The Division home to the NFC representative in the Super Bowl for the past three seasons, the NFC West has gone from the laughing stock of the league, sending a 7-9 Seahawks to the playoffs in 2010, to the Seahawks being the class of the NFC. Potentially the most talented and toughest in the league, this season could see all 4 teams push to make the post season. The draft showed the direction these teams are going in, let’s see who’s ready to make an impact:
St. Louis Rams
Impact Rookie: Todd Gurley III, RB Georgia
The St. Louis Rams made a serious statement during this offseason and in the draft. They want to run the ball. They drafted four Offensive Linemen, and with their first pick, they took potentially the best Runningback in this class. Gurley is a specimen who is still recovering from a Torn ACL, but should be back to full strength by the start of the season. Gurley is a difference maker, and will be a safety blanket for the newcomer Nick Foles. I wouldn’t be surprised if Gurley ends up as the Offensive Rookie of the Year.
Delayed Impact: Sean Mannion, QB Oregon State
Like Ereck Flowers, I got pretty animated on Twitter, which you can follow me at @RieseDraft, when Mannion was selected in the 3rd round. Before Brett Hundley, before Bryce Petty. I was not a fan of Sean Mannion in the slightest, as the NFL apparently liked him because he’s tall and can throw the ball hard. He showed little to no poise in the pocket at Oregon State, and struggled mightily when he lost his weapon Brandin Cooks. I’d honestly be surprised if he’s in the league in 4 years.
Diamond in the Rough: Bryce Hager, LB Baylor
Late 7th round picks often don’t drum up much excitement, but Hager was a popular commodity earlier in the offseason, and could be a nice piece to this defense. Hager is a tackling machine, and although his athleticism isn’t a huge advantage, he uses his instincts to win. Expect Special Teams immediately for Hager, and down the line he could become a rotational Linebacker.
San Francisco 49ers
Impact Rookie: Eli Harold, OLB Virginia
In the midst of the Aldon Smith situation, and after losing Dan Skuta to the Jaguars this offseason, the 49ers will be looking to replace some pass rush production, and Harold has the athleticism to help. He lacks a little sand in his britches, but his speed off the edge is above average. He could be a pleasant surprise that the 49ers weren’t looking to need this early.
Delayed Impact: Arik Armstead, DL Oregon
Despite being selected higher, Armstead is far from reaching his full potential. His elite size, 6’7″ 292, will help add girth along the defensive front, but his pass rushing prowess leaves a bit to be desired. As of right now he’s mostly a run stuffer, and while he’ll rotate into the game, don’t expect him to be a gamechanger until a D-Line coach can have him for a few years.
Diamond in the Rough: Trent Brown, OT Florida
ESPN’s Seth Greenberg often uses this saying when discussing post players, but Trent Brown fits: “He’s a mountain masquerading as a man!” as well as anyone maybe in the football playing universe. At an imposing 6’8 1/2″ and 355 pounds, Brown is simply bigger than anyone he lines up against, however that comes at a cost, as he can struggle to keep his balance and he often fails to maintain blocks past his initial punch. If he can get it straightened out, however, the Niners got one HUGE, pun intended, steal at the end of the 7th round,
Impact Rookie: David Johnson, RB Northern Iowa
The featured offensive player at Northern Iowa, Johnson was one of the most versatile backs in this draft. He is nearly as adept catching the ball out of the backfield and lined up in the slot as he is sorting his way through the tackles. He likely won’t start immediately, but he could be a 3rd Down Back with his pass protection and receiving prowess.
Delayed Impact: D.J. Humphries, OT Florida
I was higher on Humphries than most throughout the process, and I think this is a nice situation for him, but he’s simply not in a position to start immediately. Humphries could still stand to spend a season in an NFL weight program, so this isn’t all bad. I still expect Humphries to be a solid, quality starting Tackle in this league.
Diamond in the Rough: Rodney Gunter, DL Delaware State
The first player that I hadn’t heard of to be drafted, Gunter has been getting rave reviews during camp. A 4th rounder out of the MEAC often doesn’t have super high expectations, but Gunter has the size: 6’4″ 300, to make a difference on the Defensive Line. It might not be this year, but don’t be shocked to hear Gunter’s name in the near future.
Impact Rookie: Tyler Lockett, WR Kansas State
In the NFL, size matters. If Tyler Lockett was 6’3″ and 200 pounds, he’d have been a top 10 pick. However, he’s 5’9″ and 180 pounds. This doesn’t keep Lockett from torching defenders consistently. I wouldn’t be surprised at all if Lockett leads the Seahawks both in catches and in Touchdowns. He’ll operate almost solely out of the slot, but Lockett has the pedigree and the skills to translate easily to the NFL game.
Delayed Impact: Frank Clark, DL Michigan
Frank Clark was one of the more talented EDGE players to enter this year’s draft, which was full of them. Clark, the ex-Michigan standout was the Seahawks’ first pick in this draft due to them shipping their 1st rounder to the Big Easy for Jimmy Graham. Clark likely won’t contribute much more than in a rotational capacity at any point this season, but he was kicked off of Michigan’s team for a domestic incident, something we know the NFL doesn’t take lightly. He is still being investigated, so it’ll be interesting to see if Seattle wants to deal with the trouble Clark brings.
Diamond in the Rough: Obum Gwachum, LB Oregon State
I can say in all sincerity that Obum Gwachum, aside from being on the All-Name Team, is one of the more remarkable athletes I’ve ever heard of. A Triple and Long jump champion in HS in California, Gwachum decided to play football his Senior Year of High School. After 3 years at Wide Receiver at Oregon State, it was decided that he’d switch to Defensive End. As a reserve at Defensive End, he managed 4 sacks for the Beavers. At the Combine, he was listed as a Linebacker, and that’s where Seattle will play him. His explosive athleticism in space should be a benefit, and he’ll learn behind K.J. Wright, not a bad gig.