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2014 NFL Draft Preview: NFC West
By Matt Horkman

San Francisco 49ers

Recent Selections: QB Colin Kaepernick, S Eric Reid, & OLB Aldon Smith

Recap: You’d think San Francisco would be among the best drafting franchises in football, given their success the last three seasons. That is not the case, however. San Francisco hit massive homeruns in 2011 with Kaepernick and Smith, but Smith’s future with the team is up in the air because of recent off-field developments. Still, there’s no substitute for a franchise quarterback, and the 49ers have one with Kaepernick. Nevertheless, San Francisco’s best talent comes from players that were already on the roster when general manager Trent Baalke came to town. In addition, reports suggest head coach Jim Harbaugh targeted Kaepernick in the ‘11 draft. It is widely known that Baalke and Harbaugh don’t get along, so if the franchise is ever in a position where it’s one or the other, top executives should consider Baalke’s drafting before favoring him over Harbaugh.

Best Scenario: WR Sammy Watkins, RB Jeremy Hill, OLB Marcus Smith, & CB Marcus Robinson

Draft Preview: Imagine Michael Crabtree and Anquan Boldin as the outside receivers, with Watkins lining up in the slot. That’d be a nightmare for any defense to defend, even without Vernon Davis at tight end and one of the best offensive lines in football paving the way for Frank Gore. It’s an unlikely scenario, but not totally out of the realm of possibility. The 49ers have five picks on day two to go along with their first-round choice. They could package the No. 29 overall pick together with both their seconds to try to entice somebody in the top five. The Raiders would be most likely to bite, in my assessment, as their roster needs a youth injection. If such a scenario occurs, the 49ers would still have three third-round picks at their disposal. They do have second-year running back Marcus Lattimore developing behind Gore, but he’s coming off a devastating knee injury, so adding competition to the mix wouldn’t hurt. The 49ers may need to cover their backs because of Smith‘s off-field unpredictability, so adding an outside linebacker -- coincidently, of the same last name -- makes sense, as does drafting a cornerback to replace Carlos Rogers. 

Arizona Cardinals

Recent Selections: OG Jonathan Cooper, RB Andre Ellington, WR Michael Floyd, CB Tyrann Mathieu, & CB Patrick Peterson

Recap: Former Arizona general manager Rod Graves’ drafting lacked enough depth for the Cardinals to sustain success, but he does deserve credit for hitting on his last two first-round picks. Peterson is emerging as one of the best defensive players in all of football, and Floyd showed excellent growth in his second season. This year is especially important for Floyd, as next off-season could be the year the Cardinals move on from all-pro receiver Larry Fitzgerald, a move that would be a lot less controversial should Floyd supplant him as Arizona‘s top receiving threat. Last year was current general manager Steve Keim’s first year running Arizona’s draft. The early returns on Ellington and Mathieu look very good. Cooper is the wild card. Last year’s No. 7 overall pick fractured his fibula in a preseason game, ending his rookie campaign. Now that he’s healthy, the Cardinals expect high-level production from him.

Best Scenario: QB Teddy Bridgewater, OLB Jeremiah Attaochu, & OT Joel Bitonio

Draft Preview: When Arizona is on the clock with the No. 20 pick, it seems likely Bridgewater will be available. The Cardinals shouldn’t hesitate to draft him or Fresno State’s David Carr with the selection. Current signal caller Carson PJeremiah Attaochualmer turns 35 this December and he’s among the most erratic quarterbacks in football. His best football is behind him, so Arizona should strongly consider their future. In the immediate, however, the Cardinals need to address their pass rush and offensive line. Attaochu is an excellent 34 outside linebacker prospect. His measurables are outstanding, but more importantly, the production is just as good. Bitonio is a plug-and-play right tackle. Bringing him into the fold and getting Cooper back would help the offensive line’s progression.

St. Louis Rams

Recent Selections: WR Tavon Austin, DT Michael Brockers, CB Janoris Jenkins, S T.J. McDonald, OLB Alec Ogletree, & DE Robert Quinn

Recap: St. Louis acquired multiple picks from Washington, who traded up to select quarterback Robert Griffin III in 2012. The final details of the trade had the Rams acquiring two first-round picks and a second-round pick in exchange for swapping first rounders with Washington in the 2012 draft. The Rams have yet to fulfill the potential of that trade, though a result of it is their ownership of the No. 2 overall pick in this year’s draft. Austin, Brockers, Jenkins, McDonald, and Ogletree have all been rather inconsistent in the early portion of their careers. The Rams expect Austin and Ogletree to make major strides in year two, and there’s no denying Jenkins’ talent. A few weeks ago, the Rams picked up the fifth-year option on Quinn. The decision was never in doubt, as the 2011 first-round pick is one of the premiere 4-3 defensive ends in all of football.

Best Scenario: WR Sammy Watkins, OT Taylor Lewan, & S Jimmie Ward

Draft Preview: The absolute best-case scenario for the Rams involves some maneuvering, but this could be the draft that finally gets them over the hump. Assuming the Rams remain committed to Sam Bradford at quarterback (and I think they are), they must continue to build a better offense around him. Targeting a receiver or tight end should be a priority, even if they believe Austin will develop into a star. Selecting Watkins, who rivals Jadeveon Clowney as the best player in this draft, gives Bradford two dynamic playmakers at his disposal. They also need to shore up the offensive line. They can do that by targeting Lewan with their second pick. The Michigan tackle isn’t far behind Auburn’s Greg Robinson or Texas A&M’s Jake Matthews, but character concerns could drop him out of the top 10. The Rams should pounce on him, if they selected Watkins with their first pick. Finally, St. Louis should give Washington a call and attempt move up to the No. 34 pick to secure Ward’s services. All you need to do is find a copy of the 2013 Orange Bowl to find out how good of a player he is. The Rams could send picks 44 and 75 to Washington in exchange for picks 34 and 102 to make it happen.

Seattle Seahawks

Recent Selections: CB Byron Maxwell, CB Richard Sherman, ILB Bobby Wagner, QB Russell Wilson, & OLB K.J. Wright

Recap: Since they arrived in 2010, Pete Carroll and John Schneider have done a superb job of finding elite players in the middle rounds of the draft. The 2011 draft saw the Seahawks land Sherman in just the fifth round. The outspoken cornerback is sometimes controversial for some, but there’s no denying his talent on the field was vital in helping Seattle win their first Lombardi Trophy. Seattle is also expecting big things from Maxwell, who was a sixth round pick in 2011. He started in Seattle’s final eight games, including their three postseason contests. The Seahawks also plucked two viable starting linebackers from the middle rounds, as well. Wright is coming off a strong campaign, and while Wagner’s play dipped a little in 2013, he was arguably the best defensive rookie in football during 2012. You cannot talk about Seattle without mentioning Wilson. A third-round pick in 2012, Wilson is one of the premiere quarterbacks in football, and he has played just two professional seasons.

Best Scenario: WR Marqise Lee & OG David Yankey

Draft Preview: Despite what Seattle’s receivers may think, the Seahawks need to add more pass catchers to the mix. They can get a lot better immediately by drafting Lee, who is versatile enough to play outside or the slot. He’d play mostly flanker and split end in Seattle, as they already have Percy Harvin playing the slot. An upgrade at guard is very likely and Yankey could slide into either guard position, although the Seahawks could consider UCLA guard Xavier Su’a-Filo, if they pass on a receiver or tight end at No. 32.

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