NFC West rookie grades: 49ers, Cardinals got cornerstone stars

With Super Bowl LIV in the books, the offseason is upon us. To get ready for the NFL Scouting Combine, free agency and the 2020 NFL Draft, Nick Shook and Gennaro Filice are taking a division-by-division look backward to evaluate each team's crop of 2019 rookies, weighing hits and misses -- then looking forward at areas for each squad to focus on in the coming months. Filice examines the NFC West below.

» Round 1: (No. 2 overall) Nick Bosa, DE, 16 games/14 starts.

 **» Round 2:** (No. 36) 
 [Deebo Samuel](/player/deebosamuel/2562721/profile), WR, 15 games/11 starts. 
 **» Round 3:** (No. 67) 
 [Jalen Hurd](/player/jalenhurd/2562287/profile), WR, 0 games/0 starts. 
 **» Round 4:** (No. 110) 
 [Mitch Wishnowsky](/player/mitchwishnowsky/2562609/profile), P, 16 games/0 starts. 
 **» Round 5:** (No. 148) 
 [Dre Greenlaw](/player/dregreenlaw/2562428/profile), LB, 16 games/11 starts. 
 **» Round 6:** (No. 176) 
 [Kaden Smith](/player/kadensmith/2562740/profile), TE, 0 games/0 starts (now with Giants); (No. 183) 
 [Justin Skule](/player/justinskule/2562927/profile), OT, 15 games/8 starts; (No. 198) 
 [Tim Harris](/player/timharris/2562949/profile), CB, 0 games/0 starts. 
 **Notable rookie FA signings:** 
 [Azeez Al-Shaair](/player/azeezal-shaair/2562462/profile), LB, 15 games/4 starts. 

Third draft's a charm? John Lynch's first two ventures into the college marketplace produced mixed-bag results: While the Niners committed highway robbery in snagging George Kittle in the fifth round (!) and also unearthed budding star Fred Warner in Round 3, they spent a pair of 2017 first-rounders on Solomon Thomas and Reuben Foster (oof). But this latest draft class sings. It's a group that played an absolutely crucial role in San Francisco's astounding turnaround from 4-12 bottom feeder to 13-3 NFC champion. Consequently, it's a group that played an absolutely crucial role in Lynch's Pro Football Writer's Association Executive of the Year honor. Let's start at the top, with the game-wrecking force of nature acquired at No. 2 overall. Bosa ran away with Defensive Rookie of the Year honors. And while the ageless Richard Sherman churned out another stellar campaign and Arik Armstead broke out in a major way, there's a solid argument to be made that Bosa was the best player on this dominant defense. Including the playoffs, Pro Football Focus credited the defensive end with a whopping 102 pressures (second in the entire NFL, behind only Za'Darius Smith's 104). And he finished the season with a bang, terrorizing Kansas City's offense with a dozen pressures on Super Bowl Sunday. The Niners' second-round pick, Samuel, was similarly imposing to K.C.'s defense in the Lombardi Trophy game, gaining 92 yards on eight touches. That was the cherry on top of a delicious rookie season that saw Samuel emerge as one of the most exciting young playmakers in the league. In his notebook column last week, my colleague Bucky Brooks astutely pointed out that Deebo's basically a modern-day wing back. Yep, part receiver, part running back, all open-field terror. Kyle Shanahan's gonna cook up fun things with No. 19 for years to come. Lynch didn't just nail his top two picks, either. Greenlaw is another fifth-round steal, and not just because he made the play to secure home-field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs. The linebacker filled in for the injured Kwon Alexander so well that the Niners' defense didn't really skip a beat, with the rookie finishing second on the team in tackles (92). Lastly, Skule proved highly valuable as a swing tackle with the injuries to Joe Staley and Mike McGlinchey, while Wishnowsky handled the team's punting duties all season.

 **Combine/free agency focus:** Can the 
 [49ers](/teams/sanfrancisco49ers/profile?team=SF) avoid the dreaded 
 [Super Bowl]( hangover that routinely befalls the runner-up? Well, this was probably the most well-rounded roster in the NFL in 2019, and most of the band should be back together in 2020. But San Francisco does have big decisions to make on three unrestricted free agents: DE 
 [Arik Armstead](/player/arikarmstead/2552493/profile), FS 
 [Jimmie Ward](/player/jimmieward/2543741/profile) and WR 
 [Emmanuel Sanders](/player/emmanuelsanders/497322/profile). The Niners are currently pretty cap-strapped, so the most expensive UFA -- Armstead -- will be the most difficult to retain, even if he's so into staying put that he made the rare public declaration that he'd be fine playing on the franchise tag. A long-term deal for Ward seems plausible. It'd be a shame if the former first-round pick were to walk right after the Niners finally found a great home for him at free safety. Sanders might be the easiest player to cut loose, seeing how he's turning 33 in March, and wide receiver might be the deepest position in this year's draft. That said, the 
 [49ers](/teams/sanfrancisco49ers/profile?team=SF) currently hold just one pick in the first four rounds, thanks to last year's trades for 
 [Dee Ford](/player/deeford/2543494/profile) and Sanders. Could they target a field-stretching wideout at No. 31? Or trade down to replenish their Day 2 draft currency? 

» Round 1: (No. 1 overall) Kyler Murray, QB, 16 games/16 starts.

 **» Round 2:** (No. 33) 
 [Byron Murphy](/player/byronmurphy/2562318/profile), CB, 16 games/16 starts; (No. 62) 
 [Andy Isabella](/player/andyisabella/2562669/profile), WR, 15 games/1 start. 
 **» Round 3:** (No. 65) 
 [Zach Allen](/player/zachallen/2562219/profile), DE, 4 games/1 start. 
 **» Round 4:** (No. 103) 
 [Hakeem Butler](/player/hakeembutler/2562491/profile), WR, 0 games/0 starts. 
 **» Round 5:** (No. 139) 
 [Deionte Thompson](/player/deiontethompson/2562760/profile), S, 11 games/2 starts. 
 **» Round 6:** (No. 174) 
 [KeeSean Johnson](/player/keeseanjohnson/2562677/profile), WR, 10 games/4 starts; (No. 179) 
 [Lamont Gaillard](/player/lamontgaillard/2562585/profile), C, 0 games/0 starts. 
 **» Round 7:** (No. 248) 
 [Joshua Miles](/player/joshuamiles/2562686/profile), OT, 7 games/0 starts; (No. 249) 
 [Michael Dogbe](/player/michaeldogbe/2562429/profile), DT, 8 games/0 starts; (No. 254) 
 [Caleb Wilson](/player/calebwilson/2562603/profile), TE, 0 games/0 starts. 
 **Supplemental draft:** (Round 5) 
 [Jalen Thompson](/player/jalenthompson/2563339/profile), S, 15 games/9 starts. 

In his first six drafts as Cardinals GM, Steve Keim largely whiffed on a pretty crucial area of talent accumulation: the first round. Here are Arizona's Round 1 selections from 2013 through '18: Jonathan Cooper (No. 7 overall pick), Deone Bucannon (27), D.J. Humphries (24), Robert Nkemdiche (29), Haason Reddick (13), Josh Rosen (10). And then Keim raised a lot of eyebrows last April when he selected a quarterback in the top 10 for the second consecutive draft. But Murray proved Keim right by becoming the first No. 1 overall pick to earn Offensive or Defensive Rookie of the Year honors since Cam Newton in 2011. In a related story, Murray also followed in Newton's footsteps by becoming the second rookie quarterback -- and just the sixth QB of any experience level -- to post a 3,500/500 NFL season in passing/rushing yards. With the dual-threat playmaker running Kliff Kingsbury's Air Raid offense, Arizona jumped from dead last in Football Outsiders' Offensive DVOA metric in 2018 all the way up to 13th. (In fact, the Cards finished this past season ranked No. 7 in weighted DVOA, which provides a more accurate assessment of how efficiently an offense is running in the moment, as opposed to over the course of the entire season.) Although they took an unconventional route to get here, the Cards now have a 22-year-old franchise quarterback to build around -- and that alone makes this a highly successful draft class. Though it would have been nice if one of the three receivers Arizona selected had been able to provide a modicum of production. Isabella, a polarizing second-round pick, had an 88-yard touchdown and a 55-yard catch-and-run in back-to-back weeks -- unfortunately, those were basically the only two plays he made all season. On defense, Murphy was thrown right into the deep end of the pool, starting all 16 games, and he struggled to keep his head above water. Meanwhile, Thompson provided encouraging Year 1 returns for a fifth-round supplemental draft pick.

 **Combine/free agency focus:** With the 
 [Cardinals](/teams/arizonacardinals/profile?team=ARI) out of cap hell for the first time in years, Keim has the spending money to seriously bolster the soft trenches on each side of the football. Of course, a healthy chunk could be spent on retaining the services of left tackle 
 [D.J. Humphries](/player/d.j.humphries/2552626/profile). Arizona's 2015 first-round pick just logged his first 16-game campaign in a contract season (convenient!), and given the paucity of viable blind-side protectors in the NFL today, he figures to cash in on the open market. Spotrac places his market value 
 [at $14.1 million per year](, calculating a five-year, $70.5 million deal. Is that a price Keim's willing to pay, considering Humphries' extensive injury history and Murray's ability to make do with questionable O-line play? Could the franchise or transition tag be in order? And might the 
 [Cardinals](/teams/arizonacardinals/profile?team=ARI) look to upgrade the O-line with a prized external free agent like 
 [Joe Thuney](/player/joethuney/2555281/profile), 
 [Brandon Scherff](/player/brandonscherff/2552032/profile) or 
 [Jack Conklin](/player/jackconklin/2555279/profile)? Offensive tackle could also be addressed with the No. 8 pick in the draft; Cards brass will definitely being eyeing Alabama's 
 [Jedrick Wills](, Louisville's 
 [Mekhi Becton](, Georgia's 
 [Andrew Thomas]( and Iowa's 
 [Tristan Wirfs]( at the NFL 
 [Scouting Combine]( The defense, which ranked dead last in yards allowed, needs some serious help in the front seven, where 
 [Chandler Jones](/player/chandlerjones/2533538/profile) is basically a one-man army. What if Clemson LB/S/Everything 
 [Isaiah Simmons]( is still available when Arizona goes on the clock at No. 8? 

» Round 2: (No. 61 overall) Taylor Rapp, S, 15 games/10 starts.

 **» Round 3:** (No. 70) 
 [Darrell Henderson](/player/darrellhenderson/2562574/profile), RB, 13 games/0 starts; (No. 79) 
 [David Long](/player/davidlong/2562799/profile), CB, 8 games/0 starts; (No. 97) 
 [Bobby Evans](/player/bobbyevans/2562579/profile), OL, 9 games/7 starts. 
 **» Round 4:** (No. 134) 
 [Greg Gaines](/player/greggaines/2562391/profile), DT, 10 games/0 starts. 
 **» Round 5:** (No. 169) 
 [David Edwards](/player/davidedwards/2562260/profile), OG, 16 games/10 starts. 
 **» Round 7:** (No. 243) 
 [Nick Scott](/player/nickscott/2562905/profile), S, 16 games/0 starts; (No. 251) 
 [Dakota Allen](/player/dakotaallen/2562618/profile), LB, 0 games/0 starts (now with Jaguars). 
 **Notable rookie FA signings:** 
 [Troy Reeder](/player/troyreeder/2563313/profile), LB, 16 games/8 starts. 

Despite not making a first-round pick for the third straight year -- the Rams don't currently hold a Round 1 chip until the 2022 draft, by the way -- Les Snead did a pretty nice job adding talent in multiple areas. Rapp is the belle of this ball, logging 100 tackles, eight passes defensed and two interceptions (including a pick-six of Offensive Rookie of the Year Kyler Murray). The sure-tackling safety filled in quite admirably for the injured John Johnson, whom he's set to start alongside in 2020 following the retirement of Eric Weddle, but he still has room for improvement in coverage. (Remember the third-and-16 coverage bust on Emmanuel Sanders that essentially lost the Week 16 game in San Francisco?) Rapp wasn't the only rookie pressed into starting duties by injury. When right tackle Rob Havenstein busted up his knee in Week 10, Evans took the torch. The rookie certainly experienced some struggles, but he allowed just one sack and didn't commit a single penalty. Edwards was a heck of a find in the fifth round. The college tackle showed great versatility by capably manning both guard spots for an injury-riddled O-line. On the disappointing side, neither of L.A.'s two third-round picks, Henderson and Long, offered much of anything in Year 1. Henderson, though, could have a much bigger role with the Rams in 2020, especially if Todd Gurley is legitimately compromised or even sent packing.

 **Combine/free agency focus:** The 
 [Rams](/teams/losangelesrams/profile?team=LA)' offseason largely revolves around two burning questions, one on each side of the ball: 
 **1)** What are the 
 [Rams](/teams/losangelesrams/profile?team=LA)' plans for 
 [Todd Gurley](/player/toddgurley/2552475/profile)? 
 **2)** What are Brandon Staley's plans for the 

Let's start with the Gurley conundrum. The 25-year-old just wasn't himself last season, posting career lows in carries (223) and rushing yards (857) while playing a much more limited role in the passing game than he did during Sean McVay's first two seasons. This has heightened concerns about the long-term viability of his surgically repaired left knee. Last week, NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport reported that the Rams plan to meet with Gurley before March 20, when a $7.55 million roster bonus is due to be paid. Does this mean Gurley could be released? Highly unlikely, given the $20.15 million in dead money that'd be applied to the cap. Could trade winds blow? Possibly, but Gurley's remaining contract is an albatross to absorb, even if the Rams swallow a portion of it.

As for Staley, he's the replacement for Wade Phillips. And it remains to be seen exactly how the first-time NFL defensive coordinator will change L.A.'s schematic approach -- and what kind of personnel he'll be looking for to implement his vision. The Rams have three key defensive starters heading for the open market -- ILB Cory Littleton, LB Dante Fowler Jr. and DT Michael Brockers -- and less than $15 million in cap space, per Over The Cap. Staley spent the last three years under Vic Fangio, a defensive coach whose scheme asks a lot of its inside linebackers. Does that mean Littleton will take precedence over the other two?

» Round 1: (No. 29 overall) L.J. Collier, DE, 11 games/0 starts.

 **» Round 2:** (No. 47) 
 [Marquise Blair](/player/marquiseblair/2562233/profile), S, 14 games/3 starts; (No. 64) 
 [DK Metcalf](/player/dkmetcalf/2562685/profile), WR, 16 games/15 starts. 
 **» Round 3:** (No. 88) 
 [Cody Barton](/player/codybarton/2562472/profile), LB, 16 games/2 starts. 
 **» Round 4:** (No. 120) 
 [Gary Jennings](/player/garyjennings/2562292/profile), WR, 0 games/0 starts (now with Dolphins); (No. 124) 
 [Phil Haynes](/player/philhaynes/2562661/profile), OG, 0 games/0 starts; (No. 132) 
 [Ugo Amadi](/player/ugoamadi/2562464/profile), CB, 16 games/0 starts. 
 **» Round 5:** (No. 142) 
 [Ben Burr-Kirven](/player/benburr-kirven/2562490/profile), LB, 16 games/0 starts. 
 **» Round 6:** (No. 204) 
 [Travis Homer](/player/travishomer/2562665/profile), RB, 16 games/1 start; (No. 209) 
 [Demarcus Christmas](/player/demarcuschristmas/2562246/profile), DT, 0 games/0 starts. 
 **» Round 7:** (No. 236) 
 [John Ursua](/player/johnursua/2562960/profile), WR, 3 games/0 starts. 

At the outset of draft week last April, Seattle owned just four picks. But following a Tuesday trade of Frank Clark and a weekend full of wheelin' and dealin', the Seahawks wound up making 11 selections. Go, John Schneider, go! Unfortunately, only one of those picks made steady contributions in Year 1. Whoa, John Schneider, whoa. Alas, that one pick ended up being one of the biggest steals in the draft. Hmm, John Schneider, I dunno ... Yes, this grader's SO conflicted about how to evaluate Seattle's rookie class that the internal monologue's butting in on this paragraph. On the one hand, the Seahawks worked the draft in an inspired manner, taking as many bites out of the apple as possible, and ended up landing a stud outside receiver with the last pick of the second round. On the other hand, over the course of the entire 18-game season (playoffs included), the remaining 10 picks logged a grand total of 959 snaps combined. Do I reward the team for wisely stopping Metcalf's draft slide? I mean, he gave Seattle's offense an entirely different dimension, logging 900 receiving yards in the regular season and then breaking the rookie playoff record with 160 yards in his victorious postseason debut. Or do I punish the 'Hawks for the first-round pick's first-year flop? On a defense that desperately needed more pass rush off the edges, Collier contributed exactly one QB pressure on the season. I guess I'll settle at a C+ -- Mr. and Mrs. Schneider aren't happy, but John's probably looking at dish duty over an extensive grounding.

 **Combine/free agency focus:** Typically, Schneider, Pete Carroll and Co. like to attack their most pressing needs 
 *before* the draft, so look for the 
 [Seahawks](/teams/seattleseahawks/profile?team=SEA) -- who currently project to have around $50 million in cap space, 
 [per Over The Cap]( -- to be active spenders in the next couple months. Question is, will Seattle look to retain in-house options or bring in new faces? Both lines are currently in flux, with contracts expiring for significant contributors on each side of the ball: 
 [Jadeveon Clowney](/player/jadeveonclowney/2543456/profile), 
 [Jarran Reed](/player/jarranreed/2555238/profile), 
 [Quinton Jefferson](/player/quintonjefferson/2555358/profile), 
 [Al Woods](/player/alwoods/496881/profile) and 
 [Ezekiel Ansah](/player/ezekielansah/2539931/profile) on defense; 
 [Germain Ifedi](/player/germainifedi/2555395/profile), 
 [Mike Iupati](/player/mikeiupati/497016/profile) and 
 [George Fant](/player/georgefant/2556524/profile) on offense. Clowney is clearly the crown jewel of the bunch, and the franchise tag is not an option, as that was part of 
 [the agreement that initially brought the defensive end to Seattle]( in a trade last August. Is Schneider willing to hand out a nine-figure contract for an edge player who's never reached double-digit sacks in a season and is five years removed from microfracture knee surgery? When it does come to the draft, I could see Seattle snagging a shiny new pass catcher or two for 
 [Russell Wilson](/player/russellwilson/2532975/profile) -- perhaps in Round 1, if Schneider doesn't trade down. In this mega-deep receiver class, a number of highly enticing prospects could still be available at No. 27 -- guys like TCU's 
 [Jalen Reagor](, Arizona State's 
 [Brandon Aiyuk]( or Penn State's 
 [K.J. Hamler]( That draft slot could be too rich for anyone in this tight end class, but the TE-needy 
 [Seahawks](/teams/seattleseahawks/profile?team=SEA) could zero in on someone like Notre Dame's 
 [Cole Kmet](, Washington's 
 [Hunter Bryant]( or Dayton's 
 [Adam Trautman]( on Day 2. 

Follow Gennaro Filice on Twitter @GennaroFilice.

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