NFC West Draft Breakdown

Whether the team you follow is a Super Bowl contender like the Seattle Seahawks, or a squad trying to find their way out of the dregs like the San Francisco 49ers, one common truth prevails: The draft is the key to future success. Scout.com takes a look at who all four NFC West teams might be targeting in the draft...and why.

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SEATTLE SEAHAWKS
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DRAFT BREAKDOWN


We think they should pick: Bobby Carpenter, OLB, Ohio State

The release of linebacker Jamie Sharper and cornerback Andre Dyson gives the team even more reason to add defensive help in the draft. This is a young, emerging defense that wildly outperformed expectations last season. One or two more impact rookies could help put the unit over the top.

While the Seahawks are expected to focus on defense in the draft, they have proven to be disciplined in sticking with the best-player-available mantra. That was certainly their strategy last year when new president Tim Ruskell drafted a center in the first round.

Nobody saw that one coming, but when Spencer was available at No. 26, the Seahawks took him because they considered him the best value.

Ruskell proved in the second round that he isn't afraid to go against conventional wisdom. He took heavy criticism for trading up nine spots to draft undersized middle linebacker Lofa Tatupu, a player experts thought would have been available a round or two later. All Tatupu did was lead a defensive revival that landed him in the Pro Bowl.

Seattle could use another outside linebacker to play alongside Tatupu and 2005 third-round pick Leroy Hill.

It's not a given that Seattle will find another starting linebacker in the draft. The team could go the free-agent route. And if veteran linebacker D.D. Lewis can overcome recent injury problems, he could be the starter regardless of what happens in the draft.

The Seahawks are one of the teams with some interest in Jets DE John Abraham. Teams rarely find legitimate pass-rush help picking as late as Seattle will in the first round (31st).

That's why Seattle might be wise to add needed depth at DE, and perhaps a starter, in free agency. They went that route in recent seasons by adding a pair of former Rams in Grant Wistrom and Bryce Fisher. Those moves paid off.

Seattle could also use a safety with range in case free safety Ken Hamlin can't come back from a head injury. Whether the team can re-sign free safety Marquand Manuel will help determine how high the Seahawks might need to draft a safety.

The offense appears pretty much set, particularly if the team can re-sign wide receiver Joe Jurevicius, which is a priority. The team added young depth on the offensive line in the 2005 draft. Now there might be a need for a running back to groom behind MVP Shaun Alexander, and another young receiver might make sense as well.

This is a Super Bowl team without a glaring need. The Seahawks would be wise to build on what they accomplished in the 2005 draft, infusing youth and energy into a defense that lacks star power.


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ARIZONA CARDINALS
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DRAFT BREAKDOWN


We think they should pick: LenDale White, RB, Southern California

Yes, the Cardinals used a second-round pick a year ago on another Pac-10 running back who they believed would have a stellar pro career - and J.J. Arrington still might despite a scary debut as a rookie. But this team, which had the second-worst rushing output in 2005 since the merger, can't afford to gamble.

But LenDale White of Southern California has a big body (6-1, 237) that can take the pounding he'll receive as a 20-times a game ball carrier in the NFL. He is adept between the tackles, where the Cardinals often failed in short-yardage and goal-line situations, and he does have speed to get around the corner, which gives him an edge on veteran Marcel Shipp, the Cardinals rushing leader three of the past four seasons.

Perhaps most important, White comes from a winning pedigree at USC, where he played on one national championship team and came within seconds of another. That will be huge for the Cardinals, who haven't had a 10-win season in 30 years.

With the 10th pick overall in the first round, it is possible that White will be off the board, in which case the team should give thought to DeAngelo Williams, a running back from Memphis. What gives White an edge over Williams is size. Williams is 5-9, 215, still stout enough to make it as a premier featured back in the NFL.

And what can't be overlooked about Williams is that he compiled dazzling rushing statistics at Memphis behind an offensive line that can best be described as shaky - the same word often used in reference to the Cardinals offensive line.

Of course, upgrading that offensive line is the top priority of the off-season, and the team is expected to hit it hard in free agency before the draft. What the team does in the draft, of course, will be influenced by what it does in the delayed free agency period.

In an attempt to improve the offensive line, the Cardinals are expected to make a strong run at free-agent center Kevin Mawae of the New York Jets, once among the league's elite but whose best days may now be behind him; guard Kyle Kosier of the Detroit Lions, who has started 40 games over four years for the Lions and San Francisco 49ers, and who also can swing to tackle, and guard Milford Brown of the Houston Texans, who after three years as a backup cracked the lineup and started 12 games in 2005.

The team will have a wad of money to spend but is expected to use it on lesser-light free agents who may be equipped and willing to play roles. That, in turn, will allow them to cover more ground and make that money go farther.

Other free agents who fit that mold at areas of need include cornerback Will Allen of the New York Giants, who has eight career interceptions - none last year and only four since four as a rookie in 2001, and defensive tackle Maake Kemoeatu of the Baltimore Ravens, a 6-foot-5, 350-pound stud who played in college at Utah.

But the team is not expected to sign a running back in free agency, and that will leave that need wide open when they make their first-round pick in the draft. And while there are excellent offensive line prospects in the draft field - D'Brickashaw Ferguson of Virginia at the head of the pack with top-10 value - the team is more likely to spend the money of that draft position on a player who can more quickly influence a game.


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ST. LOUIS RAMS
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DRAFT BREAKDOWN


We think they should pick: Vernon Davis, TE, Maryland

With the cap set at $102 million, the Rams found themselves with significant money to spend, even after the addition of defensive tackle La'Roi Glover and the re-signing of veteran wide receiver Isaac Bruce.
They had saved $8 million by initially releasing Bruce, but his new deal still left the club with plenty of space to go out and further improve the defense. With much of the effort in free agency going toward the defense, should the Rams be successful in that regard, it's why the selection of Davis in the first round makes sense.

The question is whether he would be available with the 11th pick in the first round. A tremendous producer in college, Davis likely improved his standing by registering a 4.38 time in the 40 at the combine. That could catapult him into at least the top 10.

If they don't get Davis, the Rams will certainly look at tight ends later in the draft, someone like Notre Dame's Anthony Fasano. Incumbent starter Brandon Manumaleuna is decent as a blocker, but is not a threat as a pass-catcher, and new coach Scott Linehan has been vocal about upgrading the position.

The addition of Glover strengthens the defensive line, but there are still questions and needs at the other tackle, linebacker and safety. There's a chance Ryan Pickett might be re-signed, but if not, the only other tackle under contract is Jimmy Kennedy.

At linebacker, someone to man the middle is still needed, and has been since the departure of London Fletcher after the 2001 season. This year's draft is not strong at the very top at that position, but there are some solid prospects like Iowa's Abdul Hodges that will be available after the first round.

Dexter Coakley, is he returns healthy after suffering a broken leg near the end of the 2005 season, is seen as a backup, so an outside linebacker is also needed to go with Pisa Tinoisamoa. If Ohio State's A.J. Hawk is available in the first round, he could be the pick, but he will likely go earlier. In later rounds, the Rams could have their eyes on Ohio State's Bobby Carpenter or Alabama's DeMeco Ryans.

The Rams would like to re-sign strong safety Adam Archuleta, but only to fill a role as a run defender in the box and in blitzing situations. They need a physical presence at the position, and Anthony Smith of Syracuse could be targeted in the second round.

One thing to consider is that under new defensive coordinator Jim Haslett, the Rams would like to play combinations of the 4-3 and 3-4 defense. That desire will impact what they do in free agency and the draft.


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SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS
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DRAFT BREAKDOWN


We think they should pick: Mario Williams, DE, North Carolina State

The 49ers have so many holes to fill and so little depth that they can almost always take the best player on the board, regardless of position. The exception might be at quarterback, where they do not need to sink a high draft pick into that position after taking Alex Smith with the No. 1 overall selection a year ago.

Don't be too surprised to see the 49ers draft exclusively defensive players on the first day. They are in dire need of pass-rushers, a starting cornerback and they'll probably need to fill some holes at linebacker. Williams would give the 49ers a much-needed pass-rusher. Eight of the 49ers' 28 sacks came from defensive end Bryant Young, a 12-year pro, who showed signs late in the season of tiring.

If Williams is chosen before the 49ers get a chance at No. 6, the 49ers would then lean toward Ohio State linebacker A.J. Hawk.

The 49ers made a big play before free agency began when they re-signed middle linebacker Derek Smith to a three-year, $14 million deal that includes a $6 million signing bonus. The 49ers figure to still be in the need for linebackers in the draft because Julian Peterson, Andre Carter and Brandon Moore were scheduled to test the free-agent waters.

When the 49ers released cornerback Ahmed Plummer, it created a starting job. The 49ers do not have a legitimate starting cornerback to be matched with Shawntae Spencer. Because this draft is strong at cornerback, look for the 49ers to take someone that position with their second or third pick. They could also add a starting safety in the draft.

The 49ers need to surround Alex Smith with better talent on offense. This is not a good draft for receivers, so they might be hard-pressed to find someone to step into one of the top-three slots.

However, the passing game should be addressed at tight end, where the 49ers received no production a year ago. Four tight ends combined to catch just 20 passes for 158 yards and no touchdowns. The 49ers figure to select a pass-catching tight end as late as the fourth or fifth rounds.

As much as the offensive line was maligned a year ago, the 49ers head into this offseason feeling good about the young talent assembled there. If left tackle Jonas Jennings is healthy, the 49ers' line could be much-improved. Still, they could use some depth at the tackle spots.

The 49ers have nine draft picks, with extra picks in the sixth and seventh rounds. They might be awarded a couple other compensatory picks. Vice president of player personnel Scot McCloughan needs to put together a draft in which nearly all of their picks make the team and at least two in as immediate starters for a club that went 4-12 last season.

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