Skip to main content

NFC West projected starters: Rams the division's new juggernaut

Gregg Rosenthal will project post-draft starting lineups for all 32 teams -- because that's his idea of fun.

Arizona Cardinals

» Josh Rosen will be competing against himself and Sam Bradford's health. If Bradford's knee survives training camp and the preseason, there's no reason to think Rosen will be the Week 1 starter. It's not just Bradford's $15 million base salary, but his quality play over the last three years when available that should make him a shoo-in to win the job initially. If Bradford can't stay healthy or keep the Cardinals near .500, Rosen should play over Mike Glennon.

» It was only a few years ago that Larry Fitzgerald was expected to settle into the team's third receiver role. Michael Floyd and John Brown are long gone now, and J.J. Nelson is a bit of an afterthought. Fitzgerald should play most of his snaps out of the slot, but he's clearly still the No. 1 wideout in what could be his final season.

» Christian Kirk, a Scottsdale native, was rumored to be a potential target for the Cardinals in the first round. Instead they got him as a bargain in the second round, possibly because he had a disorderly conduct arrest hanging over his head. While Kirk projects long term in the slot, he's too talented to sit behind Fitzgerald on a thin depth chart. Brice Butler is on his third team and has his best chance to be a starter.

» With Jermaine Gresham coming off an Achilles surgery, tight end Ricky Seals-Jones has a chance to emerge as a factor in this offense. He made an impression last season as an undrafted rookie and could earn more playing time because of his excellent hands.

» New coach Steve Wilks said he believes the offensive line will be the strength of the team. That was surprising to hear.

» The transition to Wilks' 4-3 defense could have some awkward fits. Last year's first-round pick, Haason Reddick, might only be a part-time player at strong-side linebacker. Markus Golden, who broke out as an outside linebacker, will have to hold up as a defensive end at 260 pounds.

» The bigger concerns come in the secondary, though. Patrick Peterson remains top-shelf, but the cornerback spots after that could be the league's weakest. At least safety Budda Baker is a budding star.

Los Angeles Rams

» Don't necessarily expect Brandin Cooks to get the targets of a traditional No. 1 receiver. The Rams will want more production out of Cooks than Sammy Watkins gave them last year, but the yardage could still be split evenly between Cooks, Robert Woods and Cooper Kupp.

» Gerald Everett played far less than Tyler Higbee as a rookie, but tight end is a notoriously difficult position in which to make a quick impact. Everett's explosiveness as a receiver should get him on the field more.

» The Rams tried to address their lack of offensive line depth in the draft, but it's fair to say that 36-year-old Andrew Whitworth remains one of the most irreplaceable players on the team. General manager Les Snead has a lot of work to do because so many of his starting lineman are nearing free agency.

» Defensive coordinator Wade Phillips has a lot of options for how he can line up this loaded defense, but a three-man line of Aaron Donald, Ndamukong Suh and Michael Brockers looks ferocious. That trio should make unproven outside linebackers Matt Longacre and Samson Ebukam become far more well-known.

» The linebackers don't need to be that special playing behind perhaps the stoutest line in football and playing in front of perhaps the best secondary. Marcus Peters and Aqib Talib both play a gambling style that fits perfectly in Phillips' scheme. Lamarcus Joyner and John Johnson are an underrated duo at safety who will provide cover on the back end. The entire group has a tenacious playing personality.

» There are virtually no position battles on Los Angeles for starting jobs, which is one sign of a team ready to contend for a Super Bowl. Phillips still needs to figure out his second inside linebacker and second defensive end, but those spots are unlikely to top 500 snaps.

San Francisco 49ers

» The magic of Jimmy G's late-season run has helped to diminish concerns about a relatively underwhelming offensive depth chart on paper. From expensive free-agent pickup Jerick McKinnon to No. 1 receiver Pierre Garcon to No. 2 wideout Marquise Goodwin, there are a lot of role players being asked to play bigger-than-ideal roles. It's only Year 2 of this rebuild, however. In Kyle Shanahan we trust.

» The battle for the slot receiver job between second-rounder Dante Pettis and Trent Taylor is one to watch. If Shanahan can help Goodwin nearly gain 1,000 yards, the winner of this No. 3 battle has deep fantasy football sleeper potential.

» Shanahan is counting on his coaching and scheme to help improve offensive linemen who didn't last elsewhere, like Laken Tomlinson and Jonathan Cooper.

» The 49ers didn't rotate that much on the defensive line last year, so expect to see a lot of this excellent starting group. The team wants to see a big second-year leap out of last year's No. 3 overall pick, Solomon Thomas, who had a quiet rookie campaign.

» The health of Richard Sherman and the continued development of Ahkello Witherspoon and K'Waun Williams at cornerback could make or break this defense. The 49ers believe in their young players, but there is some bust potential here. The 49ers gave somewhat surprising extensions to Williams and safety Jaquiski Tartt.

» Middle linebacker Reuben Foster isn't listed because of his ongoing legal troubles and the potential suspension looming over his season.

Seattle Seahawks

» Russell Wilson had the best receiver crew of his career last offseason. With Jermaine Kearse, Paul Richardson and Jimmy Graham now all gone, Wilson has Doug Baldwin, injury-prone Tyler Lockett and not much else.

» Former Cardinals player Jaron Brown is the favorite for the No. 3 receiver role and there aren't a lot of promising young prospects threatening to take the job unless 2017 third-rounder Amara Darboh goes up a level. Tight end is also weak, with a replacementlevel starter in former Panther Ed Dickson.

» The Seahawks' offensive line may not be as bad as you think. Left tackle Duane Brown gives the group credibility. There are a lot of former high picks here and coach Pete Carroll seems to believe that the change in offensive coaches will make the group look a lot better. He may be right.

» The defensive line has a dramatically different look this year without Michael Bennett, Cliff Avril and Sheldon Richardson. It's not all bad news for a group that boasts decent depth. Shamar Stephen, Tom Johnson, third-round pick Rasheem Green and Nazair Jones could all provide quality rotational snaps off the bench.

» The Legion of Boom is long gone, especially with safety Kam Chancellor's future in doubt. The Seahawks could be starting players in Byron Maxwell, Bradley McDougald and Justin Coleman that they picked up off the scrap heap last year. This is a defense of reclamation projects, with former top-10 picks Barkevious Mingo the potential starter at strongside linebacker and former Dolphins bust Dion Jordan likely to get a bigger role at defensive end after flashing late last season.

» The Seahawks could really use a vintage season from Earl Thomas, or this once-hallowed secondary could become a liability.

Follow Gregg Rosenthal on Twitter @greggrosenthal.

This article has been reproduced in a new format and may be missing content or contain faulty links. Please use the Contact Us link in our site footer to report an issue.

Related Content