There’s been quite a bit of buzz about the NFC West teams lately, whether it’s been because of the draft, free agent signings or just overall intrigue. I expect it to be more competitive than last year, and in a couple years, it could be even more competitive based on how things shake out. This is not a prediction post but rather just generally how I look at the other teams. Here’s the first team up: Seattle…
This team played VERY well down the stretch last year, giving us one of our hardest fought games of the year in their stadium. Marshawn Lynch ran insanely hard, the offensive line played far better than expected, pass catchers started to step up, and the defense stayed hot all the way through the end of the year.
At QB, the good news for them is that Matt Flynn is a much better decision maker than Tarvaris Jackson, and will play well within the flow and timing of the offense. However, in my view, he is not a great talent and will not threaten the perimeter or back end of most defenses because he just doesn’t have the arm. His ability as a passer reminds me a lot of Shaun Hill: Gets the ball out quickly, throws a soft and catchable ball but doesn’t have enough juice to make the tough throws and will eventually hold up the offense from excelling. Still an upgrade for Seattle, for now. I’m not ready to jump on the Russell Wilson train just yet based on the hype of rookie minicamp, but I do recognize his talent as far superior to Flynn and he could challenge for that job sooner than later. I can’t even try to predict how he’ll fare in an NFL pocket at his size, though, and that’s a pretty big unanswered question. That’s a situation worth watching.
The overall surrounding talent on offense is roughly average as far as I can see. Doug Baldwin was a very nice surprise, but profiles as a good #2 WR. Sidney Rice has been horribly injury prone and may never return to form. Golden Tate showed some flashes as did Ricardo Lockette, and Kris Durham could be interesting coming off an injury, but overall, this is a below average group at WR. Zach Miller is a good TE who they failed to integrate properly last year. If Lynch runs as hard as he did last year, they will be tough to beat, but he will also inevitably get hurt – no RB can sustain that type of play for long without going down eventually, and it was a small miracle that it didn’t happen last year already. Lynch would often twist and contort his way out of piles and solid tackles just to eat up any extra yards he could get, and that’s just asking for trouble, so he’ll have to tone things down to stay healthy over the course of a whole season. Robert Turbin gives them an interesting backup option who should make some big plays, and Leon Washington is an excellent return man who acquits himself well when called upon at RB.
The offensive line was interesting, as nobody could’ve expected them to play as well as they did with the constant lineup shuffles they had. Honestly, how they got such great play out of guys like Paul McQuistan, Lemuel Jeanpierre and Breno Giacomini still baffles me. Russel Okung has been an injury-plagued enigma and both James Carpenter and John Moffitt have talent, but are coming off of season-ending injuries with no true NFL experience. How they integrate could be key to the whole offense. Overall it is reasonable to expect this unit to play well, and they have good depth and youth at this point.
Based on how they looked last year, their defense is one of the best young units in the NFL. They have speed, size and depth and have gotten great play out of a lot of unheralded prospects. They should be even better this year.
The defensive line has tons of depth and a great mix of versatile guys who can rush and hold up well against the run. It really starts with Red Bryant and Brandon Mebane in the middle, and the addition of Jason Jones was quietly very solid. Chris Clemons has done his job getting after the QB off the edge, and we’ll see how Bruce Irvin integrates into that “LEO” position. He has tons of speed and could potentially put up big sack numbers if they get creative enough with him, but could fizzle out if he doesn’t increase his strength and develop at least a couple of solid moves. He’s one of the most intriguing rookies to watch in the division.
At LB, KJ Wright played very well last year and figures to keep his spot locked down at SLB. Bobby Wagner has a good chance to take the starting MLB job, partly because there are few other options there. He doesn’t quite play up to his timed speed but is an overall solid player who should hold up fairly well in the middle. Leroy Hill will probably hold down the other OLB job and play solid yet unspectacular as usual.
The DBs are probably the strength of this defense. Richard Sherman played excellent last year as a UDFA CB and will definitely keep his starting job. Brandon Browner also had a good year across from him, but if you take away the INTs last year, he was not Pro Bowl caliber and can be picked on. Jeremy Lane and Walter Thurmond are interesting sub-package guys and Marcus Trufant may stick around just a bit longer, though he has fallen off tremendously. Earl Thomas is one of the rangiest safeties in the NFL and has been a huge playmaker; he also tackles far better than he looked like he would coming out of Texas at such a small size. Kam Chancellor is a solid SS with great size who can cover tight ends just enough, and plays the run very well.
This team presents the most imminent threat to the 49ers winning the division next year. Though I’m far from a big believer in Pete Carroll, he aligned himself with the right man in John Schneider and has assembled a great group of young talents who also tend to bring it with great effort. The big questions with them remain at QB, and whether they have enough playmakers on offense to score outside of the controlled run/play-action game. They also need to show for a second year that they can win away from Qwest Stadium, as they are typically far better at home than on the road. They brought in an intriguing boom-or-bust draft class and are trying to make a push to make the playoffs. They profile as a team that has a solid chance of making it, or will at least come close next year.