|David J. Philip/Associated Press|
|As the highest-rated wide receiver in the 2012 draft, Justin Blackmon is likely to go very early in the first round.|
With the initial free-agency frenzy winding down, organizations are turning their attention to the 2012 NFL Draft. What are the biggest remaining holes for each NFC West team? Let's examine ...
Needs: RT, WR, OG, ILB, OLB, S
The Cardinals made the decision to keep Kevin Kolb, for whom they traded away their second-round pick in April's draft and cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, by paying his $7 million roster bonus. Re-signing Levi Brown to a more cap-friendly deal settled the left tackle spot, and snapping up 49ers starter Adam Snyder should plug a hole in the interior. But additional upgrades on the offensive line would help prevent Kolb from missing significant time again in 2012 due to injury. Early Doucet and Andre Roberts flash at times for the Cardinals, but finding a true No. 2 receiver to play across from Larry Fitzgerald would amp up the passing game.
2012 might entail a changing of the guard at the outside linebacker spot in Arizona's 3-4 defensive system. Fourth-round picks Sam Acho (2011) and O'Brien Schofield (2010) might step into the starting spots of Joey Porter and Clark Haggans, but value pass rushers in the early rounds should not be ignored. Miami signed away Richard Marshall, who stepped in at safety for an injured Kerry Rhodes last year. Adding William Gay at corner helps fill Marshall's original spot, but it is necessary to add more players behind Rhodes and Adrian Wilson in the back half.
San Francisco 49ers
Needs: CB, RG, DE, WR
One of the great stories of last season was the 49ers' rise from also-ran to the NFC Championship Game participant. Now they look to have a strong roster without a lot of major needs. Failing to land Peyton Manning led the team to spend a lot of money to bring back 2011 starter Alex Smith, and they also signed backup Josh Johnson. (He played for Niners head coach Jim Harbaugh at the University of San Diego from 2004-06.) The team also brought in receivers Randy Moss and Mario Manningham to replace Braylon Edwards and free-agent loss Josh Morgan. If Harbaugh believes those moves are sufficient enough to improve the passing offense (and he might not with the uncertainty surrounding Moss), then a relatively high draft pick might be used to replace departed right guard Adam Snyder.
Harbaugh's work with Smith helped the former No. 1 pick develop, but the league's second-ranked scoring defense was the biggest reason for the team's improvement. The team locked up two players with six interceptions each in 2011, using the franchise tag on safety Dashon Goldson and signing Carlos Rogers to a four-year, $29.3 million contract. Shawntae Spencer defected across the bay to Oakland, however, so cornerback is still a position of need -- unless troubled free-agent acquisition Perrish Cox starts living up to his potential. Adding more difference-makers at defensive end would make a strong front seven even better.
Needs: MLB, DE, OLB, WR, RG, CB
General manager John Schneider and head coach Pete Carroll settled the team's biggest need (or so they hope) by giving former Packers backup quarterback Matt Flynn his chance to be "The Man" in Seattle. They could use a legitimate outside threat at receiver across from Sidney Rice, in addition to the promising Doug Baldwin and solid tight end Zach Miller. Breno Giacomini re-signed with the team and could start at right tackle, as 2011 first-round pick James Carpenter moves inside. But don't be surprised if the team picks up Seattle-area native David DeCastro in the first round to solidify things in front of Flynn and lead the way for multi-million dollar running back Marshawn Lynch.
Free agent David Hawthorne has led the team in tackles in each of the past three seasons, while Leroy Hill's inconsistencies might not allow him to return in 2012, at least at a starters' salary. This means finding an instinctive Mike and athletic Sam 'backer might be high on the team's priority list. The depth at defensive end behind Red Bryant and Chris Clemons is lacking, so pass rushers will be coveted by Carroll and his defensive staff. As will depth at cornerback to improve the team's nickel and dime personnel.
St. Louis Rams
Needs: WR, OLB, DE, LG, OT, CB, DT, SS, QB, RB
To be blunt, the Rams need players at just about every position. This helps new general manager Les Snead, in a way, because he can take the best player available with every draft pick without worry if they will challenge for playing time. Even at quarterback and running back, the team will look for promising backup prospects behind Sam Bradford and Steven Jackson. Finding a true No. 1 receiver for Bradford is of utmost importance. Former Giant/Eagle Steve Smith might prove a bargain if healthy, but 2011 mid-round picks Greg Salas and Austin Pettis and slot man Danny Amendola are best as complementary pieces. If left guard Jacob Bell and the versatile Adam Goldberg don't return, those holes in the offensive line must be filled.
Even though Snead can't possibly fill every need in one year, the team's shortage of outside linebackers has reached critical levels. Finding more bodies to help past first-round picks Chris Long and Robert Quinn rush the passer is another concern. Adding defensive tackle Kendall Langford and cornerback Cortland Finnegan as free agents helped the defense, but the team is by no means done building at those spots.
Follow Chad Reuter on Twitter @ChadReuter