The other two remaining teams have struggled to reclaim the storied success of their respective franchises’ past -the Cardinals being unable to make the playoffs ever since the retirement of quarterback Kurt Warner, following a Super Bowl loss to the Steelers; and the Rams bringing up the rear without the talent level to compete for a playoff spot in recent years.
While the Cards and Rams filled numerous needs in each of their respective drafts, the 49ers and Seahawks are clearly the top two teams in this division. With that being said, here’s how the NFC West teams stacked up against one another in the 2012 NFL Draft.
15. Bruce Irvin, defensive end, West Virginia
47. Bobby Wagner, outside linebacker, Utah State
75. Russell Wilson, quarterback, Wisconsin
106. Robert Turbin, running back, Utah State
114. Jaye Howard, defensive tackle, Florida
154. Korey Toomer, inside linebacker, Idaho
172. Jeremy Lane, cornerback, Northwestern State
181. Winston Guy, defensive back, Idaho
225. J.R. Sweezy, inside linebacker, Idaho
232. Greg Scruggs, defensive end, Louisville
Summary: One of the most widely debated draft selections in the 2012 NFL Draft is and will continue to be, the Seahawks pick of Bruce Irvin at pick 15. The reach is reminiscent of the 49ers selection of Aldon Smith in the top 10 of the 2011 draft, as both players were viewed as pass rushing specialists only coming into the league. Irvin’s elite athleticism and movement skills, explosiveness off the line, and natural pass rush abilities are second to none in this class. The plan with Irvin will be utilized at the “Leo” or “Elephant” position in Pete Carroll’s defense, which is essentially a wide-9 technique defensive end; more over, current starter Chris Clemons no longer has to carry the load as the Seahawks’ lone pass rusher, as Irvin can spell Clemons to keep a fresh set of legs on passing situations.
With Irvin’s ability to standup and drop into coverage brings an additional wrinkle to Carroll’s defense, I’d expect to see increased usage of the increasingly popular zone blitz. Being a top 5 rushing defense with big, physical, press corners and ball hawking safeties holding the back half of the secondary, the Seahawks’ biggest need was in the pass rushing department and they addressed the need by taking the most gifted rusher in the entire draft class. If developed properly, Irvin will prove to be a dangerous weapon to opposing quarterbacks in the NFC West.
Attacking a key need for talent at linebacker and finding great value in the 3rd round, the Seahawks had an excellent second day at the draft. Acquiring gifted linebacker Bobby Wagner from Utah State, the ‘Hawks added another very fast backer. Wowing talent evaluators with upper-class speed, acceleration, and explosiveness throughout the pre-draft process, Wagner posted a 4.45 40 time, 39.5-inch vertical leap, and 11-foot broad jump at the combine. This showcased physical upside matched with on-field production (averaged 140 tackles in his junior and senior seasons), make Wagner a solid pick at number 45 overall, as he can play all 3 linebacker positions and will contribute heavily as a rookie.
Shifting to the offensive side of the football, the Seahawks couldn’t pass on a quarterback of Russell Wilson’s caliber in the 3rd round. Although Tarvarris Jackson and Matt Flynn will be battling for the 1-2 ordering at the position and considerable financial investments lie between the two players, Wilson won’t be content to sit and hold a clip for 3-4 years. Wilson is going to scratch and claw for reps in practice, fight for the backup role, and could even provide nice trade value with a few years of development.
Following the value selection in Wilson, the ‘Hawks brought in a big, fast, and powerful runner in Robert Turbin to complement Marshawn “Skittles” Lynch. Running in the high 4.4’s with a physically impressive, developed body frame, Turbin certainly looked the part at the NFL combine. His violent and attacking style has reminded evaluators of Marion Barber, and he’ll be used in a similar 10-15 carry, change-of-pace role as a rookie.
The final 6 picks after Turbin, on the third day of the draft, were devoted to the defensive side of the ball. Jaye Howard is an aggressive, pass rushing 3-technique that fills an immediate need for interior pressure on the quarterback; his explosion off the line and hand usage to swim, dip, or rip inside make him a tough block, and will only help improve the overall effectiveness of outside rushers Clemons and Irvin. In the 5th round, the Seahawks continued to add linebacker talent, doubling down with an extra linebacker in Korey Toomer that can play multiple positions. Toomer has athletic ability that rivals 2nd rounder Wagner (with a 4.5 40 time and 42 inch vertical), will serve on special teams as a rookie, and backup veteran outside linebacker Leroy Hill.
Cornerback Jeremy Lane will compete for early playing time at the slot corner position on nickel downs, having the length and press skills to play with inside leverage up close to the line of scrimmage. Another talented prospect with high upside and versatility, Lane has the press-corner, turn and run skills to win on the outside in Seattle’s press system and will add much needed depth to a young, developing defensive back corps. Continuing the trend of versatility, the Seahawks drafted Kentucky Wildcat and Agent Greg Linton’s client, Winston Guy in the 6th. Carroll, following the draft, compared Guy to former Seahawk Atari Bigby and hinted that Guy could fill that hole as a rookie. Again, they valued his ability to line up and play in a variety of positions.
The emphasis on speed and scheme-versatility with the Seahawk defense, combined with the consistency shown by the personnel department in acquiring specific talent, is starting to produce on-field results. Adapting and shaping the scheme to fit the personnel, instead of forcing the personnel to fit the scheme, has resulted in the ‘Hawks recent rise on defense. Incorporating both 3-man and 4-man defensive fronts with a variety of personnel packages, the Seahawks have one of the more exciting defenses to watch, study, and evaluate in the NFC. All in all, the Seahawks attacked a need for pass rushing help and earn an A for the depth, talent, and versatility acquired throughout the 2012 NFL Draft
St. Louis Rams
14. Michael Brockers, defensive tackle, LSU
33. Brian Quick, wide receiver, Appalachian State
39. Janoris Jenkins, cornerback, North Alabama
50. Isaiah Pead, running back, Cincinnati
65. Trumaine Johnson, defensive back, Montana
96. Chris Givens, wide receiver, Wake Forest
150. Rotkevious Watkins, offensive guard, North Carolina State
171. Greg Zuerlein, kicker, Missouri Western
209. Aaron Brown, linebacker, Hawaii
252. Daryl Richardson, running back, Abilene Christian
Summary: Dropping four slots in the 1st round, the Rams sold the number two overall selection to the Washington Redskins for picks 6 and 39 in 2012, along with the Redskins 2013 and 2014 1st rounders; coming to terms with an absolute steal of a deal more than a month prior to the draft, the Rams used their bevy of acquired picks to simply upgrade their talent level as a whole. This team just couldn’t match up with anybody in 2011, for the sole fact that their team just lacked overall talent to work with.
With the 6th pick and their main target Michael Brockers slated as a mid first round pick, the Rams wisely traded out of the 6th overall pick in the draft and slid down to pick 14 to select their defensive tackle. Brockers fits a targeted need of a run stuffing, stack and shed defensive tackle, and additionally, the Rams tacked onto their draft board, another 2nd rounder (pick 45) via the trade down. The LSU tackle will line up at the 1-technique, next to recent free agent signee Kendall Langford, who will play the 3-technique position. The Rams need to improve Brockers’ technique and hand placement at the point, but ultimately this is a high upside tackle that could become something special in 2-3 seasons.
At the top of round 2, the Rams surprised some folks with the pick of small-school wideout Brian Quick. I wasn’t a huge fan of this pick, as I would’ve selected a more pro-ready target to give immediate help to franchise quarterback Sam Bradford. Quick, who dominated small-school opponents as one of Appalachian State’s most productive players of all time, struggled mightily against upper level talent at the senior bowl and showed inconsistent hands throughout the week. Having a plus height, weight, speed combination, Quick certainly is capable of developing into a solid number 2 receiver however, and his development will be scrutinized over the next few years.
Sticking with the small-school prospects, a trend in this draft for the Rams (5 Non-FBS prospects drafted), St. Louis drafted the ex Florida Gator cornerback Janoris Jenkins out of North Alabama. Having top 15 overall talent as a premiere, shutdown corner, Jenkins fell down (and off) some NFL Draft boards due to off-field marijuana arrests that led to his dismissal from Florida. Head Coach Jeff Fisher has a history of success in dealing with players who’ve experienced off-field troubles, and I’m confident that he’ll be able to do the same with Jenkins.
The next small school defensive back came with Trumaine Johnson, who will almost certainly receive looks at safety in addition to his natural position at corner. A long, rangy and ball hawking corner, Johnson is another small-schooler with off-field concerns; he’ll have an opportunity to play right away due to the extreme lack of depth at the position, and can be expected to get his hands on at least 3 or 4 interceptions.
Help arrived for worn down, workhorse tailback Steven Jackson with the 2nd round pick of Isaiah Pead from Cincinnati. Pead is an ideal 3rd down back with excellent feet, hands out of the backfield, and elusive run after the catch ability, and will give Jackson a needed break. And although the Rams did add Quick early in round 2, they didn’t hesitate to draft an NFL ready, slot receiver in Chris Givens. Much more polished in his route running than Quick, Givens will play right away from the slot and give Sam Bradford a reliable second read option, as the fourth receiver in Doubles personnel sets.
In the 5th round, the Rams brought in the thickly-built Rotkevious Watkins from South Carolina, a 1st Team All-SEC right tackle who has experience at every offensive line position except center. Watkins who played at right and left guard for most of his career in college, will likely compete for a reserve role at both positions for St. Louis. Greg Zuerlein and Daryl Richardson were the final two small school picks for the Rams’ General Manager Les Snead, and Zuerlin in particular, will be counted on heavily as a rookie, starting kicker. 9 for 9 on field goal attempts further than 50 yards out, Zuerlein has impressive leg strength and could wind up among the league leaders in 40 plus yard field goals made. Richardson was one of the small school runners I’ve raved over since seeing him perform at the Player’s All-Star Classic, and his ability to locate and accelerate through the hole, almost immediately to top speed, makes him an intriguing player to pay attention to as the season nears; Richardson has the top end speed and homerun hitting ability to rival Pead for change-of-pace minutes behind Jackson, as Pead will almost certainly contribute in the kick and punt return game.
The Rams brought in depth and needed talent at positions of need, but made too many gambles on small school players for my liking; something about having a majority of your picks being developmental guys really scares me, and as such, I give the Rams a B-.
San Francisco 49ers
30. A.J. Jenkins, wide receiver, Illinois
61. LaMichael James, running back, Oregon
117. Joe Looney, offensive guard, Wake Forest
165. Darius Fleming, outside linebacker, Notre Dame
180. Trent Robinson, safety, Michigan State
199. Jason Slowey, offensive center, Western Oregon
237. Cam Johnson, defensive end, Virginia
Summary: Improving the overall explosiveness on offense seemed to be the primary goal for the Niners as they drafted the speedy receiver A.J. Jenkins from Illinois, and scat back LaMichael James out of Oregon. Jenkins, who fits perfectly into the West Coast styled offense run by the 49ers, is equally effective from the slot as he is on the outside, can create noticeable separation in his short to intermediate route running, and possesses the top-flight, sub 4.3 speed to beat corners vertically on 9 routes. Jenkins has homerun capability to play X or Z, the wide-catching radius and reliable hands to be a consistent target out of the slot, and really was a solid 1st round selection.
LaMichael James, the most productive FBS runner over the past two seasons, despite battling numerous injuries and talented runners behind him on the Oregon depth chart, enters an overloaded backfield with too much depth and talent. James will be moved around a ton, likely as a motion back that receives fly-sweep action from the slot receiver position. How he fits into the rotation remains to be seen, but the electrifying speed and productivity is there for success.
Pick 117 for Joe Looney was a bit too rich for my taste, and although the value doesn’t match up here, the Niners did fill a need at the guard position, as former starter, Adam Snyder signed with Arizona during free agency. Looney is an immediate upgrade at the position to Snyder, who was atrocious in 2011, and has the pull and locate skills that the Niners highly value; in regards to the pick, Head Coach Jim Harbaugh said that Looney, “… [W]ill be a starter for in this league for us.”
The ensuing pick of Darius Fleming adds a special teams ace and headhunting outside linebacker. Fleming’s tenacious playing temperament likely won over Harbaugh, and his plus effort will soon win over teammates. He’s a bit small for the Niners outside linebacker position and I anticipate Fleming will fight for a backup role at either of the two inside linebacker positions behind Patrick Willis and Navarro Bowman.
Value, value, and more value was the staple of the Niners final day, as along with Looney and Fleming, they added nickel safety Trent Robinson, guard-center reserve Jason Slowey, and pass rusher Cam Johnson. Robinson is a hard-nosed, smart, though thinly built safety that will find his niche on Nickel and Dime situations in matching up with tight ends or slot receivers; he’ll have to vastly improve his tackling form, as he struggled mightily with missed tackles as a senior, but overall this is a very good depth and rotational defensive back piece. Slowey is a poor man’s version of starting center Jonathan Goodwin, and will be able to backup each of the three interior line positions with his tough-minded approach to the game and ability to control the point of attack. Finally, Johnson adds another long, natural edge rusher to work into the outside linebacker rotation; falling all the way to round 7 due to a diagnosed sickle-cell trait, Johnson is set on proving NFL teams wrong for passing on his ability to pressure the quarterback
Outside of the top two picks of Jenkins and James, this draft class was anything but sexy; with that said, this was a solid draft nonetheless in the fact that the Niners were able to improve their quality of depth at the interior offensive line positions, while obtaining value on the third day of the draft. Because I’m not sure how they can use LaMichael James right away, I’m giving the Niners a B- grade.
13. Michael Floyd, wide receiver, Notre Dame
80. Jamell Fleming, cornerback, Oklahoma
112. Bobby Massie, offensive tackle, Ole Miss
151. Senio Kelemente, offensive guard, Washington
177. Justin Bethel, safety, Presbyterian
185. Ryan Lindley, quarterback, San Diego State
221. Nate Potter, offensive tackle, Boise State
Summary: Apparently the Cards listened to franchise wideout, Larry Fitzgerald’s words of draft advice; upon Fitzgerald’s request, Notre Dame golden domer Michael Floyd was in fact selected with the 13th overall pick in the draft. Pairing Floyd with his offseason workout partner Fitzgerald, the Cardinals now are able to kick Early Doucet back into the slot –undoubtedly his best fit within Ken Whisenhunt’s passing attack. Floyd, a big, physical, and dominating receiver at the point of the catch, ran much better than expected at the combine and proved to teams that his off-field woes were just a thing of the past. With his head on straight and teamed with Fitzgerald, Floyd has an opportunity to thrive as an Arizona Cardinal.
Having dealt their 2nd rounder away, the Cardinals were lucky to see corner Jamell Fleming fall into their lap with the 80th overall selection in the draft. Fleming, who is one of the more impressive physical specimens and powerfully, strapped together corners in this entire draft class, can play both man and press principles equally well. He does an excellent job of bodying up receivers and staying physical with receivers throughout the route, forcing them out of bounds, while locating and attacking the ball in air. Fleming has plus jam technique already, uses his hands to disrupt patterns, and is a reliable tackler that flashes some pop underneath his pads. A great value in the 3rd round, Fleming is a 1st round talent who received a 2nd round grade from me due to school-related, off-field concerns.
Seeing similar value in round 4, the Cardinals got another impactful player in big, right tackle Bobby Massie. Massie has the movement skills to operate in a zone scheme, and the girth and power to win in a man scheme; solid value pick here that could end up starting a few games as a rookie. Senio Kelemente from Washington gives the Cardinals another right tackle/guard reserve that can step in as rookie for spot starts, should injuries arise. Having a tenacious, “get-after-it” aggressive mentality, Kelemente is quick to engage off the snap and will fight through the whistle to pin or pancake his opponent.
Having lost nickel corner/safety Richard Marshall in free agency, I really liked the pick of Justin Bethel at number 177 overall. Bethel, although slightly undersized, has the ability to develop into a starter at either safety position and possibly contribute early on as a nickel or dime cornerback. Ryan Lindley is the FBS carbon copy of current backup John Skelton, and will likely surpass Richard Bartel as the 3rd string quarterback. Nate Potter is another swing tackle reserve lineman that can step in for a spot start in a game or two.
There weren’t many left tackle prospects to choose from in this draft class, so the Cardinals took the best right tackle left on the board with Massie, added an interior rotational guy in Kelemente, and brought in Boise State standout Potter to be a backup swing tackle. Protecting Kevin Kolb was the motto of the draft, and drafting Michael Floyd with the 1st round pick certainly accomplished that task –solid B draft.