The divide between the NFC West's top two teams (Cardinals and Seahawks) and the bottom two teams (49ers and Rams) isn't expected to change very much this season. The 49ers and Rams are in the middle of rebuilding projects and don't seem as if they will be contending in the foreseeable future. It would take a breakout year from Rams' QB Jared Goff and RB Todd Gurley to come within striking distance of the Seahawks and Cardinals.
All eyes will be on whether or not the Cardinals will be able to rally back from a rough season last year and take down the Seahawks, who seem to be in good position to make a playoff run.
In order to get an accurate assessment of the four NFC West teams heading into 2017, 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.
“In what proved to be a very frustrating 2016, Arizona failed to meet expectations when it lost a hard-fought opener to New England and never won more than two games in a row.”
“Carson Palmer actually played at a high level last year. But he is not mobile, and durability at his age is the worry.”
“Reports say the Chiefs jumped them in the first round for Texas Tech’s Patrick Mahomes, so the quarterback of the future is not on the roster right now.”
“David Johnson is a fantasy owner’s dream, but what a player in real life. He accounted for 2,118 yards rushing and receiving, plus 20 touchdowns.”
“This offense does not feature the tight end, but Jermaine Gresham did grab 37 passes.”
“Larry Fitzgerald has adapted beautifully as he has aged and is now the short and intermediate specialist for Palmer as they connected 107 times in 2016.”
“Center A.Q. Shipley plays better than he looks, and left tackle Jared Veldheer is more than functional on the blindside. Tackle D.J. Humphries has been a liability so far, and they drafted Pittsburgh’s Dorian Johnson to bolster their interior line depth.”
“They got one assist in five games from Robert Nkemdiche.”
“Deone Bucannon is an active defender, but he can get exposed in the run game.”
“First-round draft pick Haason Reddick brings a package of speed and versatility to the mix. He should make an impact right away.”
“Arizona drafted Budda Baker from Washington to help replace Tony Jefferson. Patrick Peterson and Tyrann Mathieu set the tempo in the back end.”
“Keeping Palmer upright is the key for them to get back to the playoffs, but I don’t see the Cardinals being a legitimate contender for the Super Bowl.”
“Sean McVay was hired to energize the organization, install his version of the West Coast offense and save Jared Goff from being a bust. He is wise beyond his years, sees the big picture and astutely hired Wade Phillips as his defensive coordinator.”
“Goff needs everything this offseason: weight room, classroom, confidence, footwork and eye control to have a fighting chance in the league.”
“Todd Gurley was a shadow of himself in 2016 with only 885 rushing yards.”
“The Rams signed Andrew Whitworth (Bengals) to take over at left tackle and provide some leadership. Rob Havenstein is adequate, but Greg Robinson has been a major disappointment and did not have his fifth year option exercised.”
“Maybe Tavon Austin will fit McVay’s offense and take off; in the meantime, they signed Robert Woods (Buffalo) and drafted Cooper Kupp as a slot and Josh Reynolds as an outside, vertical threat. They also selected South Alabama tight end Gerald Everett in the second round, and he can run.”
“Keep an eye on sixth-round choice Sam Rogers as a fullback. He has hands and is a willing blocker.”
“Aaron Donald is one of the 10 best players in the entire league. He is super quick, gives effort and can finish at the quarterback.”
“Robert Quinn is trending the wrong way, and Alec Ogletree misses too many tackles.”
“Cornerback Trumaine Johnson is under the franchise tag again, pending a new deal by July 15.”
[Editior's note: Johnson and the Rams did not come to agreement on a long-term contract by the deadline, so he will play this year under the one-year franchise tender.]
“Free safety Mo Alexander has been a nice find, and rookie John Johnson might see the field as a nickel/dime player very quickly.”
“The 49ers hit rock bottom in every sense of the word in 2016. Chip Kelly had zero chance of improving the team because he inherited only marginal talent across the board.”
“Left tackle Joe Staley is the NFC equivalent of the Browns’ Joe Thomas. All he does is show up and do his job regardless of what is going on around him.”
“They signed Brian Hoyer and Matt Barkley from the Bears to serve as the bridge quarterbacks while they reshape the rest of the roster.”
“John Lynch showed his aplomb as a rookie GM by landing two of the five best defensive players in the 2017 draft (defensive end Solomon Thomas and linebacker Reuben Foster).”
“Carlos Hyde is a capable runner, but they are excited about fourth-round pick Joe Williams, who brings rare speed to the table.”
“When Jeremy Kerley is your leading receiver, that speaks volumes about the wide receiver unit and overall quarterback play. They signed Pierre Garçon and Marquise Goodwin in free agency, and keep tabs on rookie Trent Taylor. He is a dynamo of a player as a slot man and returner.”
“The offensive line is subpar with Zane Beadles, Josh Garnett and Trent Brown all playing ‘below the line.”
“DeForest Buckner had a better- than-advertised season with six sacks, and linebacker Gerald Hodges had 83 tackles in 12 starts.
“The hope is that NaVorro Bowman will be back from an Achilles injury and ready for the opener.”
“They need more from Eric Reid at safety, and the corner spots are wide open.”
“This organization is starting over, so there won’t be many wins in 2017.”
“The Seahawks will be in the mix as long as Pete Carroll and Russell Wilson are the faces of the organization.
“Carroll and GM John Schneider create a competitive environment that is focused on players with something to prove.”
“They are expecting Eddie Lacy to spark their running game after he faltered in Green Bay.”
“Jimmy Graham has rare physical traits, and I expect him and Wilson to increase their production in 2017.”
“You cannot credit Doug Baldwin enough; he has become their go-to guy and caught 94 passes last year.”
“The offensive line is the Achilles heel of the operation, and they probably lean on coach Tom Cable too much. He’s good, but this isn’t a lemonade stand. Justin Britt played well in the middle, but Mark Glowinski and Germaine Ifedi struggled all year.”
“Linebacker Bobby Wagner is arguably their best defensive player. He’s tough, consistent and stays on the field.”
“Cliff Avril and Frank Clark provide the pass rush, while Ahtyba Rubin, Jarran Reed and rookie second-round pick Malik McDowell are expected to control the interior. McDowell is a boom-or-bust choice who has tremendous talent but quit on Michigan State.”
“For the first time, Richard Sherman let his emotions negatively impact his play, so there was trade talk in the spring. A bunch of candidates will compete for the opposite corner spot.”
“They are clearly the class of the division, but the line must sustain Wilson through the season so he can play his best in the playoffs.”