|Tony Gutierrez / Associated Press|
|The 49ers can't rely on Shawntae Spencer, and the Cardinals need a QB to maximize Larry Fitzgerald's talent.|
Pat Kirwan examines the draft needs for all 32 teams, by division, this week. The biggest need for each team is listed first and followed in descending order.
Needs: QB, OLB, OG, TE, CB, OT
The Cardinals fell fast after Kurt Warner retired last offseason, and unless they get a veteran quarterback in a trade or free agency, the draft is their only hope. Even so, I think they are struggling to believe that Cam Newton or Blaine Gabbert is worthy of being the fifth overall pick. Last year's draft class could be characterized as developmental, and QB John Skelton is not ready. The Cardinals can't fully tap into wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald's talent without a dependable passer.
The Cardinals' 3-4 defense is now coordinated by Ray Horton, who came from Pittsburgh and is accustomed to seeing 20 sacks a season from his outside linebackers. The Cardinalsâ linebackers -- Clark Haggans and Joey Porter -- are both former Steelers, but with each 34 years old they are incapable of generating that level of pressure. There's also a need at guard, where Alan Faneca isn't getting any younger and is hinting at retirement. With three picks in the top 70, the Cardinals should find three starters.
* Draft choices: 5, 38, 69, 102, 133, 166, 179
San Francisco 49ers
Needs: QB, NT, CB, OLB, S, C
With a new coaching staff and a starting quarterback who is not under contract, the 49ers are particularly hurt by the ongoing labor issues which prevent coaches from working with their team. Coach Jim Harbaugh is going to have to take some calculated risks in the draft. Harbaugh, a former NFL quarterback, will have choices to make with little information. The 49ers need an injection of young talent at cornerback, as Nate Clements is a high-priced veteran and Shawntae Spencer is probably better suited as the third corner.
The defense will be a pressure package out of the 3-4 scheme, looking to disrupt the quarterback, which means the Niners will need an upgrade at outside linebacker. It's time to apply some roster pressure to Manny Lawson. Frank Gore is a workhorse at running back, but it's time to get a complimentary back for him following the hip injury that sidelined him last season. San Francisco leads the NFL with 10 draft picks.
* Draft Choices: 7, 45, 76, 107, 114, 138, 169, 185, 200, 222
St. Louis Rams
Needs: WR, DL, TE, S, RB
The Rams went to the NFL Scouting Combine last month knowing they didn't need a quarterback, left tackle or right tackle. They have the foundation for a solid football team. With Sam Bradford throwing close to 40 times a game, their needs are obvious: a big-time wide receiver and a vertical-threat tight end to split the seams and reduce the amount of blitzing by defenses.
Another defensive lineman -- at tackle or end -- who can get in the rotation in coach Steve Spagnuolo's zone-blitz scheme is also important. Running back Steven Jackson needs a quality backup, and a third-down type with experience in pass protection and receiving would be a big help. Safety also has to be a priority with the release of O.J. Atogwe, who was signed by the Redskins.
* Draft choices: 14, 47, 78, 111, 142, 206, 218
Needs: RT, QB, S, CB, DE
No coach turned over a roster like Pete Carroll did in 2010. Free agency, trades and the draft were all used to transform this team, and they made the playoffs as 7-9 NFC West champs -- even won their first game against New Orleans. The top two rookie draft picks, Russell Okung and Earl Thomas, proved to be building blocks for the future.
The quarterback situation could be resolved for the short term by re-signing Matt Hasselbeck, who threw seven touchdowns in two playoff games last year. But it just feels like Seattle is looking at a trade or to the draft at the position. Look for Seattle to draft two offensive linemen and plug them into the lineup early. Lawyer Milloy gave Carroll what he wanted from an experience perspective at safety, but at his age must be replaced. A cornerback, at the very least a nickel corner, is a draft priority.
* Draft choices: 25, 57, 98, 153, 154, 168, 198
* The draft picks are unofficial at this point. The league is expected to release the complete draft order by the end of March.