Draft Needs - NFC West (04/29/15)

By John Ewing Director of Research and Analytics @johnewing
NFL Team Needs – NFC West edition

The NFL Draft, which begins on April 30, is fast approaching. Every team hopes to use their picks to fill a position of need. In the days leading up to the draft we will evaluate each team's biggest needs, greatest strengths and the best case scenario for the draft.

To objectively answer many questions related to the NFL including how to rank individual units and at exactly which positions teams can and should improve, we assign impact scores for every current NFL starter.

The impact score is a grade on a 0-10 scale based on a player's expected overall positive contribution at their current ages and relative to position. In the score, a seven or above can generally outperform a replacement player in the NFL at his position; an eight or above can be expected to start and a player with a rating over nine is a unique, standout player who stars.

NFC West – click for NFC East, AFC East, NFC North, AFC North, NFC South, AFC South

Seattle Seahawks

Top needs: Offensive Tackle, Offensive Guard, Defensive Tackle

Greatest Strength: Secondary

The Legion of Boom suffocates opposing offenses with aggressive cornerbacks and safeties that aren't afraid to hit. Seattle's secondary has been the envy of the league and was the centerpiece of the No. 1 defense last year, 1st in defensive rushing efficiency and 2nd in defensive passing efficiency. Richard Sherman, Kam Chancellor and Earl Thomas lead the best secondary unit in football.

Best Case Scenario:

Seattle already addressed one of its biggest weakness with the surprising trade for Jimmy Graham. Russell Wilson now has a serious receiving threat but the offensive line was weakened when center Max Unger was sent to New Orleans as part of the trade and the Seahawks lost guard James Carpenter to the Jets in free agency. The defense is still stacked and if Seattle can improve the offensive line it could mean another return trip to the Super Bowl.

Arizona Cardinals

Top needs: Linebacker, Corner, Running Back

Greatest Strength: Defensive Line

Arizona went 11-5 last season but only outscored opponents by 11 points. Based on Pythagorean Expectations, the Cardinals were closer to an eight win team. Every unit in Arizona ranks as average or worse. The defensive line, even though it struggled to sack opposing quarterbacks and was part of an overall defense that ranked 22nd in defensive rushing efficiency, ranks as the best unit in Glendale.

Best Case Scenario:

The Cardinals need help creating a pass rush. Last year Arizona blitzed on 43.1 percent of opposing dropbacks, the third highest rate in the league. The Cardinals should target an outside linebacker that can create pressure in Arizona's 3-4 defense as well as a cornerback that can play opposite of Patrick Peterson after losing Antonio Cromartie to free agency.

San Francisco 49ers

Top needs: Cornerback, Guard, Center

Greatest Strength: Linebackers

Even with Future Hall of Famer Patrick Willis retirement and Chris Borland quitting football after an impressive rookie season, the best unit in the Bay Area is San Francisco's linebackers. The heart of the Niners defense is led by NaVorro Bowman, a three time First-team All Pro, and Aldon Smith a Pro Bowler.

Best Case Scenario:

San Francisco is thin at cornerback. Two years ago the Niners let the starting corners leave in free agency, then this offseason they let their replacements for those starters, Chris Culliver and Perrish Cox, walk. Three of the four remaining members of the 49ers secondary have an impact score below eight, slightly above replacement level talent, including both corners. The Niners are trending in the wrong direction, finding a starter for the secondary and patching the offensive line in the draft could slow the downward spiral or possibly reverse it.

St. Louis Rams

Top needs: Offensive Line, Running Back, Quarterback

Greatest Strength: Defensive Line

The defensive line in St. Louis is stacked. The Rams added former first round draft pick Nick Fairley in free agency to a wrecking crew that features Chris Long, Michael Brockers and 2014 Pro Bowlers Aaron Donald and Robert Quinn. The depth and talent on St. Louis' defensive line is virtually unmatched in the NFL.

Best Case Scenario:

Outside of Greg Robinson, the second overall pick in last year's draft, and Rodger Saffold, there are three starting jobs up for grabs on the Rams' offensive line. In our seven round mock draft, St. Louis spends two of its first three picks rebuilding the offensive line. The Rams' front office should follow our lead.

NFC West Unit Rankings

Team Offense Defense Skill O-line D-line Front 7 Secondary
Seattle Seahawks 19 1 4 32 13 1 1
Arizona Cardinals 26 25 28 17 16 26 23
San Francisco 49ers 18 16 19 14 14 11 29
St. Louis Rams 27 15 21 28 2 16 18