Can San Francisco do it again? Scouts size up the 49ers, Cardinals, Rams and Seahawks
For the second straight season, the NFC West represented the conference in the Super Bowl but failed to bring home the Lombardi Trophy. Now San Francisco will try to avoid the same path that the Los Angeles Rams took, from playing in the Super Bowl two years ago to missing the playoffs last season.
The 49ers aren't the only team with Super Bowl aspirations entering 2020 as Seattle, who has made the playoffs in every season but one of the eight Pete Carroll and Russell Wilson have been paired together, beefed up its defense in a big way by trading for All-Pro safety Jamal Adams right before the start of training camp. Arizona made its own big trade by acquiring DeAndre Hopkins from Houston as the Cardinals look to make noise in Kyler Murray's second season.
In order to get an accurate assessment of the four NFC West teams heading into 2020, 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.
"The first-year duo of QB Kyler Murray and head coach/offensive play-caller Kliff Kingsbury led the Cardinals to a 5–10–1 record and last place in the NFC West. But there is a lot of optimism for this offense heading into Year Two."
"Murray is a jitterbug and has a quick-flick release but needs to have better situational awareness."
"They made a midseason trade for dynamic RB Kenyan Drake, who excelled in this spread offense."
"David Johnson was the third-highest-paid RB, and after a disappointing 2019 season, he was traded to the Texans for DeAndre Hopkins, arguably the best WR in the NFL."
"Future Hall of Fame WR Larry Fitzgerald decided to return for another season, but look for young WRs Christian Kirk and Andy Isabella to up their productivity."
"With their finesse OL scheme, they paid LT D.J. Humphries and upgraded the RT spot with rookie Josh Jones."
"Ex-Bills DT Jordan Phillips (9.5 sacks) reunited with defensive coordinator Vance Joseph after the Cardinals had one of the worst interior DLs last year."
"All-Pro edge Chandler Jones had 19 sacks, but the hope is that the overall unit improves with the additions of veteran edge Devon Kennard and versatile rookie Isaiah Simmons."
"At ILB they have Jordan Hicks, who is a solid starter, and they signed ex-Falcon De'Vondre Campbell, but what does this mean for former first-round pick Haason Reddick?"
"Star CB Patrick Peterson is 30, and nickel Byron Murphy is heading into his second season, but to compete long term, they need to add more quality depth."
"Safety Budda Baker is an energizer bunny, but do they have enough defensive talent to support the offense and make a run at the playoffs?"
"QB Jared Goff was uncomfortable all season in head coach/offensive play-caller Sean McVay's offense, leading to 16 interceptions."
"They released star RB Todd Gurley II after giving him a contract extension just two seasons ago, and they drafted Cam Akers to be his replacement."
"They also paid big money to veteran WR Brandin Cooks a few years ago but ended up trading him to Houston this offseason."
"They still have talented WRs, with Cooper Kupp, Robert Woods and Josh Reynolds, and they drafted route technician Van Jefferson."
"They have an underrated TE group with Tyler Higbee and Gerald Everett."
"They have a cohesive zone-blocking OL unit and got great news with 38-year-old LT Andrew Whitworth's return."
"DT Aaron Donald is a generational talent."
"They re-signed reliable DL Michael Brockers and strengthened this unit by adding ex-Lions DT A'Shawn Robinson."
"They lost edge Dante Fowler Jr. (11.5 sacks) but drafted flashy Terrell Lewis and signed Leonard Floyd, who has a previous relationship with new defensive coordinator Brandon Staley."
"Underrated, athletic ILB Cory Littleton departed to Las Vegas, and with an unappealing LB situation, look for Kenny Young to play a bigger role this season."
"They traded a 2020 first-round draft pick and two future picks for All-Pro CB Jalen Ramsey, who will become the richest DB in NFL history; hence the reason they're cutting veterans on this roster."
"The expectations are extremely high in Los Angeles and they must rebound; Hollywood doesn't put up with losers."
"Will head coach and play-caller Kyle Shanahan be able to get past another Super Bowl loss, and can QB Jimmy Garoppolo play another full season healthy? If so, this team will be poised to make another Super Bowl run."
"They had the No. 2 rushing attack, led by a Cinderella story in Raheem Mostert and reliable veteran Tevin Coleman, but they traded away shifty RB Matt Breida."
"They have an explosive playmaker in WR Deebo Samuel, a possession WR in Kendrick Bourne, and they drafted dynamic WR Brandon Aiyuk in the first round."
"George Kittle is arguably the best TE in the NFL, but they must add solid depth behind him."
"This was a top-five OL unit last season with their strength being at OT. With the retirement of longtime LT Joe Staley, they made a trade for All-Pro LT Trent Williams, which could be a net gain."
"Defensive coordinator Robert Saleh will be a head coach next season if the defense plays like a top-five unit again."
"They re-signed DT Arik Armstead but traded away stud DT DeForest Buckner for a first-round pick, turning that pick into disruptive DT Javon Kinlaw. DE Nick Bosa was in the conversation for Defensive Player of the Year as a rookie, and speed rusher Dee Ford was a complementary piece opposite him."
"They have a young and fast ILB unit featuring Kwon Alexander, Fred Warner and Dre Greenlaw."
"CB Richard Sherman is the leader of this DB unit."
"They have a rotation at the No. 2 CB spot with Emmanuel Moseley and Ahkello Witherspoon, but no standouts at the safety position."
"They're in the most competitive division in the NFL, and we will see this season if the gold rush is here to stay."
"This is one of the most electric cultures in the NFL with head coach Pete Carroll's passion and QB Russell Wilson's swagger."
"This is an RB by committee that finished top five in rushing yards, led by Chris Carson, but he's coming off a season-ending hip injury, and Rashaad Penny has been an underachieving first-round pick and is coming off a torn ACL."
"At WR, they have one of the most underrated deep threats with Tyler Lockett and a physical freak with DK Metcalf, but they need other playmakers such as David Moore and newcomer Phillip Dorsett II to step up."
"They have a solid TE unit with newly acquired Mr. Clutch Greg Olsen and up-and-comer Will Dissly."
"GM John Schneider spent time in free agency trying to improve an average OL, and they're moving on from longtime veterans Justin Britt, D.J. Fluker and Germain Ifedi."
"At DT, they have good depth and brought back Jarran Reed to pair with relentless Poona Ford. They have big expectations for L.J. Collier, Rasheem Green and rookie Darrell Taylor, and they brought back old friend Bruce Irvin."
"All-Pro Bobby Wagner is arguably the best ILB in the NFL, but with K.J. Wright going into the final year of his contract, they drafted rookie ILB Jordyn Brooks to be Wright's eventual replacement."
"In the secondary, they have a rising superstar in CB Shaquill Griffin and an intriguing project with Tre Flowers. Last year, they made a midseason trade for ball-hawking safety Quandre Diggs that sparked this defense." [Editor's note: Seattle also traded for All-Pro safety Jamal Adams, acquiring him and a 2022 fourth-round pick from the Jets prior to the start of training camp for two first-round picks (2021, '22), a third-rounder (2021), and safety Bradley McDougald.]
"No doubt about making the playoffs, but can they make the extra push for the Super Bowl?"