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NFC West Improved Across the Board

The landscape of the NFC West division has improved, based on the 2012 NFL draft and free agency period of procurement. When I study all four teams, several playmakers and difference-makers, along with future starters and heavy contributors, have been added to rosters. I expect vast improvement for the division, from the bottom up.

When I look at the youth that was added through the draft, there are several exciting football players entering the division. They will add a lot of excitement, which may help swing the overall standings. Nevertheless, it’s all about scheme and player development, and how quickly these young players can adapt to a new city and locker-room environment with new teammates in a grown man’s league of competition.

Which teams are going to take their time in bringing along players slowly in the developmental process? Which are going to throw their players to the wolves after a rookie minicamp and OTA’s (organized team activities), a training camp period of 25-plus days that also includes four preseason games. It worked for quarterback Andy Dalton and receiver A.J. Green in Cincinnati last season, but both were special coming into the NFL. Then again, so are several new players selected to play in the NFC West.

Arizona Cardinals

The Cardinals have added another weapon to align opposite of Pro Bowl receiver Larry Fitzgerald in receiver Michael Floyd. His off-the-field issues are well documented, and walking the line each and every day will be his personal challenge. This big target has a chance to be special from day one in Ken Whisenhunt’s offense, and he also removes the double team that has plagued Fitzgerald ever since Anquan Boldin’s departure for greener grass in Baltimore. In order for Arizona to compete for the division title, it is a must that quarterback Kevin Kolb remain healthy; the offensive line must keep him upright. If it doesn’t, it won’t matter who is aligned outside the numbers. Drafting two stout offensive linemen in Senio Kelemete and Bobby Massie, along with late draft pick Nate Potter, bolsters both the run- and pass-blocking and will help set the tone up front. Good overall draft.

Round Pick Position Player College

(1) 13 WR Michael Floyd Notre Dame

(3) 80 CB Jamell Fleming Oklahoma

(4) 112 OT Bobby Massie Mississippi

(5) 151 OT Senio Kelemete Washington

(6) 177 CB Justin Bethel Presbyterian

(6) 185 QB Ryan Lindley San Diego State

(7) 221 OT Nate Potter Boise State

St. Louis Rams

The Rams are looking to make a huge splash in the NFC West with head coach Jeff Fisher at the helm, who is capable of steering the ship in the right direction and leading a young team and an historic franchise to the promised land known as the playoffs. But first, their main goal is win the division. The 53-man roster has improved by way of free agency and now the NFL draft. The first order of business was to rid the roster of aging players, cap causalities and those individuals who simply can’t play. Adding Blue Players (playmakers and difference-makers) and Red Players (starters and heavy contributors) through the draft was also crucial, and the Rams appear to have done just that with the selections of Michael Brockers, Brian Quick, Janoris Jenkins, Isaiah Pead, Trumaine Johnson and Chris Givens. When Fisher was asked if he had ever drafted a kicker, he said, “I don’t believe so.” Kicker Greg Zuerlein is ready to put his mark on the NFC West, with a powerful leg and consistent accuracy. “The Rock,” better known as offensive linemen Rokevious Watkins, will compete immediately for the left guard position. The Rams have made great strides to get bigger, stronger, faster and better within the last 120 days. Like the other 31 NFL teams, protecting your quarterback is the key offensively, while stopping the run and the ability to put pressure on the pocket reigns on defense. Where the Rams differ from the other divisional teams is their regular-season record since 2008: 12-52. That must change now. Surrounding Sam Bradford with weapons, beefing up the interior of the defensive line and adding corners with man press skills were just a few directives. With this draft and presumed health, the Rams are off to a good start in this rebuilding process. I like the direction in which the ship is headed. Excellent overall draft.

Round Pick Position Player College

(1) 14 DT Michael Brockers LSU

(2) 33 WR Brian Quick Appalachian State

(2) 39 CB Janoris Jenkins North Alabama

(2) 50 RB Isaiah Pead Cincinnati

(3) 65 CB Trumaine Johnson Montana

(4) 96 WR Chris Givens Wake Forest

(5) 150 OT Rokevious Watkins South Carolina

(6) 171 PK Greg Zuerlein Missouri Western

(7) 209 OLB Aaron Brown Hawaii

(7) 252 RB Daryl Richardson Abilene Christian

San Francisco 49ers

The 49ers were very aggressive during the 2012 free agency period, signing Randy Moss, Mario Manningham and several others, which has increased team speed. San Francisco also added several playmakers on the other side of the ball. Coach Jim Harbaugh and his team fell short on a trip to Super Bowl XLVI. The 49ers concentrated on adding playmakers with speed outside the numbers by drafting A.J. Jenkins and LaMichael James. The organization should have added enough pieces to this offense via free agency and the draft, allowing quarterback Alex Smith to continue his development under Harbaugh. The defending NFC West champions do not have a lot of holes, period, but they also must continue to build a championship foundation in order to achieve their ultimate goal and not allow the rest of the division to catch up. Good overall draft.

Round Pick Position Player College

(1) 30 WR A.J. Jenkins Illinois

(2) 61 RB LaMichael James Oregon

(4) 117 OG Joe Looney Wake Forest

(5) 165 RLB Darius Fleming Notre Dame

(6) 180 SS Trent Robinson Michigan State

(6) 199 OC Jason Slowey Western Oregon

(7) 237 OLB Cam Johnson Virginia

Seattle Seahawks

The Seahawks acquired former Packers quarterback Matt Flynn during free agency and filled other holes as well. Coach Pete Caroll’s plan, while not clear to the rest of the division or the NFL at large, has left Seattle fans upset and confused. To the organization that sits on the shores of Lake Washington, though, there is a definite plan and direction in which the Seahawks are headed. Acquiring Flynn, a quarterback who can maintain the balance of consistency needed in a run-dominated offense featuring Marshawn Lynch, was a major piece to the puzzle. Experts largely panned the Seahawks’ first pick in the draft, RLB (rush linebacker) Bruce Irvin, about whom there are major concerns on and off the field. I think they picked him two rounds too high, but the chance of him being there in the third round was slim. In the end, Seattle coveted Irvin’s ability to apply pressure on the opponent’s pocket too much to resist. He is an excellent athlete, turns speed to power, plays with good leverage and brings natural pass rush skills off the edge with burst to acceleration to quarterback. Another linebacker taken was Bobby Wagner, whom 17 teams coveted highly and will fill an immediate need. Running back Robert Turbin is cut out of the same mold as Lynch and should develop into a solid backup and emergency starter. Where I’m most excited, however, for this organization (and Flynn might disagree): the drafting of quarterback Russell Wilson. Despite his 5-10 stature, Wilson was a great pick. The Wisconsin product was my fourth-ranked signal-caller in this draft class. The quarterback competition in the Pacific Northwest just began. Flynn and Tavaris Jackson will sit atop the depth chart when camp opens, yes, but they’d better play well. If they open the door to Wilson, he will be the starter in Seattle for a long time. Very good overall draft.

Round Pick Position Player College

(1) 15 DE Bruce Irvin West Virginia

(2) 47 LB Bobby Wagner Utah State

(3) 75 QB Russell Wilson Wisconsin

(4) 106 RB Robert Turbin Utah State

(4) 114 DT Jaye Howard Florida

(5) 154 LB Korey Toomer Idaho

(6) 172 CB Jeremy Lane Northwestern State

(6) 181 CB Winston Guy Kentucky

(7) 225 DT J.R. Sweezy North Carolina State

(7) 232 DE Greg Scruggs Louisville

With rookie minicamps starting soon, all NFL teams will get a true gauge on where their new treasures stand and how far they need to go in order to make the 53-man roster and compete at a high level on opening weekend. Then, it becomes an issue of progressively getting better throughout the season with NFL tutelage.

Organized Team Activities and minicamp dates for NFC West squads:

Arizona

OTAs: May 22-24, 29-31 and June 4-7

Minicamps: May 11-13 (rookies), June 12-14

St. Louis

OTAs: May 15-16, 18, 22-23, 25 and June 5-8

Minicamps: May 11-13 (rookies), June 12-14

San Francisco

OTAs: May 22-24, 29-31 and June 4-7

Minicamps: May 11-13 (rookies), June 12-14

Seattle

OTAs: May 22-24, 30-June 1 and 4-7

Minicamps: May 11-13 (rookies), June 12-14

Clubs are permitted to hold a rookie minicamp on one of the first two weekends after the NFL draft and conduct one mandatory minicamp for veteran players. Clubs with new head coaches, however, are permitted to conduct one additional voluntary minicamp for veteran players. There is no restriction on the number of minicamps a club may hold for rookie players.

OTA (organized team activity) and minicamp information courtesy of NFL Communications & Gov. Affairs.