Former NFL player and scout Bucky Brooks is performing a division-by-division assessment of the 2015 NFL Draft, spotlighting notable picks and handing out grades for each team. Below is his review of the NFC West. (NOTE: Click on the tabs to see other divisional breakdowns.)
Executives constantly preach the virtue of taking the best player available on draft day, but rarely do they adhere to the premise when the clock is ticking and they're faced with a huge hole to fill. The Rams, by contrast, ignored obvious needs along the offensive line to nab the top running back in the draft. Gurley is unquestionably a physical freak at the position with a combination of size, speed and explosiveness that's hard to find. If he returns to form following his recovery from a torn ACL, Gurley could team with Tre Mason to give St. Louis the top backfield in the NFC West.
This was most certainly an eyebrow-raiser, considering the presence of veterans Eric Reid and Antoine Bethea in the 49ers' back end. San Francisco apparently couldn't resist the small-school standout with impressive "thump" skills near the box. Although Tartt lacks the agility to hold up consistently in coverage, he did hold his own at the Senior Bowl, and he could step in as a starter in 2016 if Bethea begins to show signs of slowing down.
Despite their adamant denials at the end of the season, the Seahawks missed traded-away receiver Percy Harvin's explosiveness and playmaking ability down the stretch. The offense lacked an explosive "jitterbug" with the potential to deliver home-run plays on the perimeter and in the kicking game. Lockett is an accomplished receiver/returner with the speed, savvy and awareness to develop into a key contributor as a multi-purpose weapon in the lineup.
NOTE: Draft hauls are ranked from best to worst within the division.
1) ARIZONA CARDINALS: No one will ever question general manager Steve Keim's ability to identify and secure explosive athletes on draft day. He was certainly on top of his game in the 2015 NFL Draft, with the selections of tackle D.J. Humphries (Round 1), running back David Johnson (Round 3) and receiver J.J. Nelson (Round 5). Each displays the core athletic attributes needed to shine at their respective position while also showing the polish to make immediate contributions as rookies. Humphries and Johnson, in particular, upgrade an offense that should click with veteran quarterback Carson Palmer healthy again and back at the helm. As for the new additions on defense, end Markus Golden (Round 2) and tackle Rodney Gunter (Round 4) are high-motor guys capable of chipping in as role players. Although they're not likely to be ready for prime time in Week 1, it's possible that they become essential parts of a defense that continues to thrive under new leadership. GRADE: B+
2) ST. LOUIS RAMS: The Rams faced immediate criticism for selecting Todd Gurley in Round 1 despite having more pressing needs along the offensive line, but it's hard to fault coach Jeff Fisher and GM Les Snead for taking a premier talent at the position. When healthy, Gurley ranks as an elite prospect; his rugged running style should give St. Louis' offense the blue-collar identity Fisher desires. The Rams selected offensive tackles Rob Havenstein (Round 2), Jamon Brown (Round 3) and Andrew Donnal (Round 4) to give the coaching staff plenty of options to come up with the right combination in the trenches. If a rookie starter or two can emerge there, the group should be able to consistently own the line of scrimmage against top defenses. Sean Mannion (Round 3) is an intriguing quarterback prospect with experience directing a pro-style system. With a strong supporting cast, he could flourish in the NFL. GRADE: B
3) SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS: With all the veterans departing during the offseason, the pressure was squarely on GM Trent Baalke to find immediate contributors in the draft. At first glance, it appears the wily evaluator landed a few gems with his selections of defensive tackle Arik Armstead (Round 1), safety Jaquiski Tartt (Round 2) and outside linebacker Eli Harold (Round 3). Each prospect is ideally suited to play in the 49ers' scheme. Of course, it might take a little time to receive a solid return on investment, due to a lack of polish and refinement in a few areas. Running back Mike Davis (Round 4) and tight end Blake Bell (Round 4) are underrated prospects with the potential to carve out key roles as rookies. Davis, in particular, is a hard-nosed runner with the size and "thump" to carry the workload as a feature back. He is a nice complement/fill-in for Carlos Hyde in the backfield. GRADE: B-
4) SEATTLE SEAHAWKS: Though they rarely earn rave reviews for their draft-day selections, the Seahawks have put together one of the finest rosters in the NFL through exceptional player development and schematic matching. This pattern could certainly play out again, with defensive end Frank Clark (Round 2) and cornerback Tye Smith (Round 5) looking like ideal fits in Seattle's system. Third-round pick Tyler Lockett gives the Seahawks a legitimate slot receiver/return specialist with the speed, skills and explosiveness to create big plays between the hashes. The team added a couple of developmental offensive line prospects in the fourth round (Terry Poole and Mark Glowinski) to shore up the interior. GRADE: C+