The Wild Wild NFC West is an extremely intriguing division with strong organizations from top to bottom. Kyler and Kliff are the emerging team to watch after a fantastic offseason in the desert. Along with this duo, Russell Wilson and Aaron Donald will surely have their teams ready to try and unseat the defending NFC champs residing in the Bay Area. However, it won’t be easy, as San Fransisco was able to reload after their gutting Super Bowl collapse. Overall, with four teams that could possibly contend, here is how I see their futures playing out, both immediate and beyond.
* = 2020 Draft Selection
NOTABLE ADDITIONS: Larry Fitzgerald (WR, retained), DeAndre Hopkins (WR), Marcus Gilbert (OT), De’Vondre Campbell (LB), Devon Kennard (LB), Jordan Phillips (DE), Isaiah Simmons* (LB/S), Josh Jones* (OT), Leki Fotu* (DT), Eno Benjamin* (RB)
DRAFT GRADE: A (Hopkins trade factors into this grade)
FOG FAVORITE ADDITION: Isaiah Simmons and Josh Jones both standout as amazing value picks for AZ. Simmons was the third overall player on my board, and Jones was a top 50 talent taken in the third round. Aside from his talent, Jones already has familiarity with the Air Raid system, providing even more value to the pick. I had AZ going OT (Jedrick Wills) at #8 in my final mock draft, but somehow they end up with Simmons AND still secured a top OT prospect
NOTABLE SUBTRACTIONS: David Johnson (RB), Terrell Suggs (EDGE), Tramaine Brock (CB)
SMARTEST SUBRTACTION: While Keim and Kliff balled out in the draft, Arizona’s best move happened a month before that. They went out and acquired Hopkins for a relative bargain in David Johnson and a 2nd round pick – modern RBs now hold relatively little value in the position’s saturated market, as RB talent is easily found in later rounds. Nuk Hopkins is an inexplicably valuable piece of the prolific offense that Kliff and Kyler are constructing in the desert. Their WR room now features the elite Hopkins, HOFer Larry Fitzgerald, and a promising young talent in Christian Kirk. This trade, now matter how good David Johnson is in Houston, was an absolute steal and fleecing of Bill O’Brien. There was clear fundamental relationship issues between Hopkins and O’Brien’s to push Bill’s hand, because his return is not justified for a top 2 WR in the NFL.
FUTURE FORECAST: Arizona probably had the best offseason in the NFL, adding immediate difference makers on both sides of the ball. With the trajectory of their offense sky high, it will be up to Vance Joseph and the defense to complete the puzzle. However, their secondary still lacks pieces, so I expect their defensive struggles to continue, even with an improvement from 2019. In conclusion, this team will put up a lot of points in 2020, but the real window of opportunity for Arizona to make playoff noise is 2021.
2020 RECORD PROJECTION: 8-8 (OVER 7)
LOS ANGELES RAMS
NOTABLE ADDITIONS: Andrew Whitworth (OT, retained), Leonard Floyd (EDGE), A’Shawn Robinson (DT), Michael Brockers (DT), Austin Blythe (IOL), Cam Akers* (RB), Van Jefferson* (WR), Terrell Lewis* (OLB), Terrell Burgess* (S), Brycen Hopkins* (TE), Jordan Fuller* (S)
DRAFT GRADE: B+
FOG FAVORITE ADDITION: With no first round pick, the Rams went into the draft at a disadvantage, but left with a decent haul. My favorite pick of theirs was Van Jefferson, an extremely polished route runner with plus size that will thrive under McVay early on. He was selected with the pick (#57) that they acquired in the Cooks trade from Houston, and while Denzel Mims was still on the board, Van’s ability to step in right away and be a consistent option in the middle of the field makes him a good fit for the struggling Goff.
NOTABLE SUBTRACTIONS: Eric Weddle (S), Brandin Cooks (WR), Clay Matthews (OLB), Nickell Robey-Coleman (CB)
SMARTEST SUBTRACTION: Brandin Cooks was acquired to stretch the field, but his unfortunate concussions and high price tag were too much for LAR to swallow. They dealt him to Bill O’Brien for a second round pick and relief from paying him the rest of the ill-conceived 5 year/$81 million deal they signed before the season. However, they do incur $21.8 million in dead money from that deal (ESPN).
FUTURE FORECAST: Frankly, I don’t believe in Jared Goff’s ability to win important games without an elite roster around him. He had a prime chance to win a Super Bowl that he never even should have been in in the first place, and he laid an absolute egg. Did not even score a touchdown with one of the best offensive minds in the game calling his plays! That performance, while two years ago now, still speaks volumes for his future in LA without Gurley. He will never get back to that stage, even with the two best defensive players in the league on his team. He is the worst QB in the division, and I do not see that changing any time soon. We’ll see what Cam Akers can do to replace Gurley, but I have a hard time seeing McVay bringing this team back to its form as an offensive juggernaut. They blew their chance to win big in 2018, and now a possible rebuild looms in the distance. I would bet that McVay is already scouring his options for a future replacement (2022) of the mediocre Jared Goff, even with his massive contract on the books. Expect a mediocre Rams squad, at best, in 2020.
2020 RECORD PROJECTION: 6-10 (UNDER 8.5)
SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS
NOTABLE ADDITIONS: Trent Williams (OT), Jason Verrett (CB, retained), Tom Compton (G), Javon Kinlaw* (DT), Brandon Aiyuk* (WR), Colton McKivitz* (OT), Jauan Jennings* (WR)
DRAFT GRADE: A-
FOG FAVORITE ADDITIONS: Retaining Jason Verrett was a low risk-high reward ($1.04 M) decision by John Lynch. He has struggled mightily with injuries, but if he can stay healthy, he is an extremely talented and young CB to add to an already impressive secondary. I also love Aiyuk, his YAC and ability to stretch the field vertically should translate seamlessly to the next level. SF hopes he can replace the invaluable presence of veteran Emmanuel Sanders. The talented Juan Jennings fell to the 7th round because of behavior questions, but he could prove Lynch’s faith in him to be genius with time. He provides size and YAC ability that you simply can’t teach and won’t found in the 7th round
NOTABLE SUBTRACTIONS: DeForest Buckner (DT), Matt Breida (RB), Marquise Goodwin
SMARTEST SUBTRACTION: Matt Breida was a clear surplus in their RB room, especially with the incoming return of Jerick Mckinnon. Instead of cutting him with no compensation in return, Lynch was able to trade him to Miami for a 5th round pick (Colton McKivitz, OT).
FUTURE FORECAST: With the Lynch – Shanahan combo, this team’s future couldn’t be in better hands. Lynch surprised many when he traded his All-Pro defensive lineman to the Colts for #13 overall, but he simply reloaded the position with a dominant defender in Kinlaw, all in an effort to avoid shelling out a huge contract to Buckner. This could prove to be an extremely savvy move for the future of SF, as it liberates them to pay others with Kinlaw on his rookie contract. This move will prolong the 49ers dominance in the defensive trenches for years to come. This defense, combined with Shanahan’s offensive greatness, spells continued success for years to come in the Bay Area. With AZ still a year away, I see them winning the West relatively easily.
2020 RECORD PROJECTION: 11-5 (OVER 10.5)
NOTABLE ADDITIONS: Greg Olsen (TE), Bruce Irvin (EDGE), Quinton Dunbar (CB), B.J. Finney (C), Philip Dorsett (WR), Jordyn Brooks* (ILB), Darrell Taylor* (DE), Damien Lewis* (G), DeeJay Dallas* (RB), Colby Parkinson* (TE), Freddie Swain* (WR), Anthony Gordon (QB, UDFA)
FOG FAVORITE ADDITION: He went in the sixth round because he’s not the sexiest player, but Freddie Swain is going to be a very productive player and a steal for Seattle. His natural twitch and ability to create separation in the slot will make him a dependable 3rd down option for Russell Wilson.
DRAFT GRADE: B-
NOTABLE SUBTRACTIONS: Jadeveon Clowney (EDGE), Justin Britt (C), D.J. Fluker (G), Tedric Thompson (S)
SMARTEST SUBTRACTION: Britt cleared $8.5M in cap space with his release, a no-brainer after he failed his physical. Clowney has his price tag high, and while he is an ultra athletic and physical addition for any defense, he simply doesn’t have the raw production, specifically rushing the passer, to land the type of money he is currently asking for.
FUTURE FORECAST: In the past three years, Seattle has seen its vaunted defense dwindle away almost as quickly as it came together. While they have continued to win games due to Russell Wilson’s heroics, he can only do so much. Their Week 17 game against the 49ers summed them up perfectly – their defense got manhandled, their offensive weapons were mostly ineffective, but Wilson somehow kept them in it until the very last play. Brooks gives them another athletic linebacker alongside Bobby and KJ, but I saw that as a reach in R1. Jon Schneider had a chance to fill their gaping hole at CB with an impressive group available, but elected to take ‘his guy’ instead. Overall, I see their lack of investment in the secondary to be a massive mistake and a sign of ignorance. The backend of their defense looks like the opposite of the LOB, especially with the recent arrest of Quinton Dunbar. Therefore, coupled with losing Clowney, I expect them to struggle mightily to defend the pass in 2020, and that will result in more losses than any team would expect to suffer with Wilson at QB.
That being said, expect Schneider to make a run at veteran CBs still available via FA, including the prized Logan Ryan, in the wake of Dunbar’s arrest.
2020 RECORD PREDICTION: 7-9 (UNDER 9.5)