As the dust settles following the 2013 NFL Draft, Bucky Brooks is taking a division-by-division look at how each team fared, handing out grades and highlighting notable picks. He tackles the NFC West below. Click here for other divisions.
The arms race for control of the NFC West is headlined by the San Francisco 49ers and Seattle Seahawks, but the St. Louis Rams and Arizona Cardinals have joined the fray by stockpiling talented playmakers on both sides of the ball. The Rams, in particular, have made several bold moves this offseason to take another step forward in their development from also-ran to contender. A league laughingstock just a few years back, the NFC West is poised to be the most competitive division in pro football.
NFC West notables
Cooper ranks as one of the best athletes in the draft, despite his size (6-foot-2, 311 pounds) and position. He moves around like a dancing bear on the perimeter, yet displays the strength and power to blow defenders off the ball. Cooper's combination of athleticism, versatility and toughness could make him a perennial Pro Bowler very early in his career.
Austin generated quite a buzz heading into the draft, but there was still skepticism about his potential as a top-10 pick, based his diminutive stature (5-8, 174). However, Austin is an explosive playmaker with electric running skills in the open field. He fills a void in the slot -- created by Danny Amendola's departure to New England -- and could become Sam Bradford's top target by the end of training camp. If Austin lives up to the tremendous hype and expectations surrounding his game, the Rams certainly won't regret trading up eight slots in the first round to secure his services.
If not for an ACL tear that prematurely ended his final season at Florida State, Carradine would've been a lock to come off the board in Round 1. As it stands, he is a solid second-round choice with the size, speed and relentless motor to succeed as an edge player in the league. The 49ers should take a patient approach with Carradine during his rookie season, grooming him for a significant role down the road.
Note: Click on team names to see complete draft classes.
ARIZONA CARDINALS: New Cardinals GM Steve Keim cleverly put together a solid initial draft class by relying heavily on productive players from BCS schools. From Cooper and LB Kevin Minter in the first two rounds to running backs Stepfan Taylor and Andre Ellington in Day 3, the Cardinals grabbed productive, promising players at every turn. Additionally, the Cardinals took a calculated risk on Tyrann Mathieu that could net them a Pro Bowl safety/returner in a few years. Mathieu was certainly a worthwhile gamble as a third-round pick, and Keim is willing to make bold moves to help Arizona re-emerge as a legitimate playoff contender. Taylor and Ellington were added with late-round selections, but the duo could give the Cardinals an explosive running game that hasn't existed in the desert for years. GRADE: B
SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS: General manager Trent Baalke has done a terrific job of stacking draft classes full of substance and sizzle in recent years. This year's group definitely fits the bill, with several premium players joining a roster that's already chock-full of talent at every position. Eric Reid is the prototypical safety with the size, speed and athleticism to roam freely in the deep middle. He should step into the role vacated by Dashon Goldson and provide the 49ers with timely playmaking between the hashes, making this trade-up decision a wise one. Carradine and RB Marcus Lattimore are big-time players coming off significant injuries, but their immense talent and potential make them worthwhile risks, despite a possibility neither could see the field any time soon. Quinton Patton is a standout receiver with a well-rounded game. If he makes the most of his opportunities as a rookie, he could give the 49ers a viable No. 2 option in the receiving corps. GRADE: A
SEATTLE SEAHAWKS: The Seahawks gave up their first-round pick in the trade for Percy Harvin, but the former All-Pro receiver is certainly worth it, based on his explosive skills as a do-it-all playmaker. If he continues to impact the game as a runner/receiver/returner, Harvin will make observers forget about the draft-day compensation -- or remember it as a bargain. The Seahawks took a second-round flier on one of the most talented runners in the draft, Christine Michael. The Texas A&M product is not only explosive on the perimeter, but he is also a rugged between-the-tackles runner with the toughness and physicality to spell Marshawn Lynch. Tharold Simon is a long, rangy corner with natural skills in press coverage. He is a perfect fit in the Seahawks' aggressive scheme, and gives Pete Carroll another young corner to develop for a key role. GRADE: B-
ST. LOUIS RAMS: Jeff Fisher followed through on his promise to upgrade the talent around Bradford with this impressive draft haul. The Rams added Austin and Stedman Bailey -- a dynamic duo at West Virginia -- to a receiving corps that lacked sizzle last season. Both are explosive players on the perimeter, with the potential to put the ball in the paint from anywhere on the field. Austin, in particular, is an all-around threat with the capacity to pick up chunk yards as a runner, receiver and returner. He will command the attention of the defense with his speed and quickness, which will open up the field for the rest of the Rams. Alec Ogletree gives the defense a sideline-to-sideline chaser with speed and burst on the second level. He will team with James Laurinaitis to wreak havoc between the hashes against the run and pass. T.J. McDonald is a big, physical safety with speed and quickness. GRADE: A-
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