The NFC West had the busiest offseason in the NFL with multiple impactful trades and free-agent signings. Matthew Stafford joins the Rams. J.J. Watt joins the Cardinals. The 49ers trade a lot of future draft capital for the third-overall pick in the 2021 NFL Draft.
These changes will shift the dynamic of the league. They may even turn a previously strong division into the strongest division in football.
The draft further shakes up this division, so we will break down the best and worst draft picks. Then we will take a look at how each of these picks sets these teams up to compete for the NFC West title.
Our breakdown of the best and worst draft selections is based on:
What positions did each team need to upgrade in the draft and how did they address those needs?
How valuable are the selections according to popular Big Boards?
What is the ceiling for each of these young talents?
All of the teams in the NFC West are aggressive in their roster moves recently. Because of this, some teams are short on draft capital for the foreseeable future. Draft picks become even more important to get right when a team has fewer and they become more difficult without first-round picks. We have to break down some later-round picks to get a full view of what the NFC West is up to in 2021.
Arizona Cardinals (8-8 in 2020)
The Arizona Cardinals were one of the more exciting teams in 2020. Kyler Murray and Deandre Hopkins led the hype train, which climaxed with the unbelievable Hail Mary to defeat Buffalo. They signed major additions this offseason including Watt (EDGE), AJ Green (WR), and Malcolm Butler (CB). The Cardinals also traded for Rodney Hudson (C) to protect Murray better from the fearsome Aaron Donald.
Needs: Cornerback, Running back, Wide receiver, Offensive tackle, Linebacker
Best Pick: A fourth-round draft pick is not often praised ahead of strong first and second-round picks. However, the Cardinals were disciplined in not reaching for a cornerback in either of their first two picks. They were rewarded by a highly underrated talent in Marco Wilson (CB) who fell to them in that fourth round. They traded up to grab him for his unmatched physical traits.
He fell to the fourth round off the back of the shoe-throwing incident that ended up shattering Florida’s College Football Playoff hopes. Therefore, a discipline question is certainly at play. If he can get his emotions under control, he will have an amazing opportunity to make big moments happen. He has the chance to start behind one of the best pass rushes in the NFL, led by Chandler Jones and Watt.
The Cardinals also found an incredible physical specimen in Rondale Moore (WR) out of Purdue. All of his traits were among the highest in the NFL Draft. Vertical: 42.5″. 40-yeard dash: 4.29seconds. Bench: over 400 lb. Squat: over 600 lb. He also had far better cone and shuttle drills than his predecessor in Andy Isabella. The closest comparison is Steve Smith Sr. Granted, he is not the superb route runner Smith was and he does not have the hands of that former Pro Bowler. He may be small, but I would be shocked if he cannot find a place in the Cardinals’ offense.
Worst Pick: I cannot criticize the choice of Zaven Collins with the 16th pick. He is a highly underrated prospect with incredible physical talents and discipline. He did not commit a single penalty in three full seasons and over 2,000 snaps. However, there may have been an opportunity to trade up a few slots.
Both top cornerback prospects went far higher than anyone expected, but that meant Rashawn Slater was on the board very late. The best pure pass protector in the draft would have done wonders for Kyler Murray’s longevity. It seems a shame to have only been a few picks away from that amazing gift to the Cardinals’ offense. The best play may have been to trade up ahead of the Chargers for that tackle prospect.
Najee Harris was also on the board at 16. The Cardinals’ running back core is certainly depleted with the loss of Kenyan Drake despite the addition of James Conner. The Cardinals’ decision to not add a running back in the draft must mean they are satisfied with Conner and Chase Edmonds. Many analysts think they are wrong.
Los Angeles Rams (10-6 in 2020)
The Rams made one of the biggest trades of the offseason to get
Stafford. The Rams were already short their 2021 first-round pick after the Jalen Ramsay trade. They are now also short their 2022 and 2023 first-round picks, along with their 2021 third-round pick. The Rams did not have the most exciting draft day, but the day was a great opportunity to be reminded of their incredibly exciting veteran additions in Ramsay and Stafford.
Needs: Offensive line, Nickelback, Safety, Linebacker
Best Pick: I considered listing Ramsay as the Rams’ best NFL Draft pick this year, but I’ll be sincere. Ernest Jones (LB) from South Carolina represents an immediate starter found in the third round. The Rams had occasional difficulties stopping the run in 2020 despite the greatest anchor in the league in Aaron Donald. Their linebacker core was devastated by injuries in 2020, so one expects there is room for improvement.
I like South Carolina LB Ernest Jones as an early 3rd day pick. He has starter traits- instincts, length and short area quicks. — Daniel Jeremiah (@MoveTheSticks) March 28, 2021
Worst Pick: The Ram may have upgraded significantly at quarterback, but is their lack of draft capital sustainable? Trading multiple first-round picks every year simply does not work. At least, we have not seen it work for the long term yet.
That said, Tutu Atwell is a strange pick to me. The Rams failed to address their need for a young Left Tackle in their first few rounds. Andrew Whitworth is fantastic, but 39 years old cannot be fantastic for long. Tom Brady has a right to disagree with that, of course. The Rams had a great chance to get younger on the line in a deep tackle pool in the second round.
They also already have talent at wide receiver in Cooper Kupp and Robert Woods, not to mention Van Jefferson and the newly acquired Desean Jackson. Atwell seemed a supplementary pick. He is also a small receiver for a quarterback in Stafford who has historically been fond of big targets.
San Francisco 49ers (6-10 in 2020)
The 49ers were one good pass or one defensive stop away from winning the Super Bowl. They followed that loss up by finishing at the bottom of the NFC West table in 2020. Injuries decimated this team, but that is no excuse for going quickly from 13-3 to 6-10. One of the most important injuries was the seemingly recurring theme regarding Jimmy Garoppolo. He missed most of the season. Again. The 49ers’ response was to address the quarterback position in a big way in the 2021 NFL Draft.
Needs: Quarterback, Running back, Wide receiver, Cornerback
Best Pick: Trey Lance, without question, was the best pick the 49ers made. I do not understand the doubts surrounding this kid at all. He missed some games because his team did not play a fall season in 2020, so we do not have 40 games of film on him. What do you need more film on? Lance’s arm is amazing. His athletic talent is among the best. His football IQ is through the roof. This kid has no lower ceiling than Trevor Lawrence.
He also enters the perfect situation for his career by heading to San Francisco. He can sit behind Jimmy GQ for a full season hopefully. More likely, it will only be a few weeks until Garoppolo gets hurt. What the 49ers will do in that situation is a conversation for another day.
Lance’s lack of NFL readiness should be addressed by sitting on the bench for some time though if it can be afforded. This will be the pick that makes San Francisco competitive in the NFC West for the next decade. Lance gets to play with a smart, young, offensive-minded coach. He will also be aided by one of the better defenses in the league. This kid has a chance.
Listen to how Kyle Shanahan talks about Trey Lance. I don’t think I’ve ever heard him talk about a prospect like this. pic.twitter.com/RXIiV2T0Hb — Akash Anavarathan (@akashanav) April 30, 2021