andrew Donnal, and QB Sean Mannion.
What’s left at need areas: If offense was such a big focus, you would think taking a receiver earlier than the sixth round would have been a bigger priority. Instead, they will rely on Kenny Britt, Tavon Austin and Brian Quick. With all the changes the Rams went through at quarterback last year, it’s understandable that they shipped Sam Bradford and will be relying Nick Foles. Stability should be worth something as Mannion develops, but it remains to be seen if he is ever worthy of starting material. The defensive backfield was left without a drafted upgrade, so that will be another area to watch.

Seattle Seahawks
Last year’s record: 12-4
Vegas over/under on 2015 wins: 11
Top free agent signings: The losses of G James Carpenter (Jets), CB Byron Maxwell (Philadelphia) and LB O’Brien Schofield (Atlanta) should be glossed to some degree by the additions of CBs Cary Williams (Philadelphia) and Will Blackmon (Jacksonville) and DT Ahtyba Rubin (Cleveland). But before all the free-agent movement started, the Seahawks traded away C Max Unger for TE Jimmy Graham.
Needs entering draft: OL, WR, DE, DT
Draft picks: The Seahawks took a big risk with their second-round pick, DE Frank Clark. He is a good pass rusher but has major character concerns. That risk is even bigger without a first-round pick because of the Graham trade, which should prove great value for Russell Wilson and the Seahawks’ ever-thinning weapons in the receiving game. If third-round receiver Tyler Lockett earns enough reps, the 27th-ranked pass offense should improve even more. The reality is the Seahawks have a well-rounded roster after addressing their few weaknesses in the draft if Clark and Lockett are immediate contributors and either of their fourth-round offensive picks (Terry Poole or Mark Glowinski) find starting spots.
What’s left at need areas: The wide receivers are still thin on top-end talent and the offensive line could still use an upgrade, but the Seahawks have managed to get by with those deficiencies because of their top-ranked defense and running game.

Other divisions: AFC EAST | AFC WEST | AFC NORTH | AFC SOUTH
NFC EAST


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