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While other teams in the NFC West are making a slew of transactions, Arizona looks like a longshot to win the division heading into 2018. On paper, they’ll be better at the quarterback position after having to juggle Drew Stanton and Blaine Gabbert at the end of last season and Carson Palmer retiring from the league. While not technically a transaction, it will feel like they’ll get a boost on offense with David Johnson back at running back.
Last season, all hopes for this Cardinals teams were dashed in the opening week when Johnson suffered a season-ending injury to his left wrist -- as were the fantasy players who picked him. Johnson’s sophomore season, his first as a starter, was nothing short of remarkable. Emerging as one of the league’s best backs, he finished 2016 with 2,118 all-purpose yards and 20 total touchdowns.
● QB Sam Bradford ● QB Mike Glennon
● S Tyrann Mathieu ● RB Adrian Peterson
Sam Bradford, who has become an NFL journeyman, has had plenty of injury setbacks in his eight-year career. He played 29 total games in his lone season at Philly and initial season with Minnesota but was limited to just two games last year. With the Vikings moving on to Kirk Cousins, Bradford will join his fourth team and perhaps a brighter era -- he hasn’t finished with a winning record in the five seasons he’s played 10 or more games (34-45-1 career record).
It was a bit of a head-scratcher to see star defender Tyrann Mathieu exit the organization. Arizona offered lower contracts to him, but he wouldn’t bite on either offer. Then, he goes to Houston and signs a deal that’s less than what his original team offered him. The team also let go of Adrian Peterson, who filled in for Johnson last season.
Notable Draft Picks
● QB Josh Rosen (UCLA, Round 1) ● WR Christian Kirk (Texas A&M, Round 2)
Two players from the most memorable college football collapse in recent memory (Texas A&M’s 31-point lead evaporated against UCLA in 2017) will join forces with Arizona. Should Bradford get hit with the injury bug again and Mike Glennon is still Mike Glennon, they’ll likely jump to their promising rookie, Rosen. One draft pick who will see immediate action is Christian Kirk, who will fill a dire need at wide receiver.
It’s widely expected that the Seahawks will take a significant step back this season. The “Legion of Boom” on defense has dissolved with many vital players exiting the team and a number of offensive weapons have either been traded or walked away. Most of the coaching staff has been retooled as well, with Pete Carroll likely on the chopping block next if the team can’t find success in a transitional period.
Seattle arguably had the most significant roster turnover with stars being sent all around the NFL. Some key players, like cornerback Kam Chancellor, may not be able to recover from their injuries in time for the season. The transition to a more offensively-focused team with a good, but aging defense didn’t work out. Safety Earl Thomas does remain on the defense and talented quarterback Russell Wilson will still command the offense.
● DE Barkevious Mingo ● WR Brandon Marshall
● CB Richard Sherman ● DE Michael Bennett ● DT Sheldon Richardson
Most of the Seattle turnover was merely due to how expensive their prized defense had become. They benefited from a discount early on as these players emerged to help guide them to back-to-back Super Bowl appearances and one championship. Outspoken cornerback Richard Sherman joins a hated rival, and arguably the biggest subtraction is Sheldon Richardson. The emerging star on the defensive line was ultimately a one-year rental.
It’s also worse when you consider a number of these players were sent to playoff-caliber teams in the NFC. On the bright side, they’ve added a value linebacker with Barkevious Mingo. The former sixth-round pick in 2013 has jumped around the NFL and had 166 tackles and nine sacks since that time. The only problem is he hasn’t lived up to expectations and hasn’t been a game changer. The passing attack gets a veteran in Brandon Marshall, who was limited with the New York Giants last season with injury problems.
Notable Draft Picks
● RB Rashaad Penny (San Diego State, Round 1) ● TE Will Dissly (Washington, Round 4)
Draft analysts found it surprising that the Seahawks went with Rashaad Penny as their first selection. If it was going to be a back, the two stars from Georgia (Nick Chubb and Sony Michel) were still on the table with more promising value. That being said, Penny is coming off a tremendous final season with San Diego State, that saw him lead all of Division 1 in rushing yards. Plus, he stayed on the field, which is what Seattle is looking for after cycling through numerous RBs like Thomas Rawls, Christine Michael, and Eddie Lacy.
San Francisco 49ers
After having a brief glimpse in the spotlight under Jim Harbaugh earlier this decade, the 49ers seem to be a preseason favorite for a lot of football analysts. After losing all of their games in the first half of the season, the team had a quick turnaround when they brought in New England backup Jimmy Garoppolo. They finished 6-10, and after the new quarterback received the keys to the offense, his unbeaten starting record remains intact.
Granted, that’s a bit misleading as there’s only seven total starts on his belt, and that unblemished statistic will undoubtedly go down sooner rather than later. But his exciting potential in addition to some offseason moves has the potential to make San Francisco a division contender this year. The only problem is all the moves that the team in Los Angeles made, and that could lead to a new, blooming rivalry in the NFC West.
● RB Jerick McKinnon ● CB Richard Sherman
● RB Carlos Hyde ● C Daniel Kilgore
A lot of attention will be put on Jimmy G and newcomer Richard Sherman on defense. Sherman won’t have too much problem adapting to his new team as the defensive scheme is similar to what’s been run in Seattle. However, a key area to look at will be the backfield. The 49ers opted to switch out Carlos Hyde, who was the main starter for the last two and a half seasons with the team. He couldn’t break the 1,000-yard rushing mark last season, but still improved with 1,288 all-purpose yards and had 8 touchdowns.
They decided to pay Jerick McKinnon star money and take him from Minnesota. Although McKinnon has never been a full-time starter and hasn’t gotten past the 600-yard rushing mark in his four seasons with Minnesota, he did emerge as a significant dual threat. The team is clearly banking on his potential to blossom under Kyle Shanahan’s offense. Longtime veteran Joe Staley will continue to anchor the offensive line.
Notable Draft Picks
● OLB Fred Warner (BYU, Round 3)
There wasn’t a lot of positive analysis on the early draft picks for the 49ers. Questions surround top pick Mike McGlinchey, who is looking more like a future prospect fill for Staley instead of addressing needs at running back and quarterback depth. It was even more head-scratching when they used their second pick to fill an already depth position at wide receiver.
Los Angeles Rams
Overshadowing San Francisco’s moves are the Rams and their surprise run in 2017. They’re looking to capitalize on head coach Sean McVay’s first season and contend for a Super Bowl title immediately. Many talented short-term additions were made in the offseason, including trades for three All-Pro caliber players on defense. There’s also been a significant transition in wide receivers.
Another change they’ll need to adapt to is at offensive coordinator -- Matt LaFleur departs and took the opportunity at Tennessee. We’ll see how that impacts Jared Goff in his third season with the Rams. It was a dynamic difference in seasons for the young QB. He completed 54.6 percent of his passes in 2016 and had a ratio of 5 touchdowns to 7 picks. That boosted to a 62.1% completion rate and a 28-to-7 TD-INT ratio in the next year.
● WR Brandin Cooks ● DB Aqib Talib ● DT Ndamukong Suh
● WR Sammy Watkins ● LB Alec Ogletree
Even though the offense will see a lot of changes, there’s been a huge boost on defense -- which was already impressive last season. The Rams had the fourth-most sacks (48) and tied for sixth in pickoffs (18) as a team. One concern is the number of yards they’ve allowed, especially on the ground, and they look to shore that up with acquisitions like Ndamukong Suh.
Back on offense, Sammy Watkins has departed to Kansas City while Brandin Cooks joins his third different team in a third consecutive season. He had his best season yet in the third season with New Orleans back in 2016 with 1,173 passing yards and 8 touchdowns. He followed that up in New England with 1,082 passing yards and seven touchdowns. While slightly lower production, he looks to be a key receiver alongside Cooper Kupp and Robert Woods.
Notable Draft Picks
● OT Joseph Noteboom (TCU, Round 3)
The Rams didn’t join the draft party until the 89th pick, but that was clearly not a focus for the upcoming season. They are going for a championship or bust mentality for 2018 (technically their 23rd pick was given for Cooks), but their real debut pick was strictly for backup purposes. A number of players are in the final year of their contracts on the offensive line, and Joseph Noteboom was a good value add with mass turnover looming.