San Francisco 49ers
The Niners had an inspired and carefully thought out plan for the draft that deserves tremendous credit and praise.
Clearly they acknowledged it was going to be very difficult to keep both Arik Armstead and DeForest Buckner. So rather than simply let Armstead walk in free agency in return for a possible comp pick, they moved Buckner for the #13 pick in the draft. This, in turn, allowed them to replace Buckner with another top-15 selection in Javon Kinlaw.
The alternative was to let Armstead walk and try to replace him with limited resources and one draft pick before round five. Trading Buckner probably was a tough pill to swallow but it was clearly the best way to secure their NFL-leading D-line for the foreseeable future. Armstead, Kinlaw and Nick Bosa are all signed to long term deals, instead of just Buckner and Bosa — with no obvious way to replace Armstead.
Trading up for Brandon Aiyuk was also another smart move. He was always underrated in the media and a legitimate first round prospect. He’s an ideal fit for Kyle Shanahan’s offense with the YAC talent and breathtaking acceleration to be a leading light for the Niners passing and return game.
The trade for Trent Williams was similarly masterful. It took the Seahawks an age to sufficiently replace Russell Okung — going through Bradley Sowell, George Fant and Rees Odhiambo before eventually spending a second and third round pick on Duane Brown. The Niners made their move for Williams (for a mere third and fifth rounder) before the announcement that Joe Staley was retiring was even made.
They’ve legitimately acquired three impact players for 2020. Their day three picks — Colt McKivitz, Charlie Woerner and Jauaun Jennings all have a shot to last too. This was a terrific draft and off-season for the Niners, securing their status as the team to beat in the NFC.
The Rams are in a weird position at the moment. They’re going through a bit of a roster reset at the same time as adding major talent at a huge price. Trading for Jalen Ramsey while paying Jared Goff and Aaron Donald huge sums was bold but has thinned out their depth. They seemed to be ‘all-in’ and now they’re ‘sort of all-in’.
They still have the talent to cause teams major problems. In Donald they have the defining defensive player of this generation and a true game-wrecker. Ramsey is arguably the most talented defensive back in the NFL. Sean McVay’s offense is still incredibly difficult to stop as Seattle witnessed in LA last season.
They have lost players though and had to patch-up other areas. With no first round pick they’ve been pretty much forced to bring back Andrew Whitworth. Corey Littleton, Dante Fowler, Nickell Robey-Coleman and Greg Zuerlein have departed. They accepted their fate with Todd Gurley. They didn’t have the money to bring in reinforcements on the open market. They did catch a break with Michael Brockers returning, having initially agreed terms with Baltimore.
They were also incredibly fortunate to coax a second round pick out of Houston for Brandin Cooks.
The draft was an attempt of sorts to try and fill some holes. The Rams were practically unstoppable in 2018 when Gurley provided a dual-threat in the backfield. Cam Akers was an inspired pick and he’s very capable of filling that void. They will hope that Van Jefferson’s consistency and sharp technique will make up for the Cooks whiff. There are question marks about his health too though. Likewise, there are major concerns about Terrell Lewis’ ability to stay healthy. They will hope he can replace Dante Fowler but having laboured through his final year at Alabama, it’s no given.
The Rams remain good enough to beat any team on their day — yet they’re far from the complete roster that saw them make the Super Bowl. Any kind of bad luck with injuries will test their weak depth. They’ll likely need another off-season (or two) to get back to their peak powers. They’re still an incredibly difficult opponent and they’ve scored 42, 33, 36, 29 and 28 points in their last five games against Seattle.
The Cardinals pulled off a heist at the start of free agency, trading for DeAndre Hopkins, to launch their attempt to become a serious contender in the NFC West. Kyler Murray has already shown he has the potential to be a special talent. Giving him Hopkins to go with Larry Fitzgerald makes for a serious headache for the rest of the division — especially if some of their younger receivers can take a step forward.
They also added an impact player in the top-10 with Isaiah Simmons. How they use him will be important. They can’t afford to waste a few years working out his fit like they’ve done with Haason Reddick. He has the potential, however, to be the ultimate modern-day defender and a huge boost for a team that’ll need to spy Russell Wilson and provide a coverage solution for George Kittle.
I wasn’t a Josh Jones fan but getting him in round three is great value. Leki Fotu and Rashard Lawrence will sure-up the interior D-line and they already have an elite pass rusher in Chandler Jones. Eno Benjamin is a great compliment to Kenyan Drake.
The Cardinals are still missing a few pieces. The O-line has question marks. Players like Christian Kirk and Andy Isabella have flattered to deceive and they need a speed element on offense. The defense maybe lacks some teeth to go with the obvious talent of Jones, Simmons, Patrick Peterson and Budda Baker.
Even so — this is a team a year removed from picking first overall and they’re very much heading in the right direction. They might not be the finished article yet but they’ll be a difficult opponent every week. They improved this off-season.
With the Cardinals growing, the Niners enhancing their status at the top of the conference and the Rams proving a particularly difficult challenge for the Seahawks — this is a murderers row of opponents for Seattle in 2020.
On the positive side, they have the best player in the division (Russell Wilson). They’ve also found a way to play the Niners close, which is a good thing given how much they struggle against McVay and the Rams.
Since Seattle’s last Super Bowl appearance, the Rams and Niners have both competed for a title and the Cardinals have been in the NFC Championship game. The Seahawks have become stuck in a rut — being good enough to finish second in the West and make the playoffs — but not good enough to go much further.
It’s going to be difficult to end that run in 2020. Certainly not impossible — but difficult.
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