The NFC West managed to be a strong division last year, even with the 49ers disappointing and only going 8-8. This division has many strengths, however, with plenty of potential to send multiple teams to the playoffs once again. There should definitely be some late-season drama as teams jockey for postseason positioning.
Here are some NFC West players who could make a major difference for their respective team this season:
Lemuel Jeanpierre, Center,
Seahawks (1st place, 12-4)
It’s hard to find areas of improvement on a team that’s played in two consecutive Super Bowls and should have won them both. However, they did trade away Max Unger, who was a two-time Pro Bowler and integral part of the past few years’ success. This will be Jeanpierre’s sixth season, and he has only seen limited playing time. As the team’s center, he will have to take on a strong leadership role along the line and must be able to at least be decent at blocking. Pete Caroll and the Seahawks shouldn’t be hurting too much though despite the personnel changes at several key positions.
Another player to watch: cornerback Cary Williams
Jerraud Powers, Cornerback, Arizona Cardinals (2
The Cardinals were an interesting team last year — they gave up a lot of yards and didn’t gain many, yet still found ways to win a bunch of games. Their pass defense was rough, although they have an elite corner in Patrick Peterson. Powers put up his best season last year mostly in the nickel, but he may be moving back to a larger role on the outside. Thus, he will need to improve in that area to help limit opponents’ passing attacks. The Cardinals, however, do have depth at the cornerback position now.
Another player to watch: running back Andre Ellington
Tramaine Brock, Cornerback,
San Francisco 49ers (3rd place, 8-8)
The 49ers had one of the roughest offseasons, highlighted by several high-profile retirements. They also lost two of their top four wide receivers, No. 1 running back, and two starting cornerbacks. The latter seems to be the issue of most concern right now because of the ambiguity at the position, with several players fighting for their spot on the cornerback depth chart. Brock figures to be one of the starters, but he has to stay healthy, after only playing three games last season. The 49ers have plenty of cornerbacks, but they don’t seem to have two clear-cut starters right now.
Another player to watch: running back Carlos Hyde
Nick Foles, Quarterback,
St. Louis Rams (4th place, 6-10)
The Rams finally gave up on Sam Bradford, and they hope Foles can be the answer at quarterback. He’s going to need some help though, especially from wide receivers Brian Quick and Kenny Britt, as well as Tre Mason and first-round pick Todd Gurley in the backfield. Foles figures to have very good upside, but whether or not his supporting cast can help him out will be seen during the season. The Rams also hope to get some better production out of Tavon Austin, the No. 8 overall pick in 2013.
Other players to watch: centers Tim Barnes/Barrett Jones/Demetrius Rhaney
(Nick Foles photo at top courtesy of St. Louis Rams)