Last of an eight-part series
With the NFL draft coming up April 26-28, we examine each team's personnel and identify its top three needs going into the draft, subject to any free-agent signings it may make before then.
Overview: The Cardinals’ 2012 draft-pick deck is not fully stacked, with the team having given up its second-round pick to the Eagles last offseason in the trade for QB Kevin Kolb. It did obtain an extra pick in the sixth round from the Redskins as compensation in the Tim Hightower trade, but that doesn’t offset losing a No. 2. However, things look a little different if you count the second-round pick last season, RB Ryan Williams, who has yet to strut his stuff after missing the entire 2011 campaign after tearing the patellar tendon in his right knee in a preseason game. Williams could provide the offense with a major boost if he lives up to the considerable promise he was showing before his injury.
Need No. 1: Offensive right tackle
The Cardinals bolstered the right side of their offensive line with free-agent pickup Adam Snyder, who shapes up as the new right guard. But concerns linger at right tackle. Incumbent Brandon Keith is an injury-prone unrestricted free agent who might have worn out his welcome. The team could draft a stud OLT prospect in the first round and move recently re-signed Levi Brown to the right side. Whether it does that or not, there is still a glaring need for more depth at both the tackle and guard positions.
Need No. 2: Outside linebacker
While new coordinator Ray Horton’s defense made great strides as the season wore on, the unit could still use another outside pass rusher or two. Both Sam Acho, a fourth-round rookie last season, and O’Brien Schofield, who will be entering his third season, made steady progress last season at outside linebacker, particularly Acho. But Clark Haggans is a 35-year-old free agent, and linebackers who bring pressure off the edge are coveted in Horton’s “Steelers West” system.
Need No. 3: Wide receiver
The Cards’ WR corps looks rock-solid at the No. 1 and No. 3 spots, which are manned by superstar Larry Fitzgerald and recently re-signed Early Doucet, respectively. But the offense could really use a consistently productive No. 2 wideout to complement Fitzgerald, as Anquan Boldin and Steve Breaston did before signing elsewhere. Current No. 2 WR Andre Roberts has had his moments, but he remains a very unproven commodity.
St. Louis Rams
Overview: The Rams already have made out like bandits, picking up three first-round draft picks (2012, ’13 and ’14) and a second-round pick for the price of one first-rounder (the No. 2 overall pick in the draft) in a blockbuster deal with the Redskins. Still sitting relatively pretty at the No. 6 spot in the first round, they might not be done shaking things up, having hinted that they might trade either down or back up the first-round ladder, depending on who is selected with the draft’s first five picks. New GM Les Snead had already established himself as a bold wheeler-dealer type; he was instrumental in Atlanta moving up 21 spots in the first round last year to take WR Julio Jones as the Falcons’ director of player personnel.
Need No. 1: Wide receiver
The Rams still need a dynamic No. 1-caliber wideout who can stretch the field. They did sign ex-Giant Steve Smith, who was a Pro Bowl player as recently as three seasons ago, but knee problems the last two seasons, including microfracture surgery late in 2010, make Smith a risky pickup at best. There are some close observers who believe the Rams will do everything in their power to select Oklahoma State WR Justin Blackmon, who is considered the best wideout available by a wide margin.
Need No. 2: Defensive tackle
The Rams cleared the deck at defensive tackle when they released 2011 starters Justin Bannan and Fred Robbins, whose age definitely showed last season. They picked up one new starter when they signed ex-Dolphin Kendall Langford, who they believe will have no problem making the conversion inside from the five-technique DE spot he filled in Miami’s 3-4 scheme. But the Rams still need another starting defensive tackle, ideally one adept at stuffing the run.
Need No. 3: Offensive tackle/offensive guard
The Rams need lots of help on the offensive line. For one thing, they need insurance for starting ORT Jason Smith, the team’s No. 1 pick in 2009. Smith has played in only 29 of the team’s 48 games over three seasons and had concussion issues last season that are cause for great concern. In addition, the line appears to have a glaring hole at left guard that must be filled.
San Francisco 49ers
Overview: The Niners will have their work cut out for them, drafting near the bottom of each of the seven rounds pending possible trades. Don’t rule out the possibility of some deals by a team that showed its willingness to strike very aggressively, despite its surprising success last season, when it made a serious run at Peyton Manning. Niners GM Trent Baalke earned a three-year contract extension and PFW/Professional Football Writers of America Executive of the Year honors in part due to the stellar job he did in last year’s draft. Baalke hit a tape-measure home run in his first year running the draft show, with first-round OLB Aldon Smith, third-round CB Chris Culliver, fourth-round RB Kendall Hunter and seventh-round FB Bruce Miller all making very valuable contributions.
Need No. 1: Offensive guard
The Niners could use a serious challenger for second-year pro Daniel Kilgore at right guard, and depth is sorely lacking at both OG spots. The versatile Adam Snyder, who replaced Chilo Rachal as the starter at right guard about a month into the 2011 season, signed with the division-rival Cardinals. Rachal, an unrestricted free agent, looks like a long shot to return to the Bay Area. The team thinks Kilgore could blossom with the benefit of a full offseason, but his only playing time last season was one snap as an extra blocker in the Monday-night game vs. the Steelers.
Need No. 2: Wide receiver
Free agents Mario Manningham and Randy Moss figure to bolster the Niners’ WR corps. But after the wideouts failed miserably in the postseason when it counted most and had considerable trouble converting third downs all season, more help is needed at this position, especially with the popular Josh Morgan having signed with the Redskins. By all accounts, Moss still has very respectable deep speed, but there are no guarantees he will be able to regain his prior form after sitting out last season.
Need No. 3: Defensive tackle
The Niners have been blessed with a workhorse starting D-line that possesses great stamina and goes above and beyond the call of duty. That said, DRT Justin Smith is 32 years old, DLT Ray McDonald has had problems on and off with his knees, and NT Isaac Sopoaga turns 31 before the start of the 2012 season. More depth up front could come in handy, with all those things considered.
Overview: Seattle has only six picks but is well-positioned with its own picks in each of the first four rounds, starting off with the 12th overall pick in the first round after losing a coin flip to the Chiefs in February for the 11th pick. The Seahawks gave up their fifth-round pick in the deal to obtain star RB Marshawn Lynch, and traded its own seventh-round pick to Detroit for OL Tyler Polumbus two seasons ago. The team did pick up a seventh-rounder from Oakland in exchange for LB Aaron Curry, a former first-round pick who failed to live up to expectations.
Need No. 1: Linebacker
A top priority is more speed and depth at linebacker, where the futures of unrestricted free agents David Hawthorne and Leroy Hill remain up in the air. Hawthorne was the team’s leading tackler in each of the last three seasons, but his tender knees make him a long-term risk. Hill played surprisingly well on the weak side after having been considered as good as gone entering the 2011 campaign. But he has had his share of off-the-field concerns that offset his value.
Need No. 2: Defensive end
The underrated Chris Clemons has been a steady terror at the “Leo” position, coming off a stellar 11-sack campaign. But the pass rush falls off significantly once you get past him. Free agent Raheem Brock, who will be 34 next season, is not expected back after a big decline from his strong 2010 campaign. Free-agent pickup Jason Jones, who signed a one-year deal, should help improve the interior pass rush, but Clemons needs more help off the edges.
Need No. 3: Running back
The Seahawks are counting on Marshawn Lynch to provide the lion’s share of offense for a long time to come and would benefit from a bit more backup help for their flashy featured back. The recent addition of 228-pound bruiser Kregg Lumpkin, whom the Seahawks tried to acquire in September 2010 after he was waived by the Packers, should help somewhat. But with free agent Justin Forsett not expected back, even more help would come in handy.