One of the best divisions in the NFL, the NFC West will look to continue their tradition of big, physical defenses. Arizona and Seattle figure to continue to lead the way, although both have some work to do this offseason. With the Rams relocating to Los Angeles they are now truly in the West — perhaps a change of scenery could change their luck. The 49ers brought in new head coach Chip Kelly and are hoping he is more successful than he was during his time out East as well.
2015 Snapshot: The Arizona Cardinals had a fantastic season in 2015 but there is no question it ended on a rather ugly note. This team appears to be very close to a Super Bowl bid with the addition of a few more playmakers. Arizona must try to emulate what Denver did in Super Bowl 50 against Carolina to take that next step, and that would require an outside linebacker that can get after the quarterback with consistency. We also saw how good this team can be with a healthy Carson Palmer; so keeping him safe and upright is critical to the Cardinals' success.
Biggest Needs: With Tyrann Mathieu in the lineup the Cardinals may have the best secondary in the NFL. Kevin Minter and Deone Bucannon comprise a top-of-the-line inside linebacker duo as well. The one thing missing is an edge rusher at the outside linebacker position. Another position with an aging starter is at center. Lyle Sendlein, last season's starter, will be a free agent and will turn 32 shortly after the new league year starts on March 9. The Cardinals could easily replace him with their first-round draft pick.
First-round pick: No. 29 overall
Potential Pick: Georgia’s Leonard Floyd is quick and long (6-4, 230), and could be the athlete needed to replace 36-year-old Dwight Freeney on the edge. When it comes to college centers look no further than Alabama’s Ryan Kelly (6-4, 297). The winner of the Rimington Trophy, awarded to the best center in college football, as well as the Jacobs Blocking Trophy, awarded to the best blocker in the SEC, Kelly is a guy that can start right away. If he can get on the same page with Palmer they are guaranteed to succeed from the jump.
Los Angeles Rams
2015 Snapshot: A lot of people questioned the Rams’ selection of Todd Gurley at No. 10 last year, thinking it would turn out to be the worst pick of the draft. After returning from a nasty leg injury, Gurley proved all of the haters wrong. This Rams team has a very capable defense, and they will look even stronger if their offense can stay on the field long enough to give them a breather. Now that the running game has been established it is time to upgrade a passing attack that finished dead last in the NFL in 2015.
Biggest Needs: A quarterback that can anchor this offense would be huge. The Rams have had endless turnover at the quarterback position since drafting Sam Bradford No. 1 overall in 2010. The man they traded Bradford for — Nick Foles — is wildly inconsistent and not a solution moving forward. Los Angeles also could benefit from serious improvement to its receiving corps.
First-round pick: No. 15 overall
Potential Picks: The Los Angeles Rams want to be flashy and cool to match their new city. Taking a young quarterback that can turn this offense into “The Greatest Show by the Surf” is definitely their goal. At pick No. 15 it comes down to which of the three standouts are available: Cal’s Jared Goff, North Dakota State’s Carson Wentz or Memphis’ Paxton Lynch.
San Francisco 49ers
2015 Snapshot: The 49ers couldn’t have imagined a crazier offseason than the one they experienced prior to the 2015 campaign. Two key players under the age of 30 decided to retire citing medical concerns and their futures. There were several other key departures, and new head coach Jim Tomsula had to do all he could to keep this team upright.
Biggest Needs: Players to fit into Chip Kelly’s scheme, as the 49ers once again come into the year with a new head coach. It will be very interesting to see how the quarterback situation is handled in San Francisco with Colin Kaepernick and Blaine Gabbert. Whatever the decision is, both guys will need help along the offensive line and in the passing game.
First-round pick: No. 7 overall
Potential Picks: Notre Dame offensive tackle Ronnie Stanley is the smart pick here if he’s still on the board. Chip Kelly is an offensive-minded coach that will want this unit firing on all cylinders. What better way than to draft an NFL-ready offensive tackle to anchor this line for years to come. If Stanley isn’t around, Ole Miss’ Laquon Treadwell could be the spark this offense needs. On the other side of the ball, Oregon’s DeForest Buckner could be the quarterback hunter the defense needs.
2015 Snapshot: The Seahawks’ largest acquisition from a year ago, All-Pro tight end Jimmy Graham, suffered a season-ending leg injury (ruptured patellar tendon) in Week 12. Prior to the injury, the dynamic athlete really wasn’t contributing much to this offense. With starting center Max Unger leaving in the Graham deal with the Saints, and with two other offensive linemen seeking new contracts in 2016, it is critical that head coach Pete Carroll and the front office address the offensive line to provide Russell Wilson with suitable protection.
Biggest Needs: J.R. Sweezy and Russell Okung are set to be free agents, and it is evident how important a solid offensive line is for this team. In the final seven games of the season, three of which came against playoff teams, Wilson’s QBR was below 90 only once (St. Louis). Wilson also threw just one interception during that span. An offensive line that can give Wilson time enables him to pick apart a defense with ease. With the departure of Marshawn Lynch, the Seahawks could also consider taking a running back late in the first round.
First-round pick: No. 26 overall
Potential Picks: Michigan State offensive tackle Jack Conklin (6-6, 318) could be a perfect fit for Seattle, eventually being trusted with guarding Russell Wilson’s blindside. This offense doesn’t have an elite target unless Graham returns to full form, so giving Wilson time while his receivers get open is vital. If Ohio State’s Ezekiel Elliott is still available, I can’t see the Seahawks passing. They also may consider taking Heisman winner Derrick Henry to replace Beast Mode.