Will Tyrann Mathieu find success in the NFC West? (Credit)
Going into the 2013 NFL Draft, the NFC West was widely seen as the best division in the NFL. With San Francisco and Seattle, by most accounts, already having a successful offseason with the acquisition of several impact players, this year's draft was highly anticipated among fans of all teams in the division.
Looking at the new additions to the division, the draft didn't disappoint, in both name and substance, for the NFC West. Below are recaps of each team's draft picks, projected starters, and an impact player taken later in the draft.
Arizona came into this season's draft with several holes to fill. With new quarterback Carson Palmer in the fold, the Cardinals did what they needed to do: they got Palmer protection in the 1st Round, doing so by drafting North Carolina G Jonathan Cooper. Cooper, who most considered the best guard in the draft, will come in immediately and start for Arizona.
With an already strong defense, Arizona improved on that side of the ball, bringing in LSU products LB Kevin Minter and DB Tyrann Mathieu. Both will likely be impact players for that Cardinals defense immediately. Obviously, improving on the offensive side of the ball was important to Arizona, and they addressed those needs by bringing in running backs Andre Ellington and Stepfan Taylor, both highly productive backs in college, and even getting Texas A&M receiver Ryan Swope during day three to give Palmer another receiving weapon.
Projected Starters: G Johnathan Cooper, LB Kevin Minter, S Tyrann Mathieu
Surprising Impact Player: RB Stepfan Taylor — This kid can play and had a very big senior season. He has very good size and decent speed, and I believe he will challenge projected starters Ryan Williams and Rashard Mendenhall for the top running back spot on the depth chart.
St. Louis Rams
For St. Louis, this season's draft had to be one in which they found impact players on both sides of the ball. An improving, young team last season, they definitely needed to surround fourth-year quarterback Sam Bradford with some weapons. Immediately, the Rams did just that, trading up to the 8th spot to draft West Virginia wide receiver Tavon Austin, widely considered the most dynamic player in this draft.
The Rams also added Austin's college teammate Stedman Bailey in the 3rd Round, and brought in another running back in Zac Stacy to give the Rams a change of pace back from what they have in Isaiah Pead and Daryl Richardson.
Defensively, the Rams traded down in the first round and got the linebacker that they needed to upgrade an already steady defense, bringing in Alec Ogletree from Georgia, and in the 3rd Round, taking USC safety T.J. McDonald.
Projected Starters: WR Tavon Austin, LB Alec Ogletree, WR Stedman Bailey, S T.J. McDonald, OL Barrett Jones
Surprising Impact Player: OL Barrett Jones — Jones was a great pick in the 4th Round for St. Louis. With his versatility and ability to play and understand multiple positions on the offensive line (played T, G, and C in college), Jones will provide St. Louis with more needed protection for Bradford, and find a starting spot somewhere along the line.
Seattle entered the draft with very few holes and primarily looked to bolster their roster with strong backups that can have some kind of impact. They did just that and more with their first selection in the 2nd Round, grabbing Texas A&M running back Christine Michael. Michael will provide another dynamic to the Seahawks' already strong running game, making them even scarier as a two-headed monster for opposing defenses. They also took Kansas State wide receiver Chris Harper and LSU running back Spencer Ware on day three to provide more offensive depth.
Defensively, Seattle continued to strengthen their front four, drafting defensive tackles Jordan Hill (Penn State) and Jesse Williams (Alabama). Both players could be fighting for a spot on the interior defensive line. They also brought in some smaller school guys and players on day three that will provide depth.
Projected Starters: DT Jordan Hill or DT Jesse Williams, WR Chris Harper, CB Tharold Simon
Surprising Impact Player: CB Tharold Simon — Simon is a big corner who is a playmaker, grabbing four interceptions last season and breaking up nine passes. At 6'2” Simon gives Seattle another big guy in their secondary, with Sherman and Browner back there now. I think he may come in and have an immediate impact as a nickel/dime back for Seattle and make things that much more difficult on quarterbacks in the division.
San Francisco 49ers
San Francisco didn't stand pat in this draft, as they were very active from the start. The Niners, who finished three points shy of a Super Bowl in February, are eager to get back, and showed it early in the draft. They traded up to 18 with the Dallas Cowboys, and drafted one of the top safeties in this season's draft class, LSU's Eric Reid. Reid is a big, physical safety who will be looking to help fill the vacancy left by Dashon Goldson.
Then, in the 2nd Round, they went and got a 1st Round talent in defensive end Tank Carradine from Florida State. Carradine joins a group of 49ers defensive ends who can rush the quarterback quite well, and with injuries to Justin Smith last season, Carradine may be needed to step in immediately to line up opposite Aldon Smith on the end.
They also went up and grabbed South Carolina running back Marcus Lattimore, in the 4th Round. Lattimore, who suffered a gruesome knee injury last season, has vowed to be back by Week 1. He walks into a crowded backfield, but what a backfield it will be when he gets healthy and can come in and contribute for the Niners.
Projected Starters: S Eric Reid, DE Tank Carradine, WR Quinton Patton
Surprising Impact Player: WR Quinton Patton — I really think San Francisco gets a top-5 WR talent in Patton. He had a monster season at Louisiana Tech last season, and he has good size that will work well for him in the NFL. I think he is a perfect complement to Anquan Boldin and Michael Crabtree, and I think he will prove to be an important weapon for Colin Kaepernick immediately.
By: Kenny Bunch