Editor's note: Anyone in the NFL will tell you it takes three years to judge a draft. With that in mind, we asked analyst Bucky Brooks to take a look at how every NFL team fared over the last three years. In the fourth of a four-day series, he examines the AFC and NFC West divisions:
Analysis: It is not a coincidence that the Cardinals ascended to the ranks of the elite when the quality of their draft classes started to improve. Arizona has gotten good production from each of its first-round picks (Levi Brown, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and "Beanie" Wells) in the past three seasons, and the solid play of those three has helped the team win back-to-back division titles. Additionally, the team has been successful identifying playmakers in the latter part of the draft. Breaston, Patrick and Hightower have risen from late-round picks to key contributors for the Cardinals. Although the team has an early-round mistake (Davis) on its ledger, Arizona has been on point with its recent picks and deserves high marks for the acquisition of talent.
Analysis: The rise of the 49ers is tied directly to their ability to add impact players to their lineup through the draft. Former GM Scot McCloughan did a terrific job of landing all-star caliber players in the first round. Willis, Staley and Crabtree have flashed dynamic qualities at their respective positions, and are undoubtedly difference makers on the field. Additionally, the 49ers have successfully found gems like Josh Morgan and Dashon Goldston in the latter part of the draft. Although they are still waiting for Balmer to provide an impact, the 49ers have made few mistakes with their early round selections. Given the impact and outstanding production of their recent draft classes, the 49ers are deserving of praise for their host of draft riches.
Analysis: The Seahawks have fallen on hard times after owning the NFC West for a four-year period from 2004-2007. The team repeatedly failed to add impact playmakers in the draft during that period, and the minimal infusion of dynamic talent finally caught up with them a few seasons ago. In looking at the Seahawks' most recent drafts, the team has brought in solid players -- but not any difference makers. Jackson, Josh Wilson and Aaron Curry have yet to distinguish themselves as elite players, and their inability to impact the game from their respective positions has contributed to the team's rapid decline. Although the team's first-round selections haven't made a consistent impact, the team has gotten solid contributions from Carlson, Max Unger, Brandon Mebane and Forsett early in their careers. While they may not be considered blue-chippers, they are young players capable of playing key roles as the team rebuilds. The Seahawks have avoided big mistakes in the draft by playing it safe on most of their picks, but the conservative strategy has left their roster with few difference makers on either side of the ball.
Analysis: The Rams' on-field struggles are directly tied to their poor performance in the draft over the past few years. Over the past three seasons, the Rams have gotten little to no production from their first-round picks. Smith, Carriker and Long have all underachieved according to their lofty draft status, and their inconsistent play has been a major factor in the team's dismal play. Additionally, the team has failed to identify productive players in the mid-to-late rounds to provide quality depth. Leonard, Wade and Dustin Fry are a few of the notable players who failed to pan out for the Rams. Given their repeated failures in the draft, the Rams have earned their standing as cellar dwellers in the NFC West.