If you want to compete in the NFC West, you have to catch up to the Super Bowl Champion Seattle Seahawks and the 2012 NFC Champion San Francisco 49ers. Not only are those two clubs the best in the NFC West, they are two of the best in the entire NFL. Let’s see how the other clubs played catch-up.
St. Louis Rams
Ever since Les Snead and Jeff Fisher have become a team, the Rams have done an outstanding job drafting. 2013 was no different. The Rams entertained a few offers to trade the number two pick in the draft, but in the end stayed and selected Auburn tackle Greg Robinson. While Robinson is raw as a pass blocker, he has the natural traits to be an all-time great. The Rams reportedly will start him off at guard but it won’t be long before he becomes a fixture at tackle.
According to one General Manager I talked to before the draft, when describing Aaron Donald, he said there was a huge gap between Donald and the rest of the defensive tackles in the draft. Donald is quick, fast and explosive, and despite being on the small side, he can be a nightmare to block one on one. He will make an already strong D-Line stronger.
Florida State's Lamarcus Joyner may lack ideal height, but he is a fearless competitor who makes plays versus the pass and run. The Rams are planning on using him to cover the slot receiver, which is ideal.
Auburn’s Tre Mason was one of the top backs in this draft. He can run inside and outside and plays bigger than his size. After the combine, it was reported that Mason has a wrist problem, the Rams feel he can play with it this year and take care of it next offseason.
A number of scouts told me that Utah State’s Mo Alexander was an ideal strong safety. He is a big hitter who can be a difference maker in run support. I did a lot of work on E.J. Gaines the corner from Missouri. I saw him as a solid third-to-fourth round type who has the skills to be an eventual starter.
When you look at his athletic traits, Deone Bucannon has some of the best in this draft. He has speed to go along with corner quickness. While he has very good ball skills, he needs to improve his tackling. He will make a number of tackles every game, but miss just as many. That can’t happen in the NFL.
Tight End Troy Niklas from Notre Dame is one of the most interesting players in this draft. He was an offensive and defensive lineman in high school. Notre Dame recruited him to play defensive line, but when they saw his athleticism, he was moved to linebacker. He was moved to tight end in the spring of his freshman year and played as the blocking tight end for Notre Dame that fall. In 2013, he was the full time starter. There is no questioning Niklas' blocking skills, he was the best blocking tight end in this class. He is still very raw as a receiver. He has good hands but needs a lot of work with running routes. Niklas has great upside, but it will take some time.
North Carolina defensive lineman Kareem Martin has almost as much talent as any defensive linemen in the draft. When he plays hard, he makes plays and is difficult to block. There are also a number of plays where he is a non-factor. The key for the Cardinals will be getting him to play hard every down.
Quarterback Logan Thomas has great size and a very strong arm. His problem as a QB is instincts and feel for the position. The Cardinals will start him out at quarterback, but if he can’t get it done, he will be switched to tight end. With his size, speed, and athleticism, he could be a great player at that position.
Alabama’s Ed Stinson is a big two-gapping defensive lineman. He won’t give you much as a pass rusher but is a quality run defender. Like a lot of Division II receivers, Pittsburgh State’s John Brown is very raw. Still, he has excellent speed (4.39) and can be a return threat will he develops as a receiver.
San Francisco 49ers
Having a quality roster and 12 picks gave the 49ers an opportunity to take some talented players, draft an injured player who will need to redshirt, and roll the dice and select some players with a degree of risk.
First round pick Jimmie Ward from Northern Illinois has big corner size and athleticism. He will give the 49ers a player who can cover a slot receiver and also play deep. While he needs to improve his strength, Ward is a physical player and a strong tackler.
Carlos Hyde is the ideal back for the 49ers system. He is a bigger version of Frank Gore. Hyde is a physical, inside runner who can also give them something in the pass game. Like many college backs, he needs to develop his pass blocking skills.
USC’s Marcus Martin can come in and play either center or guard. He is a quality player with size and strength. Some analysts thought he would be a second round pick. Brandon Thomas, the guard/tackle from Clemson, tore his ACL this spring and won’t be able to play in 2014. He will be like a bonus draft choice in 2015 as he has second round talent.
Wisconsin linebacker Chris Borland is undersized and doesn’t time well, but he is a playmaking machine. He has top instincts and is very aggressive. Some teams had a problem with his shoulders.
I thought Bruce Ellington, the speedy receiver from South Carolina was a sure second round pick. He may lack some size, but he is lightning in a bottle. He can be a dynamic slot receiver/return specialist in the NFL.
Dontae Johnson has the size and athleticism to play corner or safety. He is very athletic but still needs development.
Aaron Lynch was a 265 pound 5-technique as a true freshman at Notre Dame. He looked like he would be a future first rounder that season. He left Notre Dame after his freshman year, and it has been a downhill slide ever since. Many question his maturity and football character. He sat out the 2012 season as a transfer and then played as a 4-3 defensive end in 2013. His 2013 production was nothing compared to his freshman year. The 49ers are going to try Lynch as a rush outside linebacker. He has the talent, it remains to be seen if he succeeds.
The Super Bowl champs traded out of the first round and selected Colorado receiver Paul Richardson with their opening pick in the second round. Richardson reminds me of a receiver we drafted while I was with Chicago…Bernard Berrian from Fresno. Like Berrian, Richardson has a long, lean frame and can run. He can get open deep and easily gets separation when coming out of a cut.
Some might feel Justin Britt was a reach. I don’t! He is a tough, competitive tackle who can play guard or tackle in the NFL. Britt has size and strength to go along with good athleticism.
UCLA’s Cassius Marsh is a “tweener”. He can play as an outside linebacker or a defensive end. He is in the mold of others the Seahawks have drafted at the position. While he lacks an outstanding physical trait, he plays with a very good motor.
Alabama receiver Kevin Norwood is still developing. He has size and speed, but needs to develop his route running. He can be a good special team’s player while he learns. Boston College linebacker Kevin Pierre-Louis is as good an athlete as any linebacker in the draft. He needs to get stronger and play a more physical game. Another developmental type who can pay dividends down the road.
The remainder of the Seattle draft is all guys with some traits who need development. There is some hit or miss to all of them.
Follow Greg on Twitter @greggabe
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