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NFC West rookie grades: John Lynch off to hot start with 49ers

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  • By Jeremy Bergman NFL.com
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With the 2017 NFL campaign in the rearview, draft season's about to kick into high gear. But before we completely shift over to the Class of 2018, let's review the returns from this past season's crop of rookies. Division-by-division, we're providing grades on each team's 2017 draft class, as well as identifying areas that must be upgraded this offseason. Jeremy Bergman examines the NFC West below.

Arizona Cardinals

Round 1: (No. 13 overall) Haason Reddick, LB, 16 games/3 starts.
Round 2: (36) Budda Baker, S, 16 games/7 starts.
Round 3: (98) Chad Williams, WR, 6 games/1 start.
Round 4: (115) Dorian Johnson, OG, 0 games/0 starts.
Round 5: (157) Will Holden, OT, 7 games/5 starts; (179) T.J. Logan, RB, 0 games/0 starts.
Round 6: (208) Rudy Ford, DB, 10 games/0 starts.
Notable rookie FA signings: Ricky Seals-Jones, TE, 10 games/1 start.

The Cardinals choosing not to take a quarterback in any round of last year's draft was pure negligence. In the first round, they were one pick away from Deshaun Watson, and three selections back from Patrick Mahomes. Fast-forward to this offseason: Bruce Arians and Carson Palmer are retired, and Drew Stanton and Blaine Gabbert are not under contract. Arizona is starting wholly from scratch at the game's most important position in 2018, but the Cardinals could have prepared for this fate in 2017. Baker was a fine addition to a stellar safety trio, perhaps the league's best. Arizona fared well outside of the draft, stealing Seals-Jones from the undrafted FA heap. Jury's out on Reddick, who needs more snaps at one position next season. GRADE: C-

Combine/free agency focus: Three words: Quarterback. Quarterback. Quarterback. Arizona should strongly consider taking a QB in the first round of the draft, potentially trading up from 15 if there's an early run on signal-callers. Of course, that's if the Cardinals can't sway Kirk Cousins over in the offseason. Cousins would be a franchise QB for at least seven years, but he might be too expensive for the Cards, unless they backload his deal. Minnesota's three free-agent QBs should be FA targets, as well. Steve Keim should also get a close look at early and mid-round wide receivers during the combine. Larry Fitzgerald is weighing retirement, and their position depth after him is shallow.

Los Angeles Rams

Round 2: (44) Gerald Everett, TE, 16 games/2 starts.
Round 3: (69) Cooper Kupp, WR, 15 games/6 starts; (91) John Johnson, S, 16 games/11 starts.
Round 4: (117) Josh Reynolds, WR, 16 games/1 start; (125) Samson Ebukam, LB, 16 games/2 starts.
Round 6: (189) Tanzel Smart, DT, 16 games/4 starts; (206) Sam Rogers, FB, 0 games/0 starts.
Round 7: (234) Ejuan Price, DE, 1 games/0 starts.

Good start for Les Snead in the first year of the Sean McVay era, considering the Rams' first-rounder in 2017 was spent to acquire Jared Goff in '16. Everett and Kupp were both key cogs in the highest scoring offense in the NFL, with Kupp quickly developing into Goff's favorite target and making the Pro Football Writers of America All-Rookie Team. Kupp led all rookie wideouts in targets and receptions and was second only to JuJu Smith-Schuster in yards and TDs. Wade Phillips got a lot out of Johnson in a crowded secondary; the safety tallied the sixth-most snaps on the entire defense. Reynolds has potential. GRADE: B+

Combine/free agency focus: First order of business: sign Aaron Donald. Stop messing around and treat Donald like the future Hall of Famer he is. Donald deserves Suh money. Elsewhere on the defense, L.A. needs to take a hard look at the secondary, where it's at risk of losing Trumaine Johnson, Lamarcus Joyner and Nickell Robey-Coleman in free agency. It's not exactly feasible to keep all three in house, so Snead should keep an eye on DBs in Indianapolis. If the Rams choose to move on from Robert Quinn ($955K in dead cap, according to OverTheCap.com), finding a hybrid pass-rusher will also be an offseason priority.

San Francisco 49ers

Round 1: (3) Solomon Thomas, DE, 14 games/12 starts; (31) Reuben Foster, LB, 10 games/10 starts.
Round 3: (66) Ahkello Witherspoon, CB, 12 games/9 starts; (104) C.J. Beathard, QB, 7 games/5 starts.
Round 4: (121) Joe Williams, RB, 0 games/0 starts.
Round 5: (146) George Kittle, TE, 15 games/7 starts; (177) Trent Taylor, WR, 15 games/1 start.
Round 6: (198) D.J. Jones, DT, 9 games/0 starts; (202) Pita Taumoepenu, LB, 2 games/0 starts.
Round 7: (229) Adrian Colbert, S, 14 games/6 starts.
Notable rookie FA signings: Matt Breida, RB, 16 games/0 starts; Kendrick Bourne, WR, 11 games/0 starts.

It's pretty hard to have a better first year as a general manager than John Lynch just enjoyed. The Bears hand you a bushel of picks, all so they can draft a QB you weren't targeting. You draft Foster, a transcendent PFWA All-Rookie talent whom you apparently ranked third on your draft board, at 31. You get solid production out of Witherspoon and Colbert on defense and Kittle and Taylor on offense. Oh, and you fleeced the Patriots in a midseason swap for a franchise signal-caller in Jimmy Garoppolo. The one drawback is that Thomas has underperformed so far. Still, what an exercise in fortuitous team-building. GRADE: A

EDITOR'S NOTE: After the publishing of this piece, Reuben Foster was arrested for the second time in the last month. The initial booking was for possession of marijuana, while the more recent incident includes charges of domestic violence, threats and assault weapon possession.

Combine/free agency focus: Jimmy G just got PAID -- now the job is to keep building around him. Pierre Garcon's return from injury will benefit the young QB, but he still needs more at the receiver position. San Francisco should take a look at Allen Robinson and Sammy Watkins, two receivers who can likely be acquired on a discount, given their 2017 production. San Francisco must also focus on the ground game this offseason. Deciding whether or not to retain Carlos Hyde is paramount. The Niners will undoubtedly eye tailbacks and offensive linemen throughout the pre-draft process. The defense is a year away from dominance, but Kyle Shanahan's offense still needs an influx of young talent.

Seattle Seahawks

Round 2: (35) Malik McDowell, DT, 0 games/0 starts; (58) Ethan Pocic, C/OG, 16 games/11 starts.
Round 3: (90) Shaquill Griffin, DB, 15 games/11 starts; (95) Delano Hill, S, 15 games/0 starts; (102) Nazair Jones, DT, 11 games/2 starts; (106) Amara Darboh, WR, 16 games/0 starts.
Round 4: (111) Tedric Thompson, S, 9 games/0 starts.
Round 6: (187) Michael Tyson, S, 0 games/0 starts; (210) Justin Senior, OT, 0 games/0 starts.
Round 7: (226) David Moore, WR, 1 game/0 starts; (249) Chris Carson, RB, 4 games/3 starts.

It's an odd year when your best draft selection was a seventh-rounder who missed three-quarters of the season, but that was 2017 in Seattle. Though limited by injury, Carson flashed the talent to be a workhorse. His poor health opened up the door for other young backs, including Mike Davis and J.D. McKissic, but no one outran Russell Wilson. Griffin's selection will prove to be most important this offseason, as major changes are expected in the leaking Legion of Boom. Pocic made the PFWA All-Rookie Team filling in at guard, but Pro Football Focus was not fond of his play (next-to-last among qualified guards). The jury is obviously out on McDowell, who missed the whole year after suffering an injury in an ATV accident. GRADE: C

Combine/free agency focus: It's the same thing every year in Seattle -- fix the offensive line. With Darrell Bevell and Tom Cable out, perhaps those changes will happen organically (i.e., schematically). But GM John Schneider must again put the onus on building around Wilson -- protecting Wilson -- in this year's draft. In anticipation of a mass exodus on defense, the 'Hawks should look at acquiring defensive backs this offseason. And more help at the skill positions never hurts. Behind Doug Baldwin, secondaries don't fear a single Seahawks receiver on every down, and both tight ends, Jimmy Graham and Luke Willson, are impending free agents.

Follow Jeremy Bergman on Twitter @JABergman.

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