NFC West Preview 2020
The 2020 NFC West race is sure to be one of the most entertaining this year. The Seattle Seahawks and San Francsico 49ers played down to the final seconds for playoff seeding last year. The Niners ended up with the higher seed and made it to the Super Bowl, blowing a late lead against the Chiefs. Will we see a Super Bowl hangover in San Fran? Don't forget about the Rams. The 2018-19 runner ups are ready to bounce back after missing the playoffs last year. The young, upstart Arizona Cardinals,led by Kyler Murray and Kliff Kingsbury, are much improved and should be a factor.
Pass rush: Chandler Jones has been a sack machine in the NFL, amassing 6 double-digit sack seasons. In 2019, he finished with a career high 19. Any time you have a player who can challenge league records like he can, it's a strength on your team, regardless of the other players. Free agent signing Devon Kennard also has good pass-rushing ability with 7 sacks each of the past two seasons.
Wide Receiver: It's no secret that Kliff Kingsbury is an offensive coach. He likes to have a dynamic offense with many weapons that can score in bunches. I think it was pretty clear by his first draft (2019) that he wanted to build that again in the NFL. The major part of that offense is the receiving corps. They already had the legendary Larry Fitzgerald and have now traded for DeAndre Hopkins from the Texans. That gives them 2 All-Pro wideouts to go with young, emerging players like Christian Kirk and Andy Isabella.
Defense: While the pass rush is good enough, the rest of their defense has plenty of holes. Many of the defensive linemen are either journeymen or younger players yet to adjust to the pros. They've made some moves to improve their linebackers, but it's far from an imposing unit. Patrick Peterson is the only accomplished pro in the secondary, but Budda Baker is coming along nicely. We'll see what they can get from Byron Murphy and Dre Kirkpatrick as well.
Offensive Line: Another unit they've attempted to improve with little success. It helps that Kyler Murray can run around and make plays that way. There are a couple veterans with starting experience, but those mostly came on below average offensive lines. I like some of what they have, but there's much more building to do.
Expect a big year from the third year receiver. Now the #3 option, he should excel from the slot. Teams may be forced to double team both Hopkins and Fitzgerald, leaving Kirk and the others in favorable match-ups. He improved on his rookie performance from 2018 last season and has the ability to be the third 1000 yard receiver with continued development.
Biggest Question Mark
How do they progress in year 2 under Kliff Kingsbury?
You'd like to see a team take steps forward (obviously) in the second year under a new coach. We also have to see how much more Kingsbury adjusts to the pro game. I think these players like playing for him and will give all they have. Will that be enough?
Does the back end of their defense improve enough?
The development of Byron Murphy and the addition of Dre Kirkpatrick could bring much needed help to Patrick Peterson and Budda Baker. I mentioned the also made improvements at linebacker, so we'll see if they used their resources well.
How well will the offense work now that it seemingly has the pieces they want?
There's been talk that this offense could produce 3 (or even 4) 1000 yard receivers. That comes from how prolific Kingsbury's college offenses were. He has a similar, yet smaller, quarterback and a bevy of receivers at his disposal. Those were the biggest elements of his college teams, so we'll finally see what that kind of offense can do in the league.
Final Record: 7-9
Los Angeles Rams
Wide Receiver: Cooper Kupp and Robert Woods have shown they're capable of leading a receiving unit. Add in Josh Reynolds and draft sleeper Van Jefferson, there's a lot to like here. I look forward to watching this group.
Tight End: Each tight end on the current Rams roster has the ability to be a big factor in the passing game. Tyler Higbee and Gerald Everrett have been a good, complementary tandem at the position since Sean Mc Vay took over. Rookies Brycen Hopkins and Kendall Blanton were pretty good receiving tight ends in college, so we'll see if they can translate that over to the pros.
Offensive Line: Andrew Whitworth is the only one who stands out here. The rest are still developing and need to show improvement for this offense to get back to form.
Defensive Front 7: Aaron Donald and Michael Brockers are the only notables. They've lost 4 other defensive starters in the front seven, including DT Ndamukong Suh and all of their starting linebackers. Plenty of big shoes to fill here. Donald and Brockers will have to hold down the fort.
WR Josh Reynolds
Reynolds, much like his previously mentioned college teammate Christian Kirk, has had a good start to his career. He's steeped in well when injuries hit, yet his position on the depth chart has kept him underrated. He may see more targets this year, which should lead to more production based on his career so far.
Biggest Question Mark
Can they get back to their Super Bowl form?
In 2018, the Rams were one of the most dominant teams in the league. They had a tougher year last year, partially due to struggles on the offensive line. They've also lost some defensive players. Nevertheless, this team is still extremely talented and should compete in a loaded division with their improvements.
Final Record: 9-7
San Francisco 49ers
Defensive Line: When you've spent so much of your resources on the d-line, it better be a good one. Even after trading Deforest Buckner, the Niners have a good one. Nick Bosa and Arik Armstead are absolute monsters in both pass-rushing and run-stopping. Dee Ford is a great pass rusher. Tehy also drafted Javon Kinlaw, who was one of my favorite prospects this year and will be a great NFL player. They have other former top picks to round out a very good unit.
Running Back: This is no secret. Over the last few seasons, it seems whoever the team plays at running back has a big game. Yes, this could be because of the offensive line, but some of these guys were successful before getting to San Francisco. Tevin Coleman was part of an incredible backfield in Atlanta, and Jerick McKinnon was an excellent complementary back in Minnesota. Neither of those teams has had good offensive lines recently. They've also been able to develop undrafted guys like Raheem Mostert and Jeff Wilson Jr to make the unit stronger.
Tight End: George Kittle has emerged as one of the best in the NFL. They added veteran Jordan Reed, who is an optimal receivng tight end when healthy. I was also impressed with how Ross Dwelley stepped in for an injured Kittle last year and expect him to become good secondary option.
Fullback: Teams have started moving away from using fullbacks, but the Niners still use it as a key position. Kyle Juszczyk not only excels at it, but he can play all over the offense. He's played quarterback in some formations, blocks well, can catch out of the backfield, and can do pretty much anything they ask him to do. A good athlete many teams don't have and an X-factor on the field.
Corner: Richard Sherman isn't what he used to be in a play-making sense. Jason Verrett always has some kind of injury. Ahkello Witherspoon has had an up-and-down start to his career. They're serviceable, sure, but the rest of the defense deserves better.
Wide Receiver: While Deebo Samuel had a good rookie year, it's been awhile since the team has ahd a rue number one receiver. Deebo and Richie James are currently on the Active/Non-Football Injury list, which opens opportunities for others during camp. Reports say that Kendrick Bourne is having a great camp and rookie Brandon AIyuk could be a sleeper. There are just to many unknowns to say that this isn't a weakness.
Fred Warner is a candidate as well, but I think most people have already noticed him. Samuel looked like one of the steals of the draft last year. He has speed, route-running ability, and good hands. He also has the lower body strength to break tackles. Yes, he's injured right now, but, if he builds on last season, the questions about their number one receiver go away.
Biggest Question Mark
Who's the #1 WR and what do they have behind him?
I talked about this earlier. Deebo Samuel seems like a logically choice, but it's an open role there for the taking. That can bring out the best in each player, but like I said, it's mostly unknown what they have at the position.
Final Record: 11-5
Secondary: Shaquill Griffin and Tra Flowers seemingly have the corners locked down, and they're really good at safety. Quandre Diggs (still haven't forgiven the Lions for trading him) and Jamal Adams are two of the best in the league. They have promising players behind them, and the staff has been excellent at developing those players recently.
Running Back: Any time you have two 1000 yard rushers, it's a strong position. That's exactly what Seattle has in Chris Carson and Carlos Hyde. I think both players are perfect fits for the type of running game and offense the team likes to run. A third player emerging from the rest of the group would just be a luxury.
Linebacker: I think each linebacker on this roster could be put into play, and it would hardly be noticeable. They still have vets K.J. Wright and Bobby Wagner and brought back Bruce Irvin, but those guys are not quite the same players as they were in their Super Bowl years. Learning from them will be great for the young players, Like Jordyn Brooks and Cody Barton, who I think fit this defense perfectly.
Tight End: The addition of Greg Olsen was a good move, but he's at the tail end of his career. Sure, someone could develop, but there's no one who stands out above the rest of the group.
Defensive Line: They have two good defensive tackles but nothing behind them. There really isn't anything to love about their defensive ends at this point. The Seahawks are good at developing players, they just better speed it up with this group.
Metcalf was the talk of the 2019 Draft. After a bit of a slide, he fell right into the Seahawks' laps, giving Russell Wilson another weapon and potential number 1 receiver. Metcalf clearly has the size and speed of a star wideout. After 900 yards and 7 TDs in 2019, I think he's ready to assume that role.
Biggest Question Mark
Who helps D.K. and Lockett?
Will a tight end emerge? One of their other receivers? A back out of the backfield? While Both Metcalf and Lockett are great players, you need others to step up. The balance of the offense and play of Russell Wilson will likely make up for part of it, but who knows how long that will work.
Where's the pass rush?
After looking at this roster, it's clear to see why they were looking into Jadaveon Clowney. They drafted Tennessee's Darrell Taylor, but the rookie pass-rush specialist doesn't appear to have much help. Who gets to the QB when he can't?