September 3, 2016 by Ell and Mike Sports
Ell’s NFC West Divisional Rankings
Despite losing in ugly fashion last year in the playoffs, the Cardinals bring back most of their same team on another attempt to reach the Super Bowl. Veteran QB Carson Palmer continues to lead the team providing great leadership and showing that he can continue to play at a high level. The WR core continues to be led by the deep trio of star vet Larry Fitzgerald, his protégé Michael Floyd, and speedy slot WR John Brown, while 2nd year WR J.J. Nelson continues to impress. The RB core is deep again with a nice mix of backs at full health with 2nd year RB David Johnson ready to prove he is a legit dual threat in the league, vet RB Chris Johnson coming off a big year, and speedster Andre Ellington with a nice dual threat game, but he needs his carries limited to stay healthy. The offensive line continues to aim for improvement making changes on the right side adding veteran RG Evan Mathis who should be a nice upgrade, even at this point of his career, coming off a SB win, and 2nd year RT D.J. Humphries will finally take over the starting job, despite growing pains in limited play last season. The defense continues to be a dominate unit with a solid trade for pass rushing OLB Chandler Jones who should be able to add double digit sacks to help fix the lack of consistent 2nd level pass rush/QB pressure. In the secondary, star FS/CB Tyrann “Honey Badger” Mathieu returns to health, while D.J. Swearinger takes over the starting SS role, as a tough hitter, FS Tyvon Branch will mix in when the Honey Badger is on the move as a good coverage safety, and rookie CB Branden Williams will take over the starting job opposite star CB Patrick Peterson until veteran CB Justin Bethel is fully healthy, maybe longer. The Cardinals have a solid veteran foundation and a good mix of depth and talent on both side of the ball; they are a well-coached team that most teams don’t want to play.
The Seahawks are still one of the top teams in the NFC, but are undergoing another O-line change and need to replace star RB Marshawn Lynch and OLB Bruce Irvin, but the core remains intact. QB Russell Wilson continues to lead the position as a dual threat QB who makes smart decisions with the football. The RB group is loaded with last year’s surprise starter Thomas Rawls, former promising rookie Christian Michael who has come back running with a purpose, and rookies Alex Collins and C.J. Prosise. TE Jimmy Graham still hopes to make a difference as a huge target for Wilson which could be the key to opening up this offense now that he is healthy. As mentioned above, the O-line is undergoing change at every position, but center which could be problematic especially with an inexperienced LT. The WR core remains intact with WRs Jermaine Kearse, Doug Baldwin, Tyler Lockett, and Paul Richardson. On the defensive side of the ball, the front 7 continues to be a strong unit adding DT/DE Jarran Reed as an active run stopper with a high motor, as an instant starter, and OLB Mike Morgan taking over for Irvin. The secondary believes to be improved with star Richard Sherman, Jeremy Lane, and huge CB Tharold Simon who has gained a lot of attention, as well as, Deshawn Shead. Safeties SS Kam Chancellor and FS Earl Thomas are still the top safety duo in the league. The Seahawks should be one of the top teams in the NFC and should challenge for a Super Bowl berth once they can find the right combination on the offensive line.
The 49ers are a team under change with the hiring of HC Chip Kelly who has his work cut out to rebuild the offense, as well as, continue to add pieces to a diminishing defense. The expectation was that Kelly would come in and his offensive system would perfectly fit QB Colin Kaepernick, but that has not been the case, as Blaine Gabbert appears to be leading the way. Kaepernick has dealt with a shoulder injury recovery allowing Gabbert to lead the way while rookie Jeff Driskel struggled, allowing former NFL starter Christian Ponder to possibly keep a roster spot. The RB core seems like the position this team will lean on with workhorse, power back Carlos Hyde, a solid backup in Shaun Draughn who has shown he can start in spurts, and Mike Davis who has shown that he can be a good change of pace and 3rd down back. The WR core is an obvious weak spot lead by speedster Torrey Smith who should fit this offense nicely, but behind him is not much depth, raw talent, or obvious playmakers. The offensive line is under transition after free agency, retirement, and injuries decimated a once strong unit, but the right side will still be a thing to watch. The defense still has some veteran leadership, after injuries and retirement was not kind also. The defensive line looks solid led by NT Glenn Dorsey who has been entrenched in the position, last year’s 1st round pick and freak of nature DT/DE Arik Armstead, and this year’s freak DT/DE Deforest Buckner who was in consideration to be a top 3 pick; both players are from Oregon and legit athletes which should excite Coach Kelly. The LB core remains intact led by LBs NaVorro Bowman and Ahmad Brooks. The CB position is led by veteran Tramaine Brock and DB Jimmie Ward will get a chance to start opposite Brock, while there is a competition of young talent behind them. The safety position is strong with FS Eric Reid healthy and veteran playmaker SS Antoine Bethea, with versatile, athlete SS Jaquiski Tartt. The 49ers are a team in transition who will have some growing pains on offense, as Coach Kelly tries to find the right pieces, the play at QB will hold this team back, but the run game and defense will help them win some games.
The Rams made the bold move of trading away a lot of future picks for #1 pick in the draft to select QB Jared Goff which should give them a face of the franchise for the future in Los Angeles. However, in the meantime, the Rams are going with veteran QB Case Keenum to lead the way who has played well in spurts in his career despite size and arm limitations. QB Sean Mannion may still have a chance at the #2 spot with good size and a good arm, but with limited snaps he still has a lot of room to grow. The hope is for Goff to leap both at some point. The RB core is led by star 2nd year player Todd Gurley and a solid backup in Benny Cunningham who has shown he can also carry the load with some depth who have shown they can also carry the rock if needed. The WR core continues to be led by veteran Kenny Britt and speedster Tavon Austin along with the addition of Pharoh Cooper who can also make plays in space similar to Austin and Brian Quick who offers could size and speed, but needs to show production. TE Lance Kendricks will have another chance to show he can be consistent or rookie Tyler Higbee could cut into his snaps as the team is high on him as a pass catcher. The offensive line is very young and continues to make changes on the right side, but in a tough division this will be a position to watch with more teams stacking the box against them again. The defense continues to be led by a strong defensive line despite losing talent and depth in the offseason led by star DT Aaron Donald and DE Robert Quinn. The LB core will get younger with Alec Ogletree taking over the MLB spot and Mark Barron with a new deal as the OLB/S hybrid role. However, the young secondary could struggle with departures at S and CB depleting a young position that wasn’t very deep led by CB Trumaine Johnson on the franchise tag who is more of a #2 CB. The Rams will have growing pains on both side of the ball, but have pieces to work with and develop; however, this will be another year of seeing who stays and who goes as they wait for Goff to develop, which could cost HC Jeff Fisher his job.