Are Jimmy Garoppolo and the 49ers poised for a bounce-back season? Scouts size up the 49ers, Cardinals, Rams and Seahawks
The Los Angeles Rams came up short in the Super Bowl against New England, but the expectation is that this team will make another run this season. There are some questions for Sean McVay's team, however, starting with the health of Todd Gurley's knee and a reshuffled offensive line. Meanwhile, most of the attention this offseason has been paid to the changes made by the Arizona Cardinals, highlighted by No. 1 overall pick Kyler Murray and new head coach Kliff Kingsbury. How will both handle the transition from college to the NFL?
San Francisco could be a sleeper team especially if Jimmy Garoppolo bounces back quickly from a torn ACL and the young defense takes a step forward after adding some new pieces. And then there's Seattle, the Legion of Boom may be no more, but as long as Pete Carroll and Russell Wilson are together, the Seahawks can't be overlooked.
In order to get an accurate assessment of the four NFC West teams heading into 2019, 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.
"After a disastrous 2018 season, the Cardinals are starting over at coach and quarterback, with GM Steve Keim getting one more chance to try and fix this franchise that came off the rails last year."
"In less than a month, it was obvious Steve Wilks was not the answer, and when Josh Rosen was forced into the lineup he was sacked 45 times in 13 starts."
"Kliff Kingsbury was an outside-the-box choice because he had a losing record at Texas Tech and never showed the capacity to field any kind of representative defense. He is going to need lots of help in adjusting to the NFL."
"Arizona hitched its wagon to Kyler Murray with the top draft choice, and while he was sensational in his one season as a starter at Oklahoma, there are more questions than answers when it comes to his long-term viability as a pro QB. Still, when your offense was ranked 32nd in five different categories, it's worth the shot to reset the table."
"They traded for right tackle Marcus Gilbert and signed guard J.R. Sweezy to bolster the offensive line."
"A healthy David Johnson will be better in 2019, and Chase Edmonds flashed open-space ability as a rookie."
"Christian Kirk should thrive in Kingsbury's spread system, while Larry Fitzgerald decided to delay his planned retirement by one more year."
"Keim added some noteworthy defensive players in free agency, but Chandler Jones, Haason Reddick, Budda Baker and Patrick Peterson have to take ownership of the team." [Editor's note: Peterson is suspended for the first six games of the season for violating the NFL's performance-enhancing drug policy.]
"This rookie coach and quarterback sequel will be better than the Wilks/Rosen version, but they will be fortunate to reach six wins."
"The grand experiment of putting star free agents together on defense worked to the point of getting to Super Bowl XLIII and holding the Patriots to 13 points. Wade Phillips is a 'people' person, and he managed this group of high-profile players in an impressive way."
"Aaron Donald had an MVP year. His explosive quickness is unmatched by any other defender in the league."
"They let Ndamukong Suh walk with the belief that Tanzel Smart, who was only active for two games in 2018, will be part of the defensive tackle rotation."
"Cory Littleton is the 'least-known' best linebacker in the game."
"Dante Fowler Jr. and the newly acquired Clay Matthews should increase the pass rush, but neither is super scary to an offense."
"John Johnson is an excellent football player, and they signed Eric Weddle to replace Lamarcus Joyner."
"Sean McVay has made a huge impact on the field with his play-calling and off the field with regard to the hiring practices of owners."
"The two losses against Chicago and New England will be studied in the offseason, because those are the games that Jared Goff looked out of sorts."
"The mystery surrounding Todd Gurley's knee health continued all spring."
"The trio of Robert Woods, Brandin Cooks and Cooper Kupp is a tough matchup for most teams."
"The two young tight ends, Tyler Higbee and Gerald Everett, work well together."
"The line is average, but functional because the ball comes out quickly and Gurley is so good."
"Don't see a Super Bowl hangover with McVay and Phillips leading this squad; they are the class of the division and a legit contender again."
"In what will be a pivotal year for the John Lynch/Kyle Shanahan era, the healthy return of Jimmy Garoppolo might be the only thing that matters."
"The 49ers were a league-worst minus-25 in turnover margin, and while most will point at the offense, it was the defense that only produced two interceptions."
"Matt Breida is a functional running back who averaged 5.3 per carry and chipped in 27 receptions as well, but they still added Tevin Coleman from Atlanta, and Jerick McKinnon should be back from his knee injury. I'm not sure how all three get utilized."
"George Kittle has far exceeded any expectations they had for a fifth-round pick. He hauled in 88 passes and five touchdowns from three different quarterbacks."
"When Kendrick Bourne leads your wide receivers with 42 receptions, that says it all with regards to what is needed from Marquise Goodwin and the newly signed Jordan Matthews."
"The offensive line should be complete and better after right tackle Mike McGlinchey had an impressive rookie campaign."
"The addition of Dee Ford along with first-round pick Nick Bosa should increase the pass rush right away. Solomon Thomas has been a non-factor thus far. Kwon Alexander is an instinctive run-and-hit linebacker, and his torn ACL should be ready by September."
"Jason Verrett has not been healthy since 2015, so I don't think he will augment the Richard Sherman/Ahkello Witherspoon cornerback duo."
"With Jimmy G, they have a chance to reach .500 and compete for a playoff berth, but that may be wishful thinking with the Rams and Seahawks in the same division."
"It's been a fascinating case study to see the evolution of the Seahawks during the Russell Wilson era. From rookie contract and a team of stars to the NFL's highest-paid player surrounded by draft picks and reclamation projects, Pete Carroll and John Schneider have adapted their roster as well as anyone in terms of staying in annual contention."
"Look for Chris Carson and Rashaad Penny to share more of the load in 2019. Carson ran for 1,151 yards and nine touchdowns, but they are expecting Penny to have a breakout year."
"Tyler Lockett is a big-play artist, and they drafted size/speed freak DK Metcalf. They believe David Moore has a bright future ahead with his size and vertical speed on the outside."
"Perhaps the offensive line will stabilize with all five starters returning, but this is a group that allowed 51 sacks a year ago."
"Bobby Wagner is enjoying a Hall of Fame career and notched another 138 tackles."
Jarran Reed is a Fletcher Cox-type, disruptive interior lineman; he had 10.5 sacks and 24 QB hits." [Editor's note: Reed is facing a six-game suspension for violating the league's personal conduct policy stemming from an incident from 2017 for which he was not charged or arrested.]
"The transition in their secondary was impressive, with rookie Tre Flowers moving from college safety to cornerback and holding up well. Bradley McDougald recorded 78 tackles, broke up nine passes and had three interceptions as he replaced Kam Chancellor."
"Their kickers are outstanding — Michael Dickson as the punter and Jason Myers being signed as their kicker after making 33-of-36 for the Jets in 2018."
"They appear to be the Rams' primary challengers for the NFC West and almost a certain playoff participant again."