NFC West Division Draft Recap

April 27, 2009

With the completion of this year's NFL Draft, hope once again springs eternal in the league. Of course, that will all come crashing to a halt in the next few months, when some of these picks get injured, holdout, or just plain don't pan out. Until then, each franchise probably walked away from the draft feeling that they at least addressed some of their off-season needs.

Here is our team-by-team draft evaluation of the NFC West:

St. Louis Rams

If there was any doubt that a new era had started in St. Louis, the departures of long-time Rams mainstays Orlando Pace and Torry Holt certainly confirmed it.

With so many areas needing an upgrade on both sides of the ball, new head coach Steve Spagnuolo and his staff had to get creative with their seven draft picks. Early indications are that they did an admirable job, as they arguably made the best available pick at each juncture. As a result, the Rams could be much improved from last year's embarrassing 2-14 team.

With their first pick (second overall) they nabbed Baylor offensive tackle Jason Smith. The 6'5" 300-pound Smith is surprisingly athletic for his size, and although a little on the light side, he will be pencilled in as Pace's replacement at left tackle. By spending such a high pick on an offensive lineman, the Rams indicated their belief in Smith's ability to protect quarterback Marc Bulger's blindside, and open up holes for workhorse running back Steven Jackson.

With their second pick, the Rams nabbed former Ohio State middle linebacker James Laurinaitis. The son of one half of the all-time greatest tag-team duo in pro wrestling history, the tough-as-nails Laurinaitis could have an immediate impact as a first-year player.

St. Louis grabbed defensive back Bradley Fletcher from Iowa with their next pick. A fluid athlete and sure open-field tackler, Fletcher is versatile enough to play either safety or corner. However, with OJ Atogwe and James Butler slated as the two starters at safety, Fletcher will likely enter camp competing for a starting spot at corner.

In round 4, the Rams tabbed defensive tackle Darell Scott out of Clemson. Somewhat of an inconsistent performer in college, Scott nevertheless has impressive speed and above average athleticism for a man his size, and should bolster the Rams defensive line.

The Rams also improved both their depth and competition at two key offensive skill positions by adding North Carolina wideout Brooks Foster and Texas running back Chris Ogbonnaya.

San Francisco 49ers

The Niners had plenty of "need" areas following last season's 7-9 campaign, most notably quarterback, offensive line, and linebacker. After specifically drafting to address only one of those areas, it should be interesting to see how this young squad develops next year under new head coach Mike Singletary.

The Niners made the splash of the draft by boldly tabbing Texas Tech receiver Michael Crabtree with their first round pick (10th overall). Although Crabtree was undoubtedly the premiere athlete and best play-making wideout in the draft, some have to wonder if this was the wisest choice, considering that it is still unclear as to whether the 'Niners even have a quarterback on their roster that will consistently be able to get the ball into Crabtree's hands.

However, the 'Niners counter-argument to that point would be that when you have an opportunity to grab a player with Crabtree's considerable talents, you simply can't pass it up. So, for that reason alone the Niners get a pass on this one.

The big question will be how will the twenty-one year old Crabtree respond to the fiery motivational tactics of Singletary? Despite numerous reports on ESPN that Crabtree was aloof and immature in his media dealings leading up to the draft, the driven and ultra-competitive Texan probably will do just fine, as Bristol is notorious for self-manufactured controversy over non-existant issues. In fact, he could develop into the best receiver to play on the windy side of the Bay since a guy with the initials T.O.

With their third round pick San Francisco picked Glen Coffee out of Alabama. This was a wise pick, as the durable Coffee will be able to relieve the not-so-durable Frank Gore in spot duty.

Singletary and his staff followed this pick with another good one, tabbing middle linebacker Scott McKillop out of Pitt. Since the head coach knows a thing or two about how to play middle linebacker in the NFL, I will lay off any criticisms of this selection.

Rounding out their draft, the Niners picked up Bear Pascoe, an effective blocking tight end that ought to complement incumbent tight end Vernon Davis rather nicely. Pascoe also could contribute on special teams. Finally, the Niners used their last two picks to draft a pair of defenders from the perpetually solid LSU Tigers program, in safety Curtis Taylor and defensive tackle Ricky Jean-Francois.

Seattle Seahawks

Coming off a disappointing 4-12 campaign, the Seahawks looked to address depth in their secondary and at the quarterback position, as starter Matthew Hasselbeck has had greater difficulty staying healthy in recent years.

The Seahawks perhaps had a greater effect on the rest of the draft then any other team, as they were widely projected by the so-called experts to be drafting any and everybody from Crabtree, to BJ Raji, to Mark Sanchez in the lead-up to the draft.

However, in the end, the Seahawks made the most logical choice and tabbed the freakish Aaron Curry of Wake Forest with their first pick (#4 overall). This move instantly bolsters the Seahawks porous defense, as the versatile Curry will more than make up for the production of the departed Julian Peterson. In teaming with returning starters Lofa Tatupa and LeRoy Hill, Seattle will have one of the youngest and most dynamic linebacking corps in the NFC. It is new head coach Jim Mora's hopes that they will also prove to be one of the most productive.

The Seahawks followed this pick up by nabbing offensive lineman Max Unger out of Oregon in Round 2. Still looking for an adequate replacement for the departed Steve Hutchinson, as well as searching for an heir apparent for the aging Walter Jones, Seattle could use the immensely strong Unger at any number of spots along what should be an improved O-line.

Next they grabbed Deon Butler in what should prove to be a really good get. Butler, a shifty if undersized receiver from Penn State, could help replace the recently departed Bobby Engram. Look for Butler to bolster the 'Hawks aerial attack by working as the third receiver in the slot alongside free agent acquisition TJ Houshmanzadeh.

In rounding out their notable picks, Seattle grabbed Rutgers QB Mike Teel in round 6. Teel may eventually challenge incumbent second-stringer Seneca Wallace for time as the backup to Hasselbeck.

Arizona Cardinals

The defending NFC Champs needed to address depth and quality concerns in their defensive front seven, and did so with mixed results. They were, however able to successfully address their pressing need for a quality ball carrier to replace the soon-to-be released Edgerrin James.

With the second-to-last pick in the Draft's opening round, the Cards picked former Ohio State standout Beanie Wells. Wells is a big, strong, physical runner that did have some struggles with injuries in college. Those problems caused some to question his durability at the next level.

With their lone pick in Round 2, the Cardinals may have reached a bit in tabbing defensive end Cody Brown from UConn. Although an incredibly athletic rusher with good speed off the edge, Brown is decidedly small for the position. However, the Cardinals and head coach Ken Whisenhunt, are hoping that Brown can emerge as an undersized pass rusher in the vein of the Colts' Dwight Freeney.

Their next pick in the third round was spent on Alabama safety Rashad Johnson. Johnson is a heady player with good instincts and ball skills who should benefit from the presence of veteran All-Pro performer Adrian Wilson in the Cards defensive backfield. He should provide depth behind Wilson and Antrel Rolle.

Arizona stayed in the secondary with their next pick, drafting relatively unknown Greg Toler, a cornerback out of little St. Paul's College in Virginia. They were likely were hoping to strike gold much in the way they did by drafting Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie out of Tennessee State. Toler reportedly wowed scouts with his athleticism and fluid ball skills in individual workouts, so maybe this wasn't as much of a reach as it initially appeared.

The Cards rounded out their draft by picking up a pair of offensive lineman. In the fifth round they selected gargantuan, 370-pound Herman Johnson of LSU, while in the seventh round they picked Trevor Canfield from Cincinnati.

By Kweku Turkson
Staff Reporter for

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