NFC West projected starters: Cards poised to return to 2015 form


Gregg Rosenthal will project post-draft starting lineups for all 32 teams, an endeavor that is now mercifully complete.

Arizona Cardinals

QB: Carson Palmer
RB: David Johnson
WR: Larry Fitzgerald
WR: John Brown
WR: J.J. Nelson
TE: Jermaine Gresham
LT: D.J. Humphries
LG: Mike Iupati
C: A.Q. Shipley
RG: Evan Boehm
RT: Jared Veldheer

DE: Robert Nkemdiche
DT: Corey Peters
OLB: Chandler Jones
ILB: Haason Reddick
ILB: Karlos Dansby
OLB: Markus Golden
CB: Patrick Peterson
CB: Justin Bethel
S: Tyrann Mathieu
S: Budda Baker
S: Tyvon Branch

» The Cardinals still have the talent to make one more championship push with Carson Palmer and Larry Fitzgerald in the mix. There is excellent continuity on offense and still plenty of playmaking talent on defense.

» Arizona is moving Jared Veldheer to right tackle to make room for D.J. Humphries, the team's 2015 first-round pick. Humphries played well in three starts at left tackle late in the season, providing some hope that he could help settle down a troubled line.

» Once the best receiving group in the league, the Cardinals wideouts are no longer sure things. Fitzgerald is a valuable slot receiver, but he doesn't make big plays. The team believes it has "solved" John Brown's sickle-cell issue, which limited his effectiveness last year. Nelson is dynamic, but only weighs 160 pounds.

» First-round pick Haason Reddick is listed largely because Deone Bucannon's recent ankle surgery has made his status uncertain for Week 1. Don't be surprised if Reddick keeps the job, with Dansby eventually hitting the bench.

» Only two defensive linemen are listed, partly because Chandler Jones and Markus Golden act like defensive ends on many snaps. Players like Corey Peters, Rodney Gunter, Frostee Rucker and Josh Mauro will pick up the slack for the departed Calais Campbell, but they all figure to rotate without playing true starter snaps.

» On the other hand, the Cardinals are in the habit of playing three safeties most downs. After losing two key pieces (Tony Jefferson and D.J. Swearinger) in free agency, look for second-round pick Budda Baker and veteran Tyvon Branch (or Antoine Bethea) to pick up the slack.

» The biggest addition to the Cardinals secondary would be Tyrann Mathieu turning back into Honey Badger. He is recovering from shoulder surgery and never looked like his explosive self last year after tearing his ACL in 2015.

Los Angeles Rams

QB: Jared Goff
RB: Todd Gurley
WR: Tavon Austin
WR: Robert Woods
WR: Cooper Kupp
TE: Gerald Everett
LT: Andrew Whitworth
LG: Rodger Saffold
C: John Sullivan
RG: Rob Havenstein
RT: Greg Robinson

DE: Dominique Easley
DT: Michael Brockers
DE: Aaron Donald
OLB: Robert Quinn
ILB: Alec Ogletree
ILB: Mark Barron
OLB: Connor Barwin
CB: Trumaine Johnson
CB: Kayvon Webster
S: Lamarcus Joyner
S: Maurice Alexander

» There are high hopes for rookies Cooper Kupp and Gerald Everett, but Jared Goff is not exactly playing with a stacked deck of receiving talent. The Rams essentially have three No. 3 receivers, but no No. 1 types.

» Holdovers like Goff, Tavon Austin and tight end Tyler Higbee will have to prove to this new coaching staff that they fit in Sean McVay's system or the team could look for other options next offseason.

» Wade Phillips has plenty of talent to work with, which should be scary for the rest of the NFC West. Outside of pass rusher Robert Quinn moving to outside linebacker, the transition for most Rams defenders to Phillips' defense should be seamless. I only project two new defensive starters, a low number for a new coaching staff.

Despite middling stats, Gregg Williams and Jeff Fisher often acted like this Rams defense was the second coming of the '85 Bears. Phillips could take the same players and make them look a whole lot better.

» The biggest concern for Phillips is at cornerback. Kayvon Webster, no better than a No. 4 option in Denver, is a likely starter in Los Angeles. He will battle with E.J. Gaines.

» The Rams are moving Greg Robinson to right tackle in an effort to salvage his career. Signing Andrew Whitworth at left tackle gives this group a chance to get much better.

San Francisco 49ers

QB: Brian Hoyer
RB: Carlos Hyde
WR: Pierre Garcon
WR: Jeremy Kerley
WR: Marquise Goodwin
TE: Logan Paulsen
LT: Joe Staley
LG: Jeremy Zuttah
C: Daniel Kilgore
RG: Joshua Garnett
RT: Trent Brown

DE: Solomon Thomas
DT: DeForest Buckner
DT: Earl Mitchell
DE: Arik Armstead
OLB: Reuben Foster
MLB: NaVorro Bowman
OLB: Ahmad Brooks
CB: Rashard Robinson
CB: Dontae Johnson
S: Eric Reid
S: Jimmie Ward

» The 49ers are clearly a franchise in transition. The front seven on defense looks playoff-ready, but coordinator Robert Saleh is inexperienced. On offense, the coaching staff is awesome, but the talent is underwhelming. Kyle Shanahan will hope to work his magic, looking for the type of moderate offensive overachieving that he pulled off with Brian Hoyer in Cleveland back in 2014.

» Teams in transition do things like playing handpicked fourth-round selections (running back Joe Williams) over incumbent starters like Carlos Hyde. Don't be shocked if that happens later in the season.

» Pierre Garcon is a reliable possession receiver at this stage of his career, but this still ranks as one of the shakiest wideout groups in football, with wild card Marquise Goodwin slated to start.

» Tight end is an awkward position for the Niners. The team randomly handed Vance McDonald a huge contract last December when former general manager Trent Baalke was on his way out, and now McDonald figures to play behind Paulsen, who was a third-stringer in Washington.

» The 49ers' defensive line has plenty of potential, especially with DeForest Buckner moving inside so the team can get him, Armstead and No. 3 overall pick Solomon Thomas on the field at the same time. Aaron Lynch can also rush the passer off the bench.

» That defensive line combined with a ferocious linebacker tandem of Bowman and Foster could create a lot of havoc in opposing backfields.

» The cornerback position is about as thin as any group in the league, which is one reason to believe this 49ers team can only improve so much.

Seattle Seahawks

QB: Russell Wilson
RB: Eddie Lacy
WR: Doug Baldwin
WR: Tyler Lockett
WR: Paul Richardson
TE: Jimmy Graham
LT: Luke Joeckel
LG: Ethan Pocic
C: Justin Britt
RG: Oday Aboushi
RT: Germain Ifedi

DE: Frank Clark
DT: Michael Bennett
DT: Jarran Reed
DE: Cliff Avril
OLB: K.J. Wright
MLB: Bobby Wagner
CB: Richard Sherman
CB: Jeremy Lane
CB: Shaquill Griffin
S: Earl Thomas
S: Kam Chancellor

» Thomas Rawls' monster playoff outing was quickly forgotten following the signing of Eddie Lacy. The two bruisers may take turns as starters, and history indicates only one may be healthy at any given time. Lacy is the better bet to get the Week 1 nod, while C.J. Prosise will have a huge role on passing downs.

» The Seahawks would be thrilled if Paul Richardson could carry his playoff heroics over into the regular season, especially with Tyler Lockett coming off injury and Jermaine Kearse possibly out of chances with the team.

» Michael Bennett plays inside in nickel packages, where 2017 second-round pick Malik McDowell also figures to be a factor.

» The Legion of Boom has looked better. The team could desperately use a return to vintage form from Richard Sherman and Earl Thomas, especially with the lack of depth at cornerback. DeShawn Shead is coming off a torn ACL, which gives rookie third-round pick Griffin a chance to play plenty.

» Seven of the projected starting defenders have been together for at least five seasons. It feels like this core will be broken up one way or another after the 2017 campaign.

» Another season, another Seahawks offensive line with new starters in nearly every spot. Justin Britt is now entrenched at center, but every other starting job is up for grabs. Joeckel is getting paid too much ($8 million) coming off a torn ACL and should start at left tackle or left guard. Last year's first-rounder, Germain Ifedi, is moving to right tackle. The Seahawks keep shuffling and it keeps not working.



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