Arizona and Seattle figure to be the strength of the NFC West yet again and both teams have Super Bowl aspirations. The Cardinals’ championship window with quarterback Carson Palmer may be closing, which is why the team traded for pass rusher Chandler Jones. The Seahawks enter the post-Marshawn Lynch era with some uncertainty on offense, but the defense should remain among the NFL’s elite units. The Rams are back in Los Angeles and have one of the league’s top young running backs to aid in the development of No. 1 overall pick Jared Goff. San Francisco has a bit of a quarterback conundrum, one of the many things new head coach Chip Kelly will try to sort out as the rebuilding process by the Bay begins in full.
In order to get an accurate assessment of the four NFC West teams heading into 2016, Athlon asked NFL scouts to talk anonymously about the Cardinals, Rams, 49ers and Seahawks.
Note: These scouting reports come directly from NFL scouts and do not necessarily reflect the views of Athlon's editorial staff.
“GM Steve Keim has done a great job building this roster, and I don’t know if there’s a better head coach than Bruce Arians."
"The window is open right now for the Cardinals to make a Super Bowl run. I have faith that the organization can retool and change things to remain competitive down the road, but as for the currently comprised team, this is it."
"Maybe that’s why the Cardinals traded with New England for an edge rusher (Chandler Jones) with one year left on his contract with the thinking that, ‘We’re going to play in this window right now and figure the rest out down the road.’"
"The fact they’ve beefed up the defense with Jones, who gives them a rush element that haven’t had in recent memory, and drafting Robert Nkemdiche, who has the physical tools to become a dominant inside rusher, could be protection in case Carson Palmer can’t sustain a high level of play over a 16-game season because of age and injuries."
"The Cardinals have had success with players who had some troubling incidents in their past and helping them overcome off-field issues, so if Nkemdiche is going to succeed anywhere, it’s going to be here."
"Evan Mathis isn’t quite what he once was, but he is a competent player who will help solidify an already good offensive line at guard."
"Tyrann Mathieu’s loss last season was the least-talked-about injury in the league. He’s such an important, impactful piece in every element of that defense. He makes two or three big plays a game.”
“They’ve had a lot of draft resources the past few years because of the RG3 trade (in 2012), but they haven’t meshed as a team."
"The offensive line is habitually poor and the quarterback play has been horrendous."
"Jared Goff is probably the immediate starter at QB. He’s got a chance to become a real good player, but I just hope they’re able to protect him with the running game and don’t always have to play from behind so he doesn’t get exposed to the limitations the offensive line has as pass protectors."
"The sky is the limit on Todd Gurley. He’s really good now and has the potential to be at the top of all running backs in the league."
"It’s hard to evaluate the wide receivers to some degree because the quarterbacks have been so erratic."
"The defensive line with Aaron Donald and Robert Quinn is outstanding. Donald is such a disruptive force inside, and Quinn was the NFL’s best edge rusher two years ago until being slowed by injuries."
"You do have to wonder whether the release of well-respected veterans like Chris Long and James Laurinaitis will hurt the locker-room chemistry. Alec Ogletree has all the athletic and physical tools to replace Laurinaitis at middle linebacker, but sometimes guys struggle with that move because the reads and angles are different and things happen a lot faster."
"Mark Barron was a revelation last year in his role as a weak-side linebacker.”
“This is a significant rebuild because the 49ers are significantly behind every other team in the division."
"That isn’t necessarily an indictment of the front office as some people might think. There were some unforeseen retirements and injuries that have really hurt them."
"It will be interesting to see whether Chip Kelly likes Colin Kaepernick or Blaine Gabbert more at quarterback. The conventional wisdom is that Kaepernick is a natural fit for the offense, but Chip really values quick-thinking QBs who are accurate. I wouldn’t dismiss Gabbert having a legitimate chance of winning that job."
"If it is Kaepernick, Chip should let him use his feet more than the past couple seasons. That may make him a better player."
"Some folks are going to worry that what happened to DeMarco Murray in Philadelphia under Chip is going to happen to Carlos Hyde. Hyde, though, has the ability to get north-south a little more quickly at this stage in his career and, because he’s younger, is more capable of adapting to the scheme than Murray."
"They have a home-run threat at receiver in Torrey Smith but not a lot around him."
"On defense, this unit is a ways away from being what it once was."
"Arik Armstead should be a nice end in time, but DeForest Buckner can really be special in that defense. His combination of size and athleticism is rare.”
“As long as they have the head coach and quarterback together, this is absolutely 100 percent a Super Bowl contender."
"In that way, the combination of Pete Carroll and Russell Wilson is a little like Bill Belichick and Tom Brady in New England."
"The right side of the offensive line got better with the drafting of Germain Ifedi in the first round. Tom Cable’s track record as an offensive line coach suggests these guys will be OK despite some more offseason losses, but it is a leap of faith. The Achilles heel could be how long it takes for the unit to gel and chemistry to build because they’re moving guys around."
"Ohio State’s Nick Vannett was the draft’s best 'Y' tight end. He’s going to complement Jimmy Graham well. As for Graham, he really can only get better. There should be better chemistry than last year between Graham and Wilson."
"Losing Marshawn Lynch to retirement hurts a lot, but third-round pick C.J. Prosise is a really interesting player and could be the steal of the draft. He’ll be a very good special teams player and third-down back immediately and could be a three-down back once he gets better at pass-pro."
"The defensive line should be fine even after losing Brandon Mebane to San Diego, with Chris Clemons returning to help the group maintain a high level of play."
"The linebackers are as good as any in the league for a 4-3 defense, and the secondary is outstanding when healthy.”