Tag Archives: San Francisco 49ers

NFC West: Training Camp Snapshot

At the close of the 2016 season the Seattle Seahawks were atop the division and the only surprise came from the floundering of the Arizona Cardinals at 7-8-1, who had entered the season as legitimate Super Bowl contenders.

The least surprising story of 2016 was the futility of the Los Angeles Rams and San Francisco 49ers. Both teams fired their coaches and are starting over with Sean McVay and Kyle Shanahan, respectively. Both are leading an organization for the first time, with McVay being the youngest head coach in NFL history at 31 years old.

With the Cardinals having already reported to camp, let’s take a sneak peak at the division and their best training camp battles.
* Order is in predicted standings for 2017

1.) Seattle Seahawks
The Seahawks once again boasted a top-five defense and Russell Wilson continued to lead the organization, no thanks to the offensive line. Wilson was sacked 41 times (tied for second worst in the league) and played most of the season hobbled. The line was in shambles all season, except for Justin Britt who manned the pivot admirably. The team drafted Ethan Pocic in the second round of the draft and has the versatility and talent to start at either guard or center. Eddie Lacey will look to revive his career in the Pacific Northwest, similar to Marshawn Lynch back in 2010.

On defense, cornerback will be under close scrutiny. All-Pro Richard Sherman was on the trading block, after an overly pugnacious 2016 season. DeShawn Shead, started opposite Sherman, but tore his ACL in the postseason. His return is up in the air. Safety Earl Thomas also suffered an injury, playing in only 11 games. It was the first time he failed to complete a full season in his career. Depth is a major issue for the secondary, which lead to the team spending four draft picks on this unit.

Best Camp Battle: Luke Jockel vs George Fant
Left tackle will be under close watch as Jockel and Fant battle it out to be top dog. Fant started 10 games last season, but as an undrafted former basketball player, his game still has a long way to go. Jockel, like Lacey, is looking to revive his career after four injury plagued seasons in Jacksonville after being selected as a Top 10 pick.

2.) Arizona Cardinals
The Cards are, seemingly, giving it one last swing with Carson Palmer at the helm. Injuries took out most of the team in 2016, but one bright spot was the emergence of David Johnson. He took as much off of Palmer’s shoulders as possible, rushing for over 1,200 yards and 16 touchdowns, while adding 80 receptions (second best on the team) and another 800-plus yards. Similarly to Palmer, this could be the last go for club legend Larry Fitzgerald. Fitzgerald, has transitioned well to playing the possession role more as he gets older. He posted another 100-plus catch season.

Arizona posted the second best overall defense in the league last year, however the team lost five starters during free agency. One position they addressed via free agency was inside linebacker, where the team brought back Karlos Dansby for his third stint with the team. Even at his age, he is still an asset. The front line is a strength, but lost another club legend in Calais Campbell. That leaves last year’s first-round pick Robert Nkemdiche. He under-performed last season and has a lot to prove in 2017.

Best Camp Battle: Brandon Williams vs Justin Bethel
Marcus Cooper led the team in interceptions and is now in Chicago, leaving Williams and Bethel to start opposite Patrick Peterson. Both started three games last year and neither left an impression. Williams, a third-round choice last year, has the inside track, but is still new to the position. Bethel, a special teams stud, needs to be more consistent to keep the spot after starting his career at safety.

3.) San Francisco 49ers
A lot is new in San Francisco. The team is now being led by Shanahan and fellow first-timer in GM John Lynch. Lynch, proved legitimate after wisely maneuvering the draft. He and Shanahan were smart in building their roster. They brought in familiar faces from Shanahan’s previous coaching stops, signing Brian Hoyer, Pierre Garcon, and Aldrick Robinson. The team finished the season with the second worst offense, there is only room for improvement. Jeremy Zuttah, was acquired via trade, fresh off his first Pro Bowl appearance. He adds another top talent to work with left tackle Joe Staley.

While the team finished second to last in total offense, they finished dead last in total defense. Again, there is only room to improve. Coordinator Robert Saleh is also a first timer. He’ll be switching the team from their long time 3-4 alignment to a 4-3 and got two tremendous building blocks in Solomon Thomas and Reuben Foster in Round One of the draft. Defensive leader NaVorro Bowman will also be back. The linebacker missed 12 games in 2016 thanks to a torn Achilles. Third-round draft pick Ahkello Witherspoon could compete for a starting spot at cornerback.

Best Camp Battle: Jimmie Ward vs Jaquiski Tartt
Safety will be a fun position battle. Ward, has been used at cornerback and safety over his three years in the league, while Tartt has been used as a supersub at both safety positions. Safety is Ward’s natural position, but if the corner position fails to solidify and Tartt beats out Ward, corner could be Ward’s new home.

4.) Los Angeles Rams
In five years under Jeff Fisher, the Rams only produced 31 wins. It got so bad, that star running back Todd Gurley said their offense “looked like a middle school offense out there” after a 42-14 thrashing by the Atlanta Falcons last season. Fisher is out and McVay is in. He has a lot of work to do in bringing life to the Rams’ offense. Early reports are that the players are buzzing over McVay’s new scheme, but a lot still needs to be upgraded. The addition of proven and consistent veterans like Robert Woods, Andrew Whitworth, and John Sullivan should pay off. Jared Goff, will be looked at to take the next step.

McVay was very smart to hire Wade Phillips as defensive coordinator. He’s still one of the best in the league and will transition the team to his preferred 3-4 scheme. It will be interesting to see if it pays off as all-world talent Aaron Donald has excelled as a three technique over his first three years. He’ll move to a five technique. Similarly, Robert Quinn’s transition from end to linebacker will be worth monitoring. He has not aged well. Trumaine Johnson is the No. 1 corner and excels in zone schemes, however Phillips’ defense requires more press-man coverage.

Best Camp Battle: Tyler Higbee vs Gerald Everett
Tight end is an important part in McVay’s offense. Higbee started seven games last year as a rookie, but only turned in 11 receptions for 85 yards and a single touchdown. Everett, is a rookie who plays like a supersized wide receiver. If he can translate that ability, the payoffs could be big.

2017 NFL Draft Grades: NFC West

Talk about the Wild West, I don’t think anyone could have predicted how the NFC West shaped up in 2016. Preseason division favorites the Arizona Cardinals collapsed despite running back David Johnson breaking out into a star. Head coach Bruce Arians was in and out of the hospital during the year and after the year they faced a retirement scare with Carson Palmer, who ultimately, decided to give it one more shot in 2017.

Not surprisingly the Seahawks won the division in the end, going 10-5-1, despite Russell Wilson battling injuries all season and the Niners pulled up the rear which saw coach Chip Kelly fired, as well as GM Trent Baalke. The intriguing part postseason was the hiring Kyle Shanahan as head coach and former-All Pro safety John Lynch as GM despite having no front office experience

The Rams were a sad story in their first year back in Los Angeles after a 20 year hiatus in St. Louis. Head coach John Fisher got caught up in an ugly fight in the media with LA Ram legend and NFL Hall-of-Famer Eric Dickerson, the team floundered in every way, and Fisher was eventually fired. Taking over is the spry 30-year old Sean McVay.

So how does this new look division shape up following the draft? Here’s a look…

Arizona Cardinals: B
1.) Haason Reddick, LB, Temple
2.) Budda Baker, S, Washington
3.) Chad Williams, WR, Grambling St.
4.) Dorian Johnson, OG, Pittsburgh
5.) Will Holden, OT, Vanderbilt
5b.) T.J. Logan, RB, North Carolina
6.) Rudy Ford, S, Auburn

This is a draft class that will certainly help Arizona down the stretch, most notably with the selection of Johnson and Holden. The offensive line has been underwhelming despite recent first-round investments. Johnson could become a starter as a rookie. Holden is a more developmental prospect with high upside. Reddick, is a tremendous story, walk-on turned Top 15 selection. He is the perfect defender in Bruce Arians’ defense. He can be deployed all over the field and wreak havoc. Williams and Logan, provide developmental prospects at skill positions.

Best pick: Budda Baker
Like Reddick, Baker can be lined up all over the field. He can play safety, nickle, even as a linebacker. Baker, gets dinged, because he is not the biggest prospect, but Baker is a baller with great ball skills.

LA Rams: B
2.) Gerald Everett, TE, South Alabama
3.) Cooper Kupp, WR, Eastern Washington
3b.) John Johnson, S, Boston College
4.) Josh Reynolds, WR, Texas A&M
4b.) Samson Ebukam, LB, Eastern Washington
6.) Tanzel Smart, DT, Tulane
6b.) Sam Rogers, FB, Virginia Tech
7.) Ejuan Price, OLB, Pittsburgh

This is a proven and steady draft class brought in by the new regime in LA. First time head coach Sean McVay comes to town after running the Redskins offense the past three seasons and with a roster absent of playmakers, McVay went right out and picked some up. Everett, is a natural pass catcher who can make plays, but needs to get bigger to help as a blocker. Kupp, is not a burner, but he will run the best routes and always make the catch. Reynolds, has a great size-speed combo that will allow him to make the big play. Ebukam and Smart provide depth.

Best pick: John Johnson
Johnson, is an underrated prospect, but don’t be surprised if he winds up starting sooner than later. He is versatile prospect having played both corner and safety with proven ball skills (18 PBUs, six INTs in two years) and range to make the play.

San Francisco 49ers: B+
1.) Solomon Thomas, DE, Stanford
1b.) Reuben Foster, LB, Alabama
3.) Ahkello Witherspoon, CB, Colorado
3b.) C.J. Beathard, QB, Iowa
4.) Joe Williams, RB, Utah
5.) George Kittle, TE, Iowa
5b.) Trent Taylor, WR, Louisiana Tech
6.) D.J. Jones, DT, Ole Miss
6b.) Pita Taumoepenu, LB, Utah
7.) Adrian Colbert, S, Miami

How about GM John Lynch, huh? The former-Pro Bowler went straight from TV commentator to front office executive seamlessly. Not only did he fleece the Bears, but he was able to move up and down the board effectively, picking up a second- and third-round pick for next year’s draft. Kicking things off with the trade and still getting their guys Thomas and Foster was tremendous. Round 3 was more intriguing. Witherspoon, has tremendous size and potential, but is raw having only played the game for five years or so. Beathard, has the intangibles you look for in a quarterback, but is still developing. Williams, Kittle, and Taylor provide needed depth at the skill positions. Taylor, is lightning fast capable of breaking out a big play whenever he has the football in his hands.

Best pick: Reuben Foster
The Niners were big, big fans of Foster and as his slide continued. The Niners waited till the end of Round 1, gave up very little and jumped up to stop the fall. Foster is a Top 5 talent, who sets the tone on defense. He’ll make his impact felt much sooner than later in the Bay Area.

Seattle Seahawks: C
2.) Malik McDowell, DT, Michigan St.
2b.) Ethan Pocic, C, LSU
3.) Shaquill Griffin, CB, Central Florida
3b.) Delano Hill, S, Michigan
3c.) Nazair Jones, DT, North Carolina
3d.) Amara Darboh, WR, Michigan
4.) Tedric Thompson, S, Colorado
6.) Michael Tyson, S, Cincinnati
6b.) Justin Senior, OT, Mississippi St.
7.) David Moore, WR, East Central
7b.) Christopher Carson, RB, Oklahoma St.

The Seahawks always have very unique drafts. Their never afraid to trade out of Round 1 and are never afraid to take a player who may be seen as a reach. McDowell, is another piece of the rotation in Seattle. He has the natural ability to be special, but takes too many plays off. Pete Carroll, always gets the most of his guys. Jones, in Round 3, gives them another versatile prospect who can play inside and out. Age and contracts are starting to hit the Legion of Boom, highlighted by Seattle taking four defensive backs. All this comes, of course, comes with virtually no addressing of the offensive line which was a sieve last year, allowing Russell Wilson to get smacked around for a whopping 41 sacks.

Best pick: Ethan Pocic
A versatile lineman, always a bonus in a Tom Cable coached unit, Pocic could be the pivot they desperately have needed since trading away Max Unger. Pocic, has the ability to pull and get to the second level and the football IQ to make an impact.