Safe or Surprise Draft: NFC West
As the 2013 NFL Draft approaches, we're laying out both the safest and riskiest route that teams might take with their first selection. Read them all.
First pick: Round 1, No. 7 overall
The Safe Route: Lane Johnson, OT, Oklahoma
Anyone who watched even a few minutes of one Cardinals game last season knows how bad their offensive line was. And since Arizona has done nothing to address that problem spot this offseason, aside from signing Chilo Rachal (who was absolutely awful in Chicago), it stands to reason that the draft will provide some help.
The Surprise: Barkevious Mingo, OLB, LSU
We could drop Geno Smith in here, but I'm not sure that would qualify as a big enough surprise. Mingo, on the other hand, might be the Cardinals' Plan C if Smith and multiple offensive tackles are off the board. He also might be the pick if Arizona opts for the best-player-available strategy.
The Cardinals' pass rush is in dire need of another player that can get to the quarterback -- even more so now that Daryl Washington will be suspended for the first four games of 2013. Mingo would be a welcome addition there, especially with Arizona apparently committed to sticking in a 3-4 look.
San Francisco 49ers
First pick: Round 1, No. 31 overall
Donte Whitner had some shaky moments as the 49ers' season wore on and Dashon Goldson left via free agency. Even with the signing of Craig Dahl from St. Louis, San Francisco could use another piece here -- and particularly another young, athletic piece.
Take your pick of the safeties that may be available here: Elam, Reid, Jonathan Cyprien, D.J. Swearinger.
The Surprise: Margus Hunt, DE, SMU
The 49ers are thin up front on D -- they're attempting to replace the versatile Ricky Jean-Francois with draft bust Glenn Dorsey, but that may be a shot in the dark at best.
A player like Hunt, then, could be an ideal candidate for the 49ers in Round 1. Hunt is one of the more intriguing players in this draft. His 6-foot-8 height and relative inexperience with the game make him a bit of a project, but Hunt's ceiling might be higher than all but a handful of prospects.
He also played all over SMU's 3-4 front, so he could slide to DT in a pinch while adding a nice dimension in the DE rotation.
First pick: Round 2, No. 56 overall
The Safe Route: Kyle Long, G/T, Oregon
The Seahawks already made their big move, dealing their first-round pick, a seventh-rounder and a 2014 selection for Percy Harvin. If anything, they may opt to slide back even further from No. 56 to accumulate an extra pick or two.
Should they stay put, though, their main focus should be to add a body to their offensive line. That unit more than held its own in 2012, but the right side (Paul McQuistan, Breno Giacomini) is underwhelming and at the very least, Seattle needs a player capable of filling multiple backup spots.
Long, a promising lineman, fits the bill. He may not make it this far (heck, he may not get out of Round 1); if he does, his background in Oregon's up-tempo spread offense would set him up well to adjust to Seattle's attack.
The Surprise: Matt Scott, QB, Arizona
The Seahawks couldn't possibly use a higher pick for their backup QB than they used on starter Russell Wilson, could they? Probably not. And yet ...
The new Seattle backup, Brady Quinn, is not quite a fit for the zone-read offense. The trade of Matt Flynn also means that this team has very little cash tied up in its QB spot right now (Wilson's base salary for 2013 is about $526K). Scott, meanwhile, may not be in the upper echelon of this year's QB class, but he has experience running the option and plays with a headiness and toughness that Pete Carroll would appreciate.
St. Louis Rams
First picks: Round 1, Nos. 16 and 22 overall
Thanks to their multiple Round 1 picks, the Rams can turn a number of different ways early. The most obvious of their needs, however, is at wide receiver, where they have some promising young talent in Brian Quick, Austin Pettis and Chris Givens, but could use a game-changer.
The safety position might be in even more trouble, with Quintin Mikell a cap casualty and Craig Dahl leaving via free agency. Cyprien plus the aforementioned Elam and Reid all could be here for the taking.
The Surprise: Larry Warford, G, Kentucky or Jonathan Franklin, RB, Rams
St. Louis probably will not gamble on both of its Round 1 picks (assuming it keeps both and does not trade up or down), but if the Rams go the safe route with No. 16 -- likely by choosing a wide receiver -- then that No. 22 spot could get more interesting.
Warford probably deserves the nod as the draft's No. 3 guard, behind Chance Warmack and Jonathan Cooper. The Rams could use another reliable blocker inside, too, with Robert Turner signing in Tennessee recently. Franklin's the real swing-for-the-fences pick here. St. Louis seems content enough to enter 2013 with a Daryl Richardson/Isaiah Pead combo at running back, now that Steven Jackson is a Falcon. Still, should Franklin (or Eddie Lacy or Gio Bernard) be on the board at 22, the Rams might do a bit of a double take before sending their pick to the podium. Lacy's shaky run-up to the draft has dropped his status, while Franklin appears very NFL-ready.