The San Francisco 49ers took the NFC West and NFL by surprise in 2019. The division had been dominated by the Los Angeles Rams and the Seattle Seahawks in recent seasons, but the 49ers' front office made the necessary moves to make this franchise a winner once again. A 13-3 record tied San Francisco for the best mark in the NFC and secured its first NFC West title since 2012. The 49ers advanced to the Super Bowl, where they fell to Kansas City 31-20.
With San Francisco and Los Angeles representing the NFC in the past two Super Bowls, the NFC West is the only division that has had all four teams play on Super Sunday since the 2008 season. So what does 2020 have in store? San Francisco enters as the favorite but the recent 2020 NFL Draft gave the Los Angeles, Seattle and Arizona a chance to add some fresh talent to their roster in hopes of making up ground on the defending champs. Here is what each team accomplished through last week's draft.
Objective Achieved: Upgraded the defense
The big story for the Cardinals this offseason is the trade that brought DeAndre Hopkins to the desert and sent David Johnson to Houston. But as much fun as Kliff Kingsbury will have integrating Hopkins to this offense, he knows he can't ignore the other side of the ball. And that's where this year's draft comes in. The first splash was taking Clemson linebacker Isaiah Simmons with the eighth pick. The Butkus Award winner can play any number of positions and defensive coordinator Vance Joseph will definitely take advantage of Simmons' flexibility and athleticism.
Arizona also added some beef to its defensive line in the selections of Leki Fotu and Rashard Lawrence (both fourth-round picks), and linebacker Evan Weaver could provide a boost to the pass rush. On offense, offensive tackle Josh Jones should help the line cut down on the 50 sacks surrendered in 2019. Arizona State running back Eno Benjamin was the team's last pick (seventh round, No. 222 overall) and he could end up being a steal.
Los Angeles Rams
Objective Achieved: Filled roster holes
The Rams' championship aspirations cost them their first- and fourth-round picks this year (traded to Jacksonville for Jalen Ramsey) and they have gone through some roster turnover, but they used the draft to fill some of those holes. Running back Cam Akers and wide receiver Van Jefferson can be viewed as replacements for Todd Gurley (signed with Atlanta after his release) and Brandin Cooks (traded to Houston). Akers, in particular, could see significant touches early. Additionally, tight end Brycen Hopkins gives Sean McVay another legitimate pass catcher at the position. Guard Tremayne Anchrum adds youth to an offensive line that is starting to show some wear and tear.
On the other side of the ball, linebackers Terrell Lewis and Clay Johnston and safeties Terrell Burgess and Jordan Fuller provide depth for both position groups. Los Angeles also used a seventh-round pick on kicker Sam Sloman, who is expected to replace Greg Zuerlein (signed with Dallas in free agency).
San Francisco 49ers
Objective Achieved: Restocked key positions
The defending NFC champions return largely intact although defensive tackle DeForest Buckner was traded to Indianapolis in mid-March for a first-round pick. No worries though as GM John Lynch used that pick to first acquire an extra fourth-rounder in a swap with Tampa Bay, and then took South Carolina defensive tackle Javon Kinlaw at No. 14 overall. Considered a top-10 talent by several draft analysts, Kinlaw should fit in seamlessly as Buckner's replacement.
Later in the first round, Lynch traded up with Minnesota to grab Arizona State wide receiver Brandon Aiyuk with the 25th pick. Aiyuk and Jauan Jennings (seventh round) give head coach Kyle Shanahan even more options to scheme with. San Francisco also traded wide receiver Marquise Goodwin (to Philadelphia) and running back Matt Breida (Miami) during the draft, so that opened spots on the roster for the new wideouts.
Additionally, the 49ers acquired seven-time Pro Bowl left tackle Trent Williams from Washington on Day 3 of the draft in response to Joe Staley announcing his retirement. To do so, San Francisco sent a fifth-round pick this year and a third-rounder in 2021 to the Redskins but given Williams' resume and what Staley meant to this team, you won't hear any complaints from the 49ers' side. The team also drafted West Virginia tackle Colton McKivitz (fifth round) to add another option to the mix.
Objective Achieved: Made several surprising picks
The Seahawks weren't as active on the trade front during the draft as in previous years, yet still found a way to get everyone's attention. It started by taking Texas Tech linebacker Jordyn Brooks in the first round (No. 27 overall). While no one is disputing Brooks' fit with Seattle's system, very few analysts, if any, had him going in the first round. GM John Schneider and head coach Pete Carroll wisely addressed defensive line later in the draft, selecting ends Darrell Taylor (second round) and Alton Robinson (fifth) as Jadeveon Clowney remains a free agent.
On offense, guard Damien Lewis makes plenty of sense considering all the changes going on with that group, and running back DeeJay Dallas could end up playing a key role in the backfield with Chris Carson (hip) and Rashaad Penny (ACL) both coming back from serious injuries. Freddie Swain (sixth round) could boost a wide receiver group that is headlined by Tyler Lockett and DK Metcalf and then features a bunch of question marks. But even after signing tight end Greg Olsen to a one-year deal and with Will Dissly, Luke Willson and Jacob Hollister already on the roster, the Seahawks drafted not one, but two more in Stanford's Colby Parkinson (fourth round) and LSU's Stephen Sullivan (seventh). Seattle may try and use Sullivan at wide receiver since it seems unlikely the team would keep more than five tight ends.
— Gabe Salgado is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. He's also written for NBC, Fox, The Sporting News, The Sports Journal, The Undefeated and Complex. He's a co-host of The Rewind Sports: 60. Follow him on Twitter @GabeSalgado82.