The 2014 NFL Draft represents a prime opportunity for teams to shore up positions of need with an injection of fresh, young talent. As Day 1 in Radio City Music Hall draws closer, Elliot Harrison will be taking a division-by-division look at the draft priorities of all 32 teams in the league, continuing with the NFC West below.
Top priority: Pass rusher
I've said it before and, given this ripe opportunity, I'll get it out there again: The Arizona Cardinals have a very strong roster. Of course, so much depends on the quarterback position, which I do anticipate the team hitting in the draft. But will the Cards make their move in the first round? General manager Steve Keim could go after the quarterback he values most if said player falls -- but whatever happens, a pass rusher must be added with one of the club's first couple of picks. Outside linebacker John Abraham did a fantastic job getting to the quarterback last season, but he turned 36 on Tuesday. The other side is up for grabs among several veterans. Truthfully, this is not the year to be needing a pass rusher in the draft, because there just aren't many available. Meanwhile, quarterback and offensive tackle -- spots at which the Cardinals could stand to improve or at least develop young talent -- are extremely deep. So Keim might want to jump on a defensive end or rushing outside linebacker with the 20th overall pick and grab a quarterback or offensive linemen at No. 52. Safety would be quite the viable option in the second round, as well.
Possible fit: Measuring 6-foot-2 and 252 pounds, Auburn's Dee Ford doesn't have the typical size of a 3-4 outside linebacker, but nobody questions his hustle and productivity. In fact, he's thought of highly enough that he could be gone by the time Arizona is on the clock, though ultimately I think he'll be there.
Other areas of interest: Safety, quarterback, offensive line.
St. Louis Rams
Top priority: Offensive tackle
When it comes to the Rams, let's put it this way: One could argue that they can use two tackles, given the fact that Jake Long is coming off knee surgery and Joe Barksdale is, well, Joe Barksdale. Even if Jadeveon Clowney were sitting there at No. 2, I think St. Louis could still put a tackle to better use. Almost every mock draft has Greg Robinson or Jake Matthews going to the Rams. Like Cleveland, St. Louis has two first-round selections. Unlike Cleveland, St. Louis has two of the top 13. Thus, GM Les Snead has multiple shots at acquiring a true difference maker. The most important thing, of course, is that the Rams get the second overall pick right. Something that would be an interesting development -- and this is more of a dark-horse theory -- is St. Louis taking a shot at Sammy Watkins. Wide receiver is certainly a need, and while the Rams have some talent at this position, no one on the depth chart can touch the Clemson product. That said, I think the odds are low they end up with Watkins. However it plays out, anticipate St. Louis hitting both sides of the ball in the first round.
Other areas of interest: Safety, wide receiver, interior offensive line.
San Francisco 49ers
Top priority: Cornerback
The 49ers could go in any direction with the 30th overall choice. I hate to say your guess is as good as mine, but ... every draft analyst I know has a different player going to San Francisco near the bottom of the first round. Acquiring a corner would make sense, as the two starters, Eric Wright and Chris Culliver, are probably better suited to be nickel guys. The Niners also could use a linebacker, due to NaVorro Bowman's injury and the Aldon Smith situation, which has spawned many questions for GM Trent Baalke. That latter thought could be applied to the Jim Harbaugh trade situation, the LaMichael James trade situation and the what-the-heck-are-they-going-to-do-in-the-draft situation. There is one situation -- the age situation -- that has been partially solved, with Ian Williams stepping in at nose tackle and Marcus Lattimore on hand to spell Frank Gore, who turns 31 next week. Having receiver Michael Crabtree healthy for a full season would take a load off the 33-year-old Anquan Boldin. That said, the Niners need depth at key spots on the roster; they might be one of the teams most likely to utilize the "best player on the board" strategy.
Other areas of interest: Linebacker, defensive line, interior offensive line.
Top priority: Offensive line
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Before delving into the Seahawks' draft priorities, I think it should be said that we have the best chance of seeing a repeat Super Bowl winner since New England pulled off the increasingly rare feat in 2004. Sure, Seattle had some defections, notably on the offensive and defensive lines, but the core is still there for this squad to be able to beat any team in the league. And that's really the point: The Seahawks' style of play is in lockstep with what it takes to win in the NFL in 2014. They have quality quarterbacking and run the football consistently on offense. Defensively, they have great pressure packages and a secondary that can match up with any receiving corps. Most importantly, this is a roster that puts it all on the line for its head coach. All that said, the departures from the O-line leave this team slightly subpar on the right side, and generally in need of depth -- something that is also lacking on the D-line. The fact that the Seahawks will be picking at No. 32 overall makes me lean toward the offensive line, as this particular draft is quite deep there. I think they're more likely to address that spot than add another pass rusher (for sub packages) or tight end, though both of those positions also figure to be on the mind of -- and will presumably be addressed by -- GM John Schneider. Whatever the case, Schneider clearly has done a damn good job picking and choosing where to allocate both draft capital and real capital. I trust Seattle will make the right move(s) come Thursday -- and that the Seahawks will be Super Bowl contenders once again.
Other areas of interest: Wide receiver, tight end, defensive line.