Projected Starters

NFC West projected starters: Seahawks angst on the rise

With the 2020 NFL Draft and most of free agency in the rearview, Gregg Rosenthal will project starting lineups for all 32 teams because that's his idea of fun. Check out the NFC West breakdowns below.

ARIZONA CARDINALS

Table inside Article
OFFENSE PLAYER DEFENSE PLAYER
QB Kyler Murray DE Jordan Phillips
RB Kenyan Drake DT Corey Peters
WR DeAndre Hopkins OLB Chandler Jones
WR Christian Kirk ILB Isaiah Simmons
WR Larry Fitzgerald ILB Jordan Hicks
TE Maxx Williams OLB Devon Kennard
LT D.J. Humphries CB Patrick Peterson
LG Justin Pugh CB Byron Murphy
C Mason Cole CB Robert Alford
RG J.R. Sweezy S Budda Baker
RT Marcus Gilbert S Jalen Thompson
  • The Cardinals' brass sees its roster differently than most. Two of Arizona's biggest potential weak spots heading into the offseason -- offensive line and secondary -- went virtually untouched. They say they like their guys and showed it.
  • I'm willing to give Kliff Kingsbury and general manager Steve Keim the benefit of the doubt on the offensive decisions. They talked about wanting to run last offseason and were dynamic, finishing second in rushing efficiency, per Football Outsiders. The line clearly run-blocks well, and they believe that scheme can cover up any talent deficiency.
  • I'm less willing to give the Cardinals the benefit of the doubt on defense. They were a mess last season even though Chandler Jones was a candidate for Defensive Player of the Year. Not only are the starters shaky in the secondary -- will the real Pat Pete stand up? -- but they have little depth there.
  • Kyler Murray makes the running game go because he's such a threat to run and so natural on play fakes, like a far more cautious Lamar Jackson. The biggest area Murray can clean up is getting rid of the ball faster; Pro Football Focus charged him with being at fault for more sacks than any other quarterback last season.
  • The decision to pay Kenyan Drake $8.4 million in 2020 shows what the Cardinals think about his talent. The Dolphins were always concerned about giving Drake too big a workload, but he could pass 350 touches if he stays healthy.
  • DeAndre Hopkins' presence should help Christian Kirk and Larry Fitzgerald, who fit better in secondary roles in the Cardinals offense. Andy Isabella, a second-round pick last year, is probably the favorite for the No. 4 receiver role, and Kingsbury uses his fourth receiver plenty.
  • I'm curious to see how the Cardinals' linebacker situation will shake out. Devon Kennard looks like the starter opposite Chandler Jones on the outside, but Isaiah Simmons could play inside and out. De'Vondre Campbell, who arrived from Atlanta this offseason, will play plenty.
  • If the Cardinals had better depth, former first-rounder Haason Reddick -- who was supposed to bring some of the versatility Simmons offers -- would be at risk of not making the team.
  • The defensive line is uninspiring, top to bottom. There are a lot of holes on this team, even if Murray takes a huge step forward. There will be a lot of Cardinals hype this season, for good reason, but Murray may have to score 30 per game to put this team in the playoffs.

LOS ANGELES RAMS

Table inside Article
OFFENSE PLAYER DEFENSE PLAYER
QB Jared Goff DE Michael Brockers
RB Cam Akers DT Aaron Donald
WR Robert Woods DT A'Shawn Robinson
WR Cooper Kupp OLB Leonard Floyd
WR Josh Reynolds ILB Travin Howard
TE Gerald Everett OLB Samson Ebukam
LT Andrew Whitworth CB Jalen Ramsey
LG Austin Corbett CB Troy Hill
C Brian Allen CB David Long
RG Austin Blythe S John Johnson
RT Rob Havenstein S Taylor Rapp
  • I loved the Cam Akers pick because I love Cam Akers' college tape. In a perfect world, he's a Matt Forte or Frank Gore type who does everything well, especially creating space in a small area. Akers had plenty of practice running behind a poor offensive line at Florida State. Darrell Henderson, a third-round pick last year, projects as a complement to Akers.
  • Rookie second-round receiver Van Jefferson might end up playing more than Josh Reynolds in the long run, but Reynolds should have an immediate role as an outside receiver. Snaps on the inside, where Jefferson does his best work, might be tougher to find with Cooper Kupp and two strong tight ends around. 
  • Tight end Gerald Everett was playing more than Tyler Higbee before a knee injury sidetracked a potential breakout season. Higbee had a fantastic closing stretch. Coach Sean McVay sounds far more eager to feature both players, who combined for over 1,100 yards last season.
  • A longtime starter at right tackle, Rob Havenstein is coming off a poor season and could lose his job to 2019 third-round pick Bobby Evans. Other than that, the Rams are essentially asking the same O-line that was among the worst in football last year to simply be better. 
  • Jared Goff just doesn't mix well with such a bad pass-blocking offensive line. He can make special throws when protected -- he made plenty last year! -- but his level drops more under pressure than most starters.
  • The Rams' front office surprisingly focused on offense early in the draft after losing a number of starters on defense this offseason. That leaves major position battles at basically every linebacker spot except for Leonard Floyd's, and he's a bit of a wild card after an erratic career in Chicago. I don't know where this team is getting a pass rush beyond Aaron Donald and possibly Floyd.
  • Travin Howard appears to be the likely successor to Cory Littleton, according to Rich Hammond of The Athletic. Micah Kiser appears to be the favorite to start on the inside on running downs. If you aren't familiar with the stylings of Howard and Kiser, you aren't alone. They have combined to play 103 career snaps.
  • The secondary is talented with Jalen Ramsey and a versatile safety duo, but they aren't nearly as deep as they were in past years. Second-year man David Long and safety Terrell Burgess, a third-round pick, figure to battle for the role covering the slot.

SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS

Table inside Article
OFFENSE PLAYER DEFENSE PLAYER
QB Jimmy Garoppolo DE Nick Bosa
RB Raheem Mostert DT Javon Kinlaw
WR Deebo Samuel DT Arik Armstead
WR Brandon Aiyuk DE Dee Ford
WR Kendrick Bourne OLB Dre Greenlaw
TE George Kittle ILB Fred Warner
LT Trent Williams CB Richard Sherman
LG Laken Tomlinson CB Emmanuel Moseley
C Weston Richburg CB K'Waun Williams
RG Daniel Brunskill S Jimmie Ward
RT Mike McGlinchey S Jaquiski Tartt
  • Raheem Mostert played the majority of the snaps in the NFC Championship Game and the Super Bowl, which was an incredible vote of confidence in the career special teamer. He's more well-rounded than Tevin Coleman, so Mostert is my early favorite to lead the team's running backs in snaps.
  • The 49ers brought back Jerick McKinnon after his last two seasons were destroyed by injury, hoping he can help on passing downs.
  • The wideout group is unproven, filled with receivers who have similar skill sets. If rookie Brandon Aiyuk doesn't pan out immediately as yet another rugged 49ers receiver who can make plays after the catch, then a reserve like Jalen Hurd or Dante Pettis might step up.
  • No quarterback threw a lower percentage of passes over 20 yards than Jimmy Garoppolo last season, according to PFF. Adding a player like Aiyuk doesn't figure to change that stat. Short throws and long runs after the catch is the idea.
  • Kyle Shanahan is all about quantity in addition to quality at the skill positions. He has seven wide receivers on the roster that he's invested in and/or who have made big plays for him, with former Charger Travis Benjamin thrown in just for fun. It's a team built to survive injuries and a player or three not meeting expectations.
  • Fullback Kyle Juszczyk is a key role player, but he's not exactly a starter. He played a little more than half the team's snaps when he was healthy last season.
  • If Trent Williams still performs like Trent Williams after not playing last season, this could be the nastiest tackle combination in football. The offensive line looks strong, but there's a risk factor with Williams and a new starter at right guard.
  • Nick Bosa and Arik Armstead are every-down players, the keys to the defensive line. Even if Dee Ford is healthy, he might only play in the team's passing-down packages when Armstead slides inside. Ford is being paid like a superstar, and more production from him could offset any natural regression from this line in the wake of DeForest Buckner's departure.
  • Even if first-round pick Javon Kinlaw isn't a beast from Day 1, the 49ers are plenty deep on the inside, with D.J. Jones, Ronald Blair and Solomon Thomas all capable of providing quality reps.
  • Kwon Alexander will have a big role, but he's not listed as a starter here because he's not one of the team's two best linebackers. That's a credit to Fred Warner and especially Dre Greenlaw's fast development. Alexander might be tough to keep on the field on passing downs, a sign that this could be his last year in San Francisco, considering his big contract.
  • While the secondary isn't quite the Legion of Boom, the 49ers are greater than the sum of their parts. K'Waun Williams and Jimmie Ward are quietly excellent core players. The players in this group know their roles and complement each other well, with solid depth at the position.
  • John Lynch and Kyle Shanahan are working in perfect harmony. This squad is somehow as tough as the rugged Jim Harbaugh-era 49ers, and I trust Shanahan more as a week-to-week play-caller.

SEATTLE SEAHAWKS

Table inside Article
OFFENSE PLAYER DEFENSE PLAYER
QB Russell Wilson DE Rasheem Green
RB Chris Carson DT Jarran Reed
WR Tyler Lockett DT Poona Ford
WR DK Metcalf DE L.J. Collier
WR Phillip Dorsett OLB K.J. Wright
TE Greg Olsen ILB Bobby Wagner
LT Duane Brown CB Shaquill Griffin
LG Mike Iupati CB Tre Flowers
C B.J. Finney CB Quinton Dunbar
RG Damien Lewis S Bradley McDougald
RT Brandon Shell S Quandre Diggs
  • The strength of a largely unsettled offense is clearly Russell Wilson, Tyler Lockett and DK Metcalf. Will Pete Carroll recognize that?
  • That question is a variation of the existential grappling with Wilson's fit on a Pete Carroll-led team that has tormented soul-searching 12s for the better part of a decade. The presence of run-first coordinator Brian Schottenheimer, two injured running backs and a shaky offensive line only ratchet up the anxiety entering 2020.
  • Chris Carson is coming off a hip injury. Backup Rashaad Penny might not be ready for the start of the season coming off a torn ACL. If you assumed C.J. Prosise and Marshawn Lynch were still in the building out of habit, you'd be wrong. This is not necessarily a position of strength, and the Seahawks figure to add some help, possibly with Devonta Freeman.
  • The offensive line is a bigger concern. This projected starting lineup is guesswork after Duane Brown. There could be four new starters, and there's little reason to think the Seahawks staff will scheme up sub-par talent. It looks like the bad old days under Tom Cable.
  • That brings me back to the Russ-Lockett-Metcalf troika. If Metcalf takes a logical second-year leap and the Seahawks let them cook, they are good enough to carry an offense and render the other depth-chart complaints as "good problems" for a team that will find a way to double-digit wins.
  • The depth at tight end is also promising. If not for Greg Olsen's big salary ($7 million), I would probably list Will Dissly as the starter. Either way, the Seahawks have two good options, with a No. 3 (Jacob Hollister) who performed well last year ... until he was stopped a foot short of a division title.
  • Lockett's health is a massive key. There is a steep dropoff to the No. 3 wideout spot, where Phillip Dorsett and David Moore will battle in camp.
  • The pass rush stands out as a weakness, even after the selection of second-round pick Darrell Taylor. There is still room to bring back Jadeveon Clowney or sign Carroll's old USC buddy, Everson Griffen. The Seahawks have cooked up defensive line magic with surprising pieces before, but the talent isn't there right now.
  • Consider it a step back that the team could rely on Bruce Irvin, at age 32 and on his fourth team in four years, to play a significant role, given that he was in decline the last time he was on the Seahawks.
  • Seattle could have used some immediate-impact players from this year's draft. First-round pick Jordyn Brooks looks like a clear backup or role player at linebacker behind Bobby Wagner and K.J. Wright.
  • We're still listing Quinton Dunbar as the team's starting nickel cornerback despite his recent arrest. He could be facing a suspension, but his availability is key for a secondary that is underrated as a group, mainly because it's unfairly compared to the elite defensive backfields from the Seahawks' past.
  • Carroll is a good enough coach to scheme up decent talent to better than average production. But it's worth noting the Seahawks' defense has been average for a while, finishing 18th, 14th, and 13th in defensive efficiency in the last three years, according to Football Outsiders. There's not much reason to believe that trend will change with this group.

Follow Gregg Rosenthal on Twitter @greggrosenthal.

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