NFC West review

ARIZONA CARDINALS

Head Coach:Ken Whisenhunt (0-0 overall record)
Offensive schedule vs.: Pass -- 12th easiest; Run -- 3rd easiest

The Cardinals will enter next season with new leadership in place in head coach and offensive wizard Ken Whisenhunt and assistant head coach Russ Grimm, who will look to alter the team's poor fortunes. Matt Leinart will enter his first full season as the unquestioned starter and is a borderline No. 1 or 2 fantasy quarterback. While the team did lose T Leonard Davis (Cowboys), it added OG Mike Gandy, C Al Johnson and standout rookie OT Levi Brown to an offensive line that should experience at least some improvement under the guidance of Grimm.

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CARDINALS TOP FIVE FANTASY PLAYERS

  1. Edgerrin James
    1. Larry Fitzgerald
    2. Anquan Boldin
    3. Matt Leinart
    4. Neil Rackers

Edgerrin James was inconsistent in his first season in the desert, but the presence of Whisenhunt and Grimm and the fact that the team passed on Adrian Peterson in the draft are all positives for the veteran back. While he won't reclaim his status as an elite statistical runner, James will be a nice No. 2 fantasy back. The Cardinals retained the services of Marcel Shipp, who will be the top reserve behind James and could be worth a late-round flier as insurance for owners in larger leagues who land James.

Larry Fitzgerald, who will be a prominent component for new offensive coordinator Todd Haley, and Anquan Boldin, who will be used both as a split end and in the slot, will be solid No. 1 fantasy wideouts in all formats. None of Leonard Pope, Troy Bienemann and Ben Patrick warrants draft consideration at the tight end position.

The addition of veterans CB Roderick Hood and FS Terrence Holt and rookies DT Alan Branch and LB Buster Davis should improve the Cardinals on the defensive side of the football, but this unit should still be considered little more than a No. 2 defense in the world of fantasy football.

SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS

Head Coach:Mike Nolan (11-21 overall record)
Offensive schedule vs.: Pass -- 4th easiest; Run -- 15th easiest

Few teams made the same number of positives moves as the 49ers, which now has a far more legitimate chance to contend in their division. The offense will remain centered around the skills and abilities of Pro Bowler Frank Gore, who will be a top-five overall selection in most drafts even in the absence of former coordinator Norv Turner. The fact that new coordinator Jim Hostler will run the same offense as Turner did is a positive for both Gore and Alex Smith, who should be well protected behind an improved line that added rookie standout OT Joe Staley in the draft.

49ERS TOP FIVE FANTASY PLAYERS

  1. Frank Gore
    1. Darrell Jackson
    2. Vernon Davis
    3. Alex Smith
    4. San Francisco defense

Smith's value also increased after the addition of veteran wideouts Darrell Jackson and Ashley Lelie and rookie Jason Hill, so he will be a more viable No. 2 fantasy quarterback. Injuries have been an issue for Jackson, but he should remain an attractive No. 2 fantasy wide receiver with his new team. The second option in the pass attack for Smith will be Vernon Davis, who has the tools to become a valuable No. 1 tight end for owners and is well worth a middle-round choice.

While the offense should be far more productive with all its new pieces, the Niners defense has a chance to become the strength of the team. Head coach and defensive wizard Mike Nolan should be able to mold a formidable unit after the addition of veterans such as CB Nate Clements, SS Mike Lewis, DT Aubrayo Franklin and LBs Colby Bockwoldt and Tully Banta-Cain, not to mention the selection of stud LB Patrick Willis, DTs Ray McDonald and Joe Cohen, FS Dashon Goldson and DE Jay Moore in the draft. The 49ers defense will be chosen as more of a No. 2 unit in most drafts, but this team could become a viable No. 1 defense as the regular season rolls on.

SEATTLE SEAHAWKS

Head Coach: Mike Holmgren (159-103 overall record)
Offensive schedule vs.: Pass -- 11th easiest; Run -- 12th easiest

Matt Hasselbeck endured a surgical procedure on his left (non-throwing) shoulder this offseason but is back to 100 percent health. Barring a setback, he will remain an attractive No. 1 fantasy quarterback across the board. A report that Shaun Alexander still had a cracked bone in his injured foot had surfaced at one point, but it was deemed untrue in a swift fashion -- head coach Mike Holmgren called it a "non-story" -- so the one-time NFL MVP will remain a No. 1 fantasy runner and a first-round selection.

SEAHAWKS TOP FIVE FANTASY PLAYERS

  1. Shaun Alexander
    1. Matt Hasselbeck
    2. Deion Branch
    3. D.J. Hackett
    4. Josh Brown

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The trade that sent Darrell Jackson to San Francisco improved the value of Deion Branch, who is once again a viable No. 2 fantasy wideout. D.J. Hackett will start alongside Branch and is a solid sleeper candidate, and Bobby Engram, who re-signed with the team, should also see his share of opportunities as the slot receiver. The Seahawks also added Marcus Pollard to replace troubled tight end Jerramy Stevens (Buccaneers), but the veteran isn't more than a reserve for all owners.

The defense added some new components after the loss of FS Ken Hamlin (Cowboys), LB D.D. Lewis (Broncos) and the release of DE Grant Wistrom, who plans to retire. DE Patrick Kerney and FS Deon Grant will become prominent members of this unit, and Holmgren hopes to receive immediate contributions from rookies such as DT Brandon Mebane, DE Baraka Atkins and LB Will Herring. A borderline No. 1 or 2 fantasy defense, this unit will be worth a late-round choice.

ST. LOUIS RAMS

Head Coach:Scott Linehan (8-8 overall record)
Offensive schedule vs.: Pass -- 1st easiest; Run -- 10th hardest

The Rams offense has a chance to be explosive next season with the addition of Drew Bennett and Randy McMichael, who will both become regular options in the pass attack for Marc Bulger. Bennett will become the slot receiver in the absence of Kevin Curtis (Eagles) and is worth little more than a late-round choice, but McMichael has found nice statistical success in the past under the guidance of head coach Scott Linehan and should be considered a No. 1 fantasy tight end.

RAMS TOP FIVE FANTASY PLAYERS

  1. Steven Jackson
    1. Torry Holt
    2. Marc Bulger
    3. Randy McMichael
    4. Isaac Bruce

Bulger, who will be a top-five fantasy quarterback, will also continue to prosper from the skills of Torry Holt and Isaac Bruce. Holt endured an arthroscopic procedure on his knee but will be fine for the start of training camp and remains an elite choice at the wide receiver position.

The offense will be well-rounded with Steven Jackson, who led all runners with 90 receptions last season and will be a top-three pick in all drafts. Rookie Brian Leonard could be utilized in some short-yardage and third-down situations, but he won't put a dent into Jackson's carries and will be worth no more than a late-round pick as insurance for his talented and versatile teammate.

With the addition of veterans LB Chris Draft, DE James Hall, FS Todd Johnson, KR Dante Hall and CB Mike Rumph and the selection of four rookie defenders in the draft (none more heralded than DE Adam Carriker), the Rams defense will have a new look next season. However, this unit still has much to prove before it will warrant serious draft consideration even in larger formats.

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