In this four downs segment we will be examining some of the off-season moves for every team in the NFC West.
First Down — Seattle Seahawks
The Seattle WR situation clarified a little bit more recently with the sudden retirement of Sidney Rice. That leaves Ricardo Lockette and Chris Mathews potentially battling for one roster spot, assuming Seattle keeps 6 WR’s. Percy Harvin, newly extended Doug Baldwin and Super Bowl standout Jermaine Kearse are virtual locks to make the team, as are rookies Paul Richardson and Kevin Norwood (though Norwood has been sidelined after a surgey to remove bone spurs from his ankle). While lockette offers significant special teams appeal and has a history in Seattle, the newly inked Mathews was the CFL Rookie of the Year only two seasons ago and offers the significant red-zone size Seattle may be craving after watching Rice retire. Though the Seahawks have been one of the most run heavy teams in the NFL coach Pete Carroll intimated that they would like to take advantage of what he perceives as an upgraded passing game.
Second Down–San Francisco 49’ers
With the loss of both Kendall Hunter and LaMichael James in the last few days the door has been sprung wide open for rookie Carlos Hyde to firmly entrench himself as the heir apparent to Frank Gore. Though Hyde lacks the lateral agility of James and Hunter he has incredible power and burst that seems to wear defenses down as the game progresses. If Hyde can stay on the field, he has missed at least two games the last three seasons, I see no reason why he can’t legitimately carve out a sizable role in the San Francisco running game as a rookie. At the very least, Hyde is a legitimate threat to vulture 8-10 TD’s and should be targeted by every Gore owner.
Third Down–Arizona Cardinals
The return of last years first round pick Jonathan Cooper, a 311lb mauler, and the addition of blind side stalwart Jared Veldheer should improve what was one of the weakest offensive lines in the league last season. That improvement, combined with the continued ascensions of both Michael Floyd and Andre Ellington, could turn Arizona’s vertical offense into a truly explosive unit. This is a team that went 10-6 last season with the definition of a patchwork line, and though media pundits tend to focus attention on Seattle and San Francisco, let’s not forget that Arizona was in position to snatch the playoffs away from San Fran until the final game of the season.
Fourth Down–St. Louis Rams
Devoting yet another top pick to a lineman in Auburn tackle Greg Robinson has shown that St. Louis is planning on doing everything they can to protect “franchise” quarterback Sam Bradford. Robinson, along with a recovered Jake Long and a resigned Rodger Saffold, comprise one of the strongest offensive lines in the NFL, in theory. While the running game was injected with some speed, with the addition of Tre Mason to work in tandem with grinding Zac Stacy, the WR corp saw very little change during the off season outside of adding the ultimate question mark in Kenny Britt (Caveat, I am a professed Britt believer this year, I am drinking the Kool-aid). Coach Jeff Fisher presided over Britt during his tenure in Tennessee and was able to turn him into a WR on the verge of elite status. He will have to hope to turn back the hands of time, and knee injuries, because without a healthy Britt this passing game offers almost nothing that would be considered even a suitable NFL starting WR. Unfortunately for Rams fans this team will go as far as Sam Bradford and his laundry list of ailments can take them, and it is even money that the bottom of the power house NFC West is the likeliest destination.