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Second year spotlight: NFC West

After quiet rookie seasons, look for these players to excel in 2014. Greg Gabriel

Print This May 26, 2014, 10:30 AM EST
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Saturday, I reviewed some second year players in the NFC North who we can expect to have break out seasons in 2014. Today, let's look at the NFC West.

Jonathan Cooper – Arizona Cardinals

Going into the 2013 NFL Draft, North Carolina’s Jonathan Cooper looked as if he was going to be one of the top offensive linemen drafted. That turned out to be the case as Cooper went seventh overall and was also the first guard taken by the Arizona Cardinals.

During training camp, Cooper played like expected, and though a rookie, he was going to be one of the leaders of the Arizona line. In the third game of the preseason, Cooper broke his right fibula, and that ended his season.

Cooper is now back at full strength and ready to pick up where he left off as the Cardinals starting left guard. With the Cardinals having signed Left tackle Jared Valdeer from the Raiders, the left side of the Arizona line will be one of the most athletic in the league.

Kevin Minter - Arizona Cardinals

The Cardinals didn’t draft Minter in the second round to sit on the bench. Minter is an ideal inside linebacker for a 3-4 scheme because of his size, instincts, and athleticism, but like a lot of rookies, he struggled as a rookie and really only played special teams.

The Cardinals never would have let Karlos Dansby leave via free agency this spring if they didn’t feel Minter was ready to play. He has the entire offseason and OTA sessions to prepare himself and has no excuse if he isn’t ready.

I had a high grade last year on Minter and I expect that he will be a key part of the Cardinal defense in 2014.

Tank Carradine – San Francisco 49ers

Because they are loaded with depth, the 49ers do an excellent job taking players who are injured in the draft and give them a “red shirt” year to get ready for the rigors of the NFL.

Such was the case with the drafting of Tank Carradine in the second round of the 2013 draft. Carradine was coming off ACL surgery and wasn’t ready to play when camp opened. He did get activated for the last half of the 2013 season and practiced but did not get into any games.

Now he has built himself up to 295 pounds and is ready to compete. While he won’t be a starter, he will play in the defensive line rotation. His presence will actually make 14 year veteran Justin Smith a better player. Smith won’t have to play as many snaps and will be more effective when he is fresh.

Tavon Austin – St. Louis Rams

The Rams were hoping that Tavon Austin would be a difference maker when they drafted him with the eighth pick of the 2013 draft. While he played well, he didn’t come up with the production they were hoping for.
In many cases, it takes receivers a year in the league to learn the intricacies of an offense. Learning how to read different types of defensive coverage on the run isn’t the easiest thing. Austin made mistakes with his route running and his overall production was average.

With a year under his belt, Austin should be the player they were hoping for. With his speed, quickness, and open-field running skills, he can give defensive coordinators a fit.

Michael Bowie – Seattle Seahawks

A year ago, not much was thought of Seattle drafting Michael Bowie from small school Northeastern State in Oklahoma in the seventh round. Bowie was a big (6040 – 330), raw kid who had to learn a lot about offensive line play.

The coaching staff thought highly enough about Bowie, that they let Breno Giacomini leave in free agency and declined to pick up the fifth-year option on 2011 first round pick James Carpenter.

The chances are good that Bowie will be the starting right tackle for Seattle this year. He has the physical traits, now he has to put what he learned last year to use.

Christine Michael – Seattle Seahawks

Michael had first round talent but went in the second round a year ago because of character concerns while at Texas A&M. He did not get much playing time behind Marshawn Lynch last year. It is expected that his role will increase in 2014. He won’t be the starter, but he will get many more touches, which will just add to the offensive arsenal the Seahawks have.

Michael has the talent to be a number one back in the league. If he has matured to the level expected, watch out!

Follow Greg on Twitter @greggabe

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