The gap between the best and worst in the NFC West last season couldn’t have been wider. The division winner, the Los Angeles Rams, made the Super Bowl, while the division loser had the worst record in the league. In between was another playoff team, and a team who was plagued with injuries who also finished with one of the worst records in the league. While it seems as though there is a clear hierarchy in the division, a good draft can restore some balance. In the final divisional preview, here’s what each team should be aiming to get out of the 2019 NFL Draft.
Arizona has been dominating headlines leading into the draft due to speculation they will draft Quarterback Kyler Murray. Yet they drafted a QB last year in Josh Rosen, and none of their major needs can be filled with a player worth taking first overall. While they may attempt to trade down and give Rosen more help, drafting an interior Defensive Lineman like Quinnen Williams would make a lot of sense as a long-term investment for when the rest of the team is put together.
Regardless of whether they stick with Rosen or move on to Murray, the Offense is severely lacking talent. Running Back David Johnson is the best weapon, but a backup wouldn’t go astray. However, the Cardinals desperately need Wide Receivers. Although Larry Fitzgerald is still around, and last year’s rookie Christian Kirk showed flashes, the team needs to find a deep threat and a big-bodied WR for the future.
In an exclusive interview with SI TV, @josh3rosen opens up about his uncertain future with the Arizona Cardinals: “I definitely understand the situation… It is what it is, football’s a business” https://t.co/ioW1ifdLsV pic.twitter.com/L2Z9DPdfHz— Sports Illustrated (@SInow) April 18, 2019
Instead of a big WR, Arizona may wish to bring in another TE to help not only the passing game, but also better protect the QB. The Offensive Line was among the worst in 2018, giving up the fifth-most sacks in the league. Despite adding Marcus Gilbert and J.R. Sweezy in Free Agency, the Cardinals need to find another Tackle and Guard to upgrade the current starters.
On Defense, while Williams could be in play with the top pick in the draft, there are no pressing needs at any position. Finding younger LBs may happen late in the draft, and the secondary will also be addressed with a Safety and potentially also another Cornerback. Yet the Offense needs to be the priority for the entire draft, hence why Free Agents Terrell Suggs, Tramaine Brock and Robert Alford were brought in to get the Cardinals through 2019.
Los Angeles Rams
For a team that made the Super Bowl last season, the Rams have a bit of work to do in the draft. They have a few years with the current stars on the roster to take another run at a Super Bowl, and making the Defense quicker needs to happen. The Offense has little work to do, but tweaking it to maximise its potential will be the other draft strategy.
One area where the Rams struggled in the Super Bowl was in the middle of the Defense. While they’ve tried to address that with Free Agents Clay Matthews and Eric Weddle, the former of these has lost production in recent years, while the latter is nearing the end of his career. Finding new and versatile Safeties, especially ones that can play in the box and over the top, needs to be a focus of the draft. Inside LBs are another need for the Rams to especially help them against the run, where they allowed the fifth highest yards per game in 2018.
“I’m mad at myself, I wish I would’ve done things differently, I wish I could’ve made extra plays. But all stuff I can learn from and use moving forward.” – Jared Goff pic.twitter.com/99ti3t9TVM— Los Angeles Rams (@RamsNFL) February 4, 2019
The Defensive Line will also see players added in the draft. The Rams allowed Ndamukong Suh to leave in the offseason, and replacing him at Defensive Tackle could be where they begin the draft. Depth at Defensive End could be addressed in the middle of the draft, but the Rams can survive with their current talent on the edge.
While the key players on Offense remain, the Rams have a few holes to plug. They need to invest in a Center, and they should also begin to look for another outside threat at WR in case Robert Woods or Brandin Cooks misses time. It’s likely the Rams also draft a RB to reduce Todd Gurley’s workload, but these additional offensive pieces won’t come early in the draft.
San Francisco 49ers
The 49ers have a lot of potential on their roster, and a strong draft could see them push for playoffs in 2019. They have a formidable Offense, but need to add more weapons. The Defensive Backs and Linebackers will be the other focus of the draft.
Ironically, the strongest aspect of the whole roster could be where the 49ers use their second overall pick. The 49ers have used their top draft picks on the DL repeatedly over the last few years, yet could return to it again this year due to the lack of other players worth taking that highly. Adding a dominant edge rusher like Ed Oliver or Nick Bosa, or a DT like Quinnen Williams would give the 49ers the best DL in the league in terms of talent and depth. That’s part of the recipe that helped the Eagles win a Super Bowl too.
However, the 49ers might attempt to trade down as they have just six picks in the draft. The work they need to do on Defense needs to focus on pass coverage, particularly finding LBs, Safeties and nickel DBs. Adding a young CB would also see the team prepare for the future, but isn’t urgent with Jason Verrett joining the team in Free Agency.
Despite the Offense sustaining multiple key injuries in 2018, they finished in the middle of the league in terms of rushing and passing yards per game. Where they really need to add talent is at WR, and by the time they pick in the second round, they’ll have drafted one. Drafting a Guard would solidify the Offense further, but could be left until late in the draft due to their other needs and lack of picks.
The Seahawks were seen by many to be rebuilding in 2018, yet they made the playoffs regardless. They had one of the more effective rushing attacks in the league, but need to become more dynamic in the passing game. And while they may not have been rebuilding, the Defense has nearly transformed from what it was when they made successive Super Bowls.
To complete the Defense, Seattle will focus on the DL. The Seahawks like being able to bring just four-man pressures, and added a few Free Agent DEs to make it happen. Depth at DT is likely to be a consideration for them over the first two days of the draft, while finding a backup to MLB Bobby Wagner can’t be overlooked either. The secondary is in a strong state, but the Seahawks are likely to use a late-round pick on a Safety or CB as another staple of their Defense.
On Offense, the Seahawks have prioritised the run, but need to solidify the interior of the OL and find a Tackle to play opposite Duane Brown if they can. However, the Seahawks really need to develop a more dominant aerial attack. While TE Nick Vannett made some plays in 2018, they could draft a TE to help both the run and pass. WR is another area the Seahawks should address, as they need a player who will be consistent from week to week and be the focus of opposing Defenses.