The NFC West has been a hot bed for IDP prospects over the last half decade. Each year the top ten linebackers have been littered with the likes of NaVorro Bowman, Alec Ogletree, Bobby Wagner, Mark Barron, Patrick Willis, Daryl Washington and K.J. Wright. This division has become one of the hardest hitting in all of football and even though the schemes, coaches and players change, the production remains and this year’s draft gave us some new names to take into account.
We’ll look at the IDP winners and losers of the NFC West today.
Haason Reddick, LB
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Reddick was generating huge buzz leading up to the draft and his IDP stock depended heavily on where he ended up. Being drafted by the Cardinals was arguably the best case scenario. Even though he’s a shade undersized at 6’1” and 237 pounds, Reddick more than makes up for it with his off the charts athleticism and still improving instincts. He often gets compared to Steelers linebacker Ryan Shazier and I think that’s a very fair comparison. They both play lightning quick and cover sideline to sideline.
The Cardinals defense, led by coordinator James Bettcher, uses more mixed fronts and versatile hybrid types of players than anyone in the league. Having guys like Tyrann Mathieu, Patrick Peterson, Deonne Bucannon, Chandler Jones, Budda Baker and Haason Reddick gives them the luxury of disguising their defense without exchanging personnel. Reddick has the look of long term LB1 both in tackle heavy and big play leagues. It’s going to be exciting.
Budda Baker, S
Like I mentioned above in talking about Reddick, Baker brings off the charts versatility to the Cardinals secondary. When you stop to think about the players he’ll be playing with back there in Patrick Peterson and Tyrann Mathieu, not to mention Antione Bethea, and you wonder how offenses are going to diagnose the coverage pre-snap. All of these guys can blitz and play the pass and James Bettcher will undoubtedly get all four of these guys on the field at the same time.
It’s clear this defense wants to play fast, fast, fast and they have the weapons at every level to do it. It’ll be interesting to see the snap counts in the secondary because they all have the upside of being top 12 at their position.
Tyvon Branch, S/CB
It’s been a long time since Tyvon Branch has been a fantasy relevant asset, but he was once one of the best in the game. His signing with the Cardinals last year put him in position to regain legitimate IDP value but couldn’t stay healthy. He injured his groin twice last year and had to cut his salary in half this off-season just to remain on the roster.
The team’s selection of Budda Baker clearly tells me they’ve moved on. Baker is everything Branch used to be and he’ll be real lucky to make the final 53 on an extremely talented roster.
Los Angeles Rams
Robert Quinn, OLB
The Rams’ switch to Wade Phillips’ 3-4 defense massively hurt Robert Quinn’s IDP value this off-season. They didn’t have the personnel to make the switch but Phillips is smart enough to game plan around the tools he has.
Adding Connor Barwin in free agency was a good start as the veteran has experience playing in Phillips’ defense after their time together in Houston. Adding an explosive project player in the draft like Samson Ebukam to pair him with was really smart. This should help keep offenses honest so they can completely scheme away from Quinn. The two should be able to manufacture enough of a consistent pass rush to get Quinn one on one scenarios.
There’s still work to do in the coming years and a switch back to a 4-3 would ultimately still be the best case scenario for Quinn’s IDP value but this is a decent start in helping his cause as an outside linebacker.
The draft didn’t produce any additions for the Rams defense to the point where it negatively impacted any individual. We’ll see if that ends up being a good or bad thing.
San Francisco 49ers
NaVorro Bowman, MLB
Bowman has been one of the league’s best linebackers since entering the league but he has also endured quite a bit adversity due to injuries. He’s fighting his way back from a torn Achilles injury suffered in week four of last year but has a revamped cast around him to hopefully lessen the load.
The team added Solomon Thomas with the third overall pick. By moving down one spot they acquired a third and fourth round pick in this year’s draft along with a third next year. Acquiring the extra fourth round pick made it that much easier to move up from 34 to 31 to select Reuben Foster, the super talented linebacker from Alabama to stick next to Bowman. Foster and Bowman will give Niner fans flashbacks of the Willis/Bowman heyday of yesteryear and add insurance should Bowman suffer another setback as he recovers from his second leg injury since 2014.
Robert Saleh, Defensive Coordinator
Saleh is the 49ers defensive coordinator and it’s his first time holding the position after stints in Houston, Seattle and Jacksonville. He’s a disciple of Gus Bradley and will undoubtedly bring a heavy dose of that mindset to the Bay. Drafting Solomon Thomas to add to former first round picks Arik Armstead and DeForest Buckner will look a lot like what Seattle does with Cliff Avril, Michael Benett and Frank Clark.
I already talked about the instant impact Reuben Foster should bring to the team but adding a piece like Malcolm Smith to the team will help a defensive unit who rarely put up a fight against the run last year. John Lynch spent six of the team’s ten selections on the defensive side of the ball and it’s clear he’s giving Saleh the tools to succeed year one as the offense is a work in progress.
One area which went surprisingly unaddressed in both free agency and the draft was the cornerback position. It’s often debated the pass rush helps the coverage and vice versa but this group of corners could arguably be one of the worst in the league and the clear weak spot of the defensive unit.
The front seven is very solid and should get better as the team builds chemistry and the back end of the secondary is littered with talent with Jimmie Ward, Eric Reid and Jaquiski Tartt but the corner group is “led” with Reshard Robinson and Dontae Johnson. The team spent the 66th overall selection on Colorado’s Ahkello Witherspoon who is an intriguing prospect but doesn’t offer year one impact potential. They’ll need the pass rush to get home early and often to prevent this group from getting roasted on a weekly basis. The good news might be the number of targets these unproven guys get, thus making them streamable in CB-required IDP leagues.
Malik McDowell, DT
McDowell oozes potential and versatility and landing in Seattle is best case for both him and the Seahawks. He will have the potential to learn from one of the best in the game in Michael Bennett. Bennett just signed a three year extension worth $31.5 million through 2020 but McDowell should still see snaps as Seattle rotates its linemen more than anyone in the league. Playing on a line with Bennett, Avril, Clark and Ahtyba Rubin will afford McDowell unlimited one on one opportunities he likely wouldn’t see on the majority of other NFL rosters. If Pete Carroll and company can unlock this kid’s potential they could have a monster on their hands in a couple of years.
Kam Chancellor, SS
Let me start by saying how much I love watching Kam Chancellor play. I think he does things on the football field only one or two people on the planet could even consider doing. If something happened to Tony Stark or Steve Rogers I would recommend Kam Chancellor or J.J. Watt to replace them in the Avengers.
Having said that, something doesn’t smell right here. Chancellor has been pretty vocal about his desire for a new contract and the team drafted three safeties within their first eight selections, specifically Delano Hill from Michigan who has the look of an eventual replacement for Chancellor. They also added Bradley McDougald to a one year deal in free agency this offseason. While I think Chancellor deserves to be paid and play his entire career in Seattle, I think the writing could be on the wall here and he’s playing his final year as part of the Legion of Boom.
Follow me on Twitter @OlingerIDP.
Eric is on Twitter @OlingerIDP.