Every year the draft comes and goes with analysts and draftniks alike rushing to put a letter grade on each teams draft, despite the overwhelming fact that it will take years to determine their level of success. Instead of attempting to predict the future, the goal is to analyze various aspects of each divisions draft class. Focusing on which players are in the most advantageous positions and which players could be looking at early struggles. Next up, the NFC West:
Top Contender for Offensive Rookie of the Year
Tavon Austin – WR, St. Louis Rams #8 Overall
Tavon Austin was the most explosive offensive playmaker available in the 2013 NFL Draft and the Rams paid a hefty price to move up from #16 to the Bills spot at #8 in round one in order to draft the pint sized highlight reel from West Virginia. The 5’8 174 lb. Austin may never be a traditional #1 wide receiver but the Rams were willing to give up their #46 pick in round two in order to move up into the top 10 and secure his unique services. While Austin is a threat to reach the endzone every time he touches the football, it is his ability to line up from anywhere on the offensive side of the ball that makes him so dangerous. Offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer will look to feature Austin on a weekly basis, both as a receiver and a runner. Austin has the skillset to line up on the outside, in the slot, or even line up in the backfield and take handoffs. His open field ability will make him one of the most dangerous return men in the NFL and one of the league’s most exciting players. The up and coming Rams offense is littered with youth while this is their most explosive group of receivers since the days of the “greatest show on turf“. With the addition of tight end Jared Cook to go along with the further development of young wide receivers and 2012 draft pick’s Brian Quick and Chris Givens, expectations are sky high for quarterback Sam Bradford and the Rams receiving corps and Tavon Austin’s gamebreaking ability is a big part of it.
Top Contender for Defensive Rookie of the Year
Alec Ogletree – LB, St. Louis Rams #30 Overall
The Rams took a big step towards solidifying their up and coming front 7 with the addition of Alec Ogletree, the athletic playmaking linebacker from Georgia. Ogletree has top 15 talent, but a growing list of off the field concerns led to his near fall out of the first round. Luckily for the former Georgia Bulldog, Rams Head Coach Jeff Fisher has always been willing to gamble on character concerns and believes that his locker room will be a good place to help him develop on and off of the field. On the field, it is an excellent fit for Ogletree schematically. As a finesse linebacker, having a big and talented defensive line featuring 3 high first round picks and 2012 key free agent signee Kendall Langford will keep him clean and free to make plays sideline to sideline. Off the field, sitting next to an established leader and professional like James Laurinaitis will not only help him on the field but also show him how to prepare Monday through Saturday and be a professional. Ogletree will start out at the left outside linebacker position opposite of Jo-Lonn Dunbar. The left side is generally considered the “strongside” and Ogletree will be somewhat out of his element if asked to play a traditional strongside linebacker role within the defense. Ogletree is in a fantastic position to make a lot of plays for one of the NFL’s rising teams and could find himself squarely in the discussion for Defensive Rookie of the Year.
Best Schematic Fit
Jonathan Cooper – OG, Arizona Cardinals #7 Overall
When general manager Steve Keim introduced Bruce Arians as the new head coach of the Arizona Cardinals, Arians promised that he would address and improve the offensive line. The Cardinals wound up using their #7 pick in the first round on Jonathan Cooper, the athletic and versatile guard from North Carolina. Inserted into the starting line up at left guard almost immediately and the Cardinals are hoping that Cooper along with the further development of 2012 4th Rounder Bobby Massie and the healthy returns of Levi Brown and Lyle Sendlein will bring the Cardinals offensive line back to respectability. With Bruce Arians placing an emphasis on the downfield passing game, an athletic and efficient pass blocker like Cooper is a perfect fit next to the more physical Levi Brown at left tackle. If Daryn Colledge can find a home at right guard, Cardinals quarterback Carson Palmer should be well protected up the middle and actually have a pocket to step into and make downfield throws. A clean pocket has been a luxury rarely provided in Arizona the past few years.
Eric Reid – S, San Francisco 49ers #18 Overall
Eric Reid is entering a unique situation in San Francisco, and will be facing some unreasonably high expectations. #1 – Reid is taking over for departed pro bowl safety Dashon Goldson, a daunting task on its own. #2 – the 49ers traded their #31 pick and the 71st pick in round 3 in order to move up and secure Reid, an interesting move considering the strength and depth of the 2013 safety class. #3 – the 49ers have a Super Bowl contending team and Reid will be expected to produce right away, fair or not, the 49ers are looking to the LSU rookie to make an impact from day 1. Likely pairing with strong safety Donte Whitner, Reid will face little competition from CJ Spillman and veteran journeyman Craig Dahl. The 49ers have a very strong veteran presence in their secondary and Reid would be wise to soak up as much knowledge as possible from Carlos Rogers, Nnamdi Asomugha, and Whitner, all former first round picks.
Under the Radar Impact Player
Quinton Patton – WR, San Francisco 49ers #128 Overall
When Michael Crabtree suffered a torn Achilles tendon in last months organized team activities, Quinton Patton was put on the fast track to playing time. The ultra productive wide receiver from Louisiana Tech will compete for the #3 wide receiver role with last years first round disappointment AJ Jenkins. Win or lose, the 128th pick in the 2013 draft is in line to see a substantial role on a Super Bowl contender in Greg Roman’s offensive scheme. Patton has also gotten early looks in the return game and appears to be a player the 49ers are looking to get the ball to. He will have an excellent opportunity to learn from a couple of self made and savvy veterans in Mario Manningham and newly acquired Anquan Boldin, players who have thrived in the league despite a lack of elite physical ability or lofty draft status. For a 4th round pick, Quinton Patton could not have asked for a better opportunity to produce for a winner.
Christine Michael – RB, Seattle Seahawks #62 Overall
Christine Michael is arguably as talented as any running back available in the 2013 NFL Draft, but his talent has never been questioned and is certainly not the reason he was a reach with the final pick in round 2. Plagued by injuries while at Texas A&M, Michael also has a history of off the field concerns and spent 2012 in Aggies head coach Kevin Sumlin’s doghouse. With the running back position already having a shorter NFL shelf life, investing an early pick in what could be “damaged goods” is a risky proposition. Factor in the apparent attitude issues and the Seahawks spent an early pick on a player with on and off the field baggage while playing a position of diminishing value.
Highest Bust Potential
Tyrann Mathieu – CB/FS, Arizona Cardinals #69 Overall
One of the biggest names in the 2013 NFL Draft, former LSU cornerback Tyrann Mathieu sat out the 2012 season after being kicked off of the team due to reportedly failing over 10 drug tests while in Baton Rouge. The Cardinals felt comfortable taking the troubled for Heisman finalist due to his relationship with former teammate and current Cardinals cornerback Patrick Peterson. The Cardinals feel that the presence of Peterson will keep Mathieu out of trouble and focused on football, while bringing some of his playmaking flair to the secondary. Mathieu does offer a rare ability to make plays on the ball, but is a bit of a tweener as he is a tad slow for a short corner and too small to be an every down safety. Regardless of his true position, the league is full of situational players and Mathieu brings value in both coverage and the return game. Keeping his off the field issues under control is the biggest threat to Mathieu’s NFL potential and while it is understandable that the Cardinals want Patrick Peterson to take Mathieu under his wing, it is hard to grasp why they would want to surround their franchise corner with a potentially negative influence and what amounts to a role/special teams player.
Best 2nd Round Pick
Cornelius “Tank” Carradine – DE/LB San Francisco 49ers #40 Overall
Once ticketed for the top ten, a November ACL tear knocked Florida State’s Tank Carradine to the middle of round 2. Physically explosive and borderline dominant as a senior in Tallahassee, Carradine will most likely start the year on the physically unable to perform list while he recovers from his knee injury. Slated to play outside linebacker in 49ers defensive coordinator Vic Fangio’s defense, Carradine could be activated to the active roster to become part of the pass rush rotation for the teams post season run. Once healthy and fully acclimated to the speed of the NFL, Carradine and 49ers sack leader Aldon Smith could form one of the most dominating edge rushing duo’s in the league.
Best 3rd Round Pick
Stedman Bailey – WR, St. Louis Rams #92 Overall
Reunited with former West Virginia teammate Tavon Austin, Stedman Bailey enters the mix in the all of the sudden deep and talented Rams receiving corps. Capable of playing in the slot or on the outside, Bailey has sure hands, can create separation, and found the endzone more than any receiver in college football a year ago. Joining Austin, Chris Givens, Austin Pettis, and Brian Quick the Rams went from one of the worst groups of in the league to one of its most promising. Bailey should factor into the passing game early and often.
Best 4th Round Pick
Chris Harper – WR, Seattle Seahawks #123 Overall
Pete Carroll and the Seattle Seahawks play a physical brand of football and they found a wide receiver cut from the same cloth in round 4 of the 2013 NFL draft. Chris Harper is one of the most physical and punishing receivers in the country and is a mirror image of a young Anquan Boldin. The Seahawks bolstered their receiving corps with a trade for disgruntled Vikings playmaker Percy Harvin to go along with Sidney Rice and Golden Tate, the newfound depth will allow Harper to be brought along slowly and compete with Doug Baldwin for the 4th receiver spot. A good route runner with strong hands and run after the catch ability, Chris Harper should prove to be an absolute steal of a 4th round pick.
Best 5th Round Pick
Jesse Williams – DT, Seattle Seahawks #137 Overall
When Jesse Williams entered the draft he was considered a strong candidate to go in the first round, but a checkered medical history and lingering knee issues pushed him into the middle of the drafts final day. When healthy, Williams is a powerful defender who anchors well against the run. He has experience at both 3-4 nose tackle and 5 technique and should find his way into the Seahawks defensive line rotation as a situational run defender rather quickly. His talent level gives him serious starting potential if he can figure out a way to stay healthy.
Best 6th Round Pick
Andre Ellington – RB, Arizona Cardinals #187 Overall
The Cardinals offense added some explosive firepower when the drafted former Clemson Tiger Andre Ellington in the 6th round. An explosive outside runner, Ellington is a threat in space and could push for touches early and often in 2013. The Cardinals added Rashard Mendenhall and Stepfan Taylor to go along with the disappointing Ryan Williams, so the Cardinals have something of a logjam at running back. Ellington is by far the best in space and brings a unique explosiveness that no other back on the roster can match. By 2014, the Cardinals could have a two headed running attack featuring Ellington and Taylor.
Best 7th Round Pick
Ty Powell – LB/DE, Seattle Seahawks #231 Overall
Powell is an athletic former defensive back that grew into a disruptive presence as an edge rusher. He will be a long term project as the “Leo” edge rusher in Pete Carroll’s defense while contributing on special teams. His unique athleticism helped him notch 4 blocked kicks at Harding University to go along with 8.5 sacks as a senior. The Seahawks defense is loaded with talent, so if Powell is going to make the team his special teams impact will be key.
UDFA Most Likely to Earn a Roster Spot
Tony Jefferson – S, Arizona Cardinals
The Cardinals roster has undergone some drastic changes from the new regime headed by general manager Steve Keim. New defensive coordinator Todd Bowles has some question marks at safety which led to the signing of undrafted free agent Tony Jefferson. Jefferson entered the draft early after a productive 3 year career at Oklahoma, after recording a 4.71 forty yard dash time at the combine Jefferson plummeted down draft boards and ultimately went undrafted. Jefferson is a talented player who showed good range in college and has NFL ability, he will battle Justin Bethel and Jon Amaya for the final safety spot in Arizona.