2017 NFC West Draft Grades: Cards double up on defensive stars, Lynch aces first test
Grading an NFL Draft immediately after it occurs is akin to giving your compliments to the chef based on the menu. It will take at least three years before we can truly assess how the 32 NFL teams fared over the weekend.
But waiting is no fun. As such, let’s take a take at which NFC West teams appear to have done the best job of filling needs and building for the future via the seven rounds of the 2017 draft.
With longtime defensive standout
heading to Jacksonville on a massive deal, general manager Steve Keim needed a difference-maker in the 2017 draft. Instead he found two, nabbing one of the more dynamic front-seven defenders in
and arguably the most versatile defensive back in the draft in
a round later. Reddick starred as an undersized pass rusher for the Owls before showing off his instincts and agility as an off-ball linebacker at the Senior Bowl and combine. Baker starred as a safety and nickel cornerback for Washington, exhibiting the agility and speed to handle both roles in the NFL.
have shown a willingness to gamble on small-school prospects since Keim took over, and they made Grambling State standout Chad Williams (another Senior Bowl star) the first non-combine invitee selected in the 2017 draft, making him the 98th overall pick. Athletic and highly competitive, he could be the complement and eventual replacement to
the club had hoped former first-round pick
would become. Though they will be overshadowed by their flashier classmates, the Cardinals also solidified their offensive line with battle-tested veterans
and Will Holden.
Los Angeles Rams
With 2016 No. 1 overall pick
struggling as a rookie, it was obvious that the
Los Angeles Rams
needed to find him more dynamic weapons. Unfortunately for Los Angeles, after the massive trade up last year to land the former Cal product the team was missing its first round pick to do so — a problem exacerbated with a surprising early run on pass-catchers. The Rams responded by using three of their first four picks on weapons for Goff, landing joker tight end Gerald Everett with their first pick (No. 44 overall), Eastern Washington’s
with their second (69) and Texas A&M’s vertical threat Josh Reynolds (117) with their fourth selection.
Despite his small school background, Kupp (whose father and grandfather both played in the NFL) is far and away the most polished of the group, standing out against Pac-12 and Senior Bowl competition. The Rams thought enough of Eastern Washington’s talent, in fact, to go back to the Eagles for its top pass rusher in twitchy edge rusher
, who was not invited to the combine despite registering 44 tackles for loss and 24 sacks over his career. The Rams gambled on similarly undersized rushers late in Day 3, adding penetrating
Tulane Green Wave
and Pitt’s speedy edge defender
. Third-round safety
won’t get the hype of the rushers or receivers, but he is a solid player at a position of need for this club.
San Francisco 49ers
While it may be true that by inheriting arguably the weakest roster in the NFL first-year general manager John Lynch could do nothing but improve the 49ers, he certainly appeared to have done precisely that in his initial draft, landing an impressive collection of talent this year and setting his club up nicely in 2018 with several trades. The 49ers were widely expected to take
‘s star defensive lineman
at No. 2 overall but convinced Chicago to part with three picks by dropping down just one selection to still nab the 2016 Morris Trophy Award winner. Lynch found another trophy winner later in the first round by trading up with the division-rival
to land Butkus Award-winning linebacker
at No. 31 overall.
The 49ers then added length at cornerback in Ahkello Witherspoon and raw speed at running back (
), tight end (
) and wide receiver (Trent Taylor) in the middle rounds. Quarterback
comes from a pro-style offense at
but may lack the arm strength to be much more than a backup at the NFL level. Watch out for Mississippi defensive tackle
to surprise as sixth-round selections. If Thomas and Foster perform as expected (a legitimate question given that the latter’s shoulder was red-flagged by some), Lynch and the 49ers aced their first big test.
After struggling to protect quarterback
(as well as run the football), most presumed the Seahawks would make offensive line their top and perhaps only priority on draft day. Instead, general manager John Schneider and head coach Pete Carroll opted to stick with the defensive-oriented strategy that helped the club establish itself as a powerhouse in the first place, using four of their first five picks on that side of the ball. The club led off with
Michigan State Spartans
‘s freakish (albeit inconsistent) 6-foot-6, 295-pound
at No. 35 overall before restocking an aging secondary with
‘s twitchy cornerback
North Carolina Tar Heels
The Seahawks did add two offensive linemen, burly blockers
from the SEC, but neither possesses the agility and balance most teams require of its tackles, so expecting either rookie to solve Seattle’s pass blocking woes is probably unrealistic. Seattle prioritizes power, versatility and toughness in its offensive linemen, which the former
Mississippi State Bulldogs
blockers do boast. It also loves length and ball skills in its defensive backs, which Griffin and Hill — as well as Day 3 picks Tedric Thompson and Mike Thompson — offer. Carroll’s well-documented feud with Jim Harbaugh aside, Seattle won big when adding two of the latter’s pupils from Stanford in
. The club seemed confident in its post-draft press conference that both Hill and fellow Michigan standout
, a physically imposing wideout, could help this club.