During the 2012 NFL season the NFC West was a division that was the case of the “haves” and the “have nots”. The Seattle Sehawks and San Francisco 49ers were the class of the NFC, while the Arizona Cardinals and St. Louis Rams continued to under perform and lose ground on their division rivals.
So when the 2013 NFL Draft came around you saw teams with very different strategies. The 49ers and Seahawks had the luxury of making picks based on best on their boards with few significant holes to fill. The Cardinals and Rams, on the other hand, had to approach the draft filling significant needs if they hope to be competitive. Let’s take a look at all four teams and see how these strategies worked.
Arizona Cardinals-The Cardinals needed help along the offensive line, and getting offensive guard Jonathan Cooper in the first round made perfect sense. He’s a tremendous player and could be plug and play from day one. The same goes for linebacker Kevin Minter who should be able to start at one of the vacant linebacker spots. But beyond those two picks there were some puzzling ones with high risk players who may never pan out, like troubled cornerback Tyrann Mathieu. Then drafting two running backs after signing free agent running back Rashard Mendenhall were also puzzling moves.
Sleeper pick–Ryan Swope, wide receiver. I’m not sure where Swope will line up for the Cardinals, but he’s got talent and if he can stay healthy he can find ways to get open. The key will be if there’s someone to throw him the ball.
St. Louis Rams-The Rams continue to try and find answers on the offense. Quarterback Sam Bradford has struggled with very limited weapons around him, but this year the Rams went all in. Drafting wide receiver teammates Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey shows that this team is going to throw the football more. Added onto the offseason moves on the offensive line I expect this offense to fly. The addition of linebacker Alec Ogletree and safety TJ McDonald also bolster an up and coming defense. Overall needs were met and this team got better.
Sleeper pick–Zac Stacy, running back. With the loss of running back Steven Jackson I thought they would draft a running back sooner, but getting Stacy this late was a real steal. Even though he was a fifth round pick, I expect to see him getting carries early and often.
San Francisco 49ers-The 49ers made it to the Super Bowl on the back of stellar offensive line play, a smothering defense, and a dynamic quarterback. For the draft they really knocked it out of the park, upgrading their secondary, pass rushers, and wide receivers as well as adding depth at other spots. They really showed that simply taking the highest rated player on the board pays off. I really love the pick of wide receiver Quinton Patton in the fourth round to add a more explosive presence in the passing game.
Sleeper pick–Marcus Lattimore, running back. If Lattimore can fully recover from his horrific knee injury, he is the long-term answer at running back for the 49ers.There is no rush to bring him along, and the pick could reap big dividends down the line.
Seattle Seahawks-The Seahawks understood they needed to get deeper along their defensive front, and they did just that with defensive tackles Jordan Hill and Jesse Williams. They also rolled the dice on a couple of troubled players with tremendous upside in running back Christine Michael and cornerback Tharold Simon. Both could develop into great players or flame out completely, but overall this draft wasn’t as effective as the 49ers’ selections of best players available.
Sleeper pick–Spencer Ware, running back. The Seahawks demand their running backs to run hard, absorb punishment and do the dirty work. In the Seahawks system, Ware could develop into just that type of running back.