Is San Francisco a playoff team with Jimmy Garoppolo at quarterback? Scouts size up the 49ers, Cardinals, Rams and Seahawks
The Los Angeles Rams shocked everyone by winning the NFC West behind rookie head coach Sean McVay and are clearly the team to beat entering this season. San Francisco is looking to follow in the Rams' footsteps behind $137 million man Jimmy Garoppolo while Seattle and Arizona find themselves in unfamiliar territory after disappointing 2017 campaigns led to plenty of changes for both teams.
The pressure is on the Rams to win and win big after making several offseason trades to bolster the roster, while everyone is waiting to see how Jimmy G fares as the 49ers' full-time starting quarterback. The Seahawks still have Russell Wilson under center but the Legion of Boom is no more as the defense is being rebuilt, while the Cardinals are starting over with a new coaching staff and have an intriguing quarterback situation that bears watching.
In order to get an accurate assessment of the four NFC West teams heading into 2018, 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 the swan song for head coach Bruce Arians and quarterback Carson Palmer, the Cardinals stumbled through another disappointing season."
"David Johnson was lost for the season, and with him out, they never really established a run game."
"Palmer announced his retirement, and GM Steve Keim reluctantly signed both Sam Bradford and Mike Glennon in free agency ahead of drafting UCLA’s Josh Rosen. Bradford has been a 'balsa wood' kind of player, having completed only two of his eight NFL seasons, so Glennon and Rosen will likely see the field this year. Rosen was arguably the purest passer in the draft, but questions remain about his intangible qualities."
"Larry Fitzgerald opted to return for a 15th year despite the fact that the QB position is in major flux. Offensively, he was the only player that performed at a winning level in 2017, so the line and everyone else must play better under a new head coach in Steve Wilks."
"The defensive line, once a force for the Cardinals, is now a collection of just average guys with Chandler Jones being the only real game-plan threat an offensive coordinator must account for."
"Keep an eye on their sixth-round pick, cornerback Chris Campbell from Penn State; he might be a late-round find for them."
"With Johnson expecting to play, the Cardinals are in transition and will be fortunate to reach .500 in 2018."
"The Rams had one of the most amazing turnarounds in NFL history when they won the division and advanced to the playoffs under first-year coach Sean McVay. He did an amazing job with Jared Goff, who went from being lost to going to the Pro Bowl. McVay has a brilliant football mind, and it goes beyond play calling when you consider his wisdom in hiring DC Wade Phillips."
"Todd Gurley had an MVP-level season, and now the challenge is to see if he can do it again."
"They traded for Sammy Watkins in the preseason, and he helped stretch the field for Cooper Kupp and Robert Woods, but then he left in free agency. Kupp led the team’s [wide receivers] in receptions and was in the running for Rookie of the Year honors. To replace and elevate from Watkins, they traded for Brandin Cooks, and he should be unreal in this offense."
"[Tight end] Gerald Everett was the only disappointment in their [2017 draft], so 2018 will be a pivotal year for him."
"Aaron Donald is one of the five best players in the NFL after another dominant campaign."
"They traded Robert Quinn to the Dolphins and Alec Ogletree to the Giants in order to go younger, so fifth-round pick Ogbo Okoronkwo might see time as a designated pass rusher."
"John Johnson was an understated rookie who played very consistently in 2017."
"But, while all of this is part of the discussion, the biggest moves of the offseason were the additions of Ndamukong Suh, Marcus Peters and Aqib Talib. They all have immense ability, but all have intangible warts as well."
"Collecting talent or building a championship team? Stay tuned."
"No organization lived the mantra of a 'QB-driven league' more than the 49ers in 2017. GM John Lynch only gave up a second-round pick to the Patriots for Jimmy Garoppolo, and after a few weeks of acclimation time, he led them to five consecutive wins with essentially the same squad that had gone 1-10."
"They are betting that Jerick McKinnon can carry the load after signing him in free agency."
"Rookie George Kittle flashed seam-threatening speed, and Marquise Goodwin, after a 56-catch season, was rewarded with a new contract in the offseason."
"The offensive line is strong on the left side with Joe Staley continuing to play at a high level, and they added center Weston Richburg to help secure the interior. After drafting Mike McGlinchey in the first round, they traded Trent Brown, so the Notre Dame rookie will play right tackle in 2018."
"Meanwhile, to no one’s real surprise, Reuben Foster got sideways with the law on two occasions after the season ended, and his legal situation is up in the air, so they drafted BYU’s Fred Warner as a potential replacement." [Editor's note: In early July, the NFL suspended Foster two games for violating the league's conduct and substance abuse policies.]
"Richard Sherman was cut by the Seahawks and signed in San Francisco within three days. Coming off Achilles injuries to both legs, he bet on himself with a heavily incentivized contract."
"The coaches really like the rest of their young secondary. Look for Jimmie Ward to play more of a slot corner role as part of their three-safety package. If Sherman is not 100 percent, the cornerback play could literally be their Achilles heel in challenging the Rams and Seahawks for the division title."
"They made significant changes to the coaching staff and roster during this offseason. Everything centers around Russell Wilson, who may have had his best season when considering how bad the offensive line and run game were last season. He is accurate, durable and a gamer by any measure, so the Seahawks must capitalize on what Wilson brings every game."
"Rashaad Penny should make an immediate impact as a combination runner and receiver."
"The OL was an utter disaster in 2017. They traded for Duane Brown, who was okay. Center Justin Britt’s play suffered some because of the instability on the right side. They signed D.J. Fluker to play right guard, and right tackle Germain Ifedi is in make-or-break mode for this season."
"Much will be expected of Nick Vannett, who will partially replace Jimmy Graham and Luke Willson."
"Defensively, Bobby Wagner and K.J. Wright don’t get enough credit for their high level of performance. Wagner is arguably the best linebacker in the NFL, while Wright has put together a very consistent career."
"Frank Clark posted another nice season, but Michael Bennett headed off to the Eagles."
"Jarran Reed and Nazair Jones are solid in the middle, while Malik McDowell proved to be the worst draft pick of the Carroll/Schneider era."
"On paper, the transfer of power in the division looks like it’s headed south to San Francisco and L.A., but with Wilson under center and Carroll on the sidelines, I wouldn’t be so fast to count them out in 2018."