Friday, May 16, 2008

NFC West Preview: Unit By Unit Rankings

by: Michael Steffes

One thing that was suggested when I first laid out my plans to do the NFC West Preview, was a unit by unit analysis. Since an NFL division only has four teams in in it, this makes for a nice Friday summation piece.

This task was a bit harder than I expected. Because of that I hope it will get some good discussion going. I initial instinct was to rate the Seahawks high in every category. Then I thought that wasn't realistic. However, when you start to look at the disparity in talent between the Seahawks and the rest of the division, you see why this team wins going away every year. So lets take a look, and as always, if you want to leave a comment and disagree, make sure to state a case so we all can see where you are coming from. Check it out....


I don't think that too many people who follow the NFL could disagree with the fact that the Seahawks have the best quarterback in the division. Matt Hasselbeck has now been to three Pro Bowls and led his team to a Superbowl. After Matthew, things get a little more blurry. I took the Cards second. If this was done before last year it would have been the Rams. However, the duo of Warner and Leinart tops Bulger in my mind. Bulger has had issues staying healthy and looks a bit shell shocked these days. One thing that is clear is that the Niners are hurting at this position. They don't even know who the starter will be yet.

To me this one was pretty clear cut as well. Unfortunately, the Hawks are still far behind the competition in my mind. All will agree, Steven Jackson is a load when healthy. He runs with power and has the speed to take it to the house. Second is the Niners. Frank Gore didn't look anything like the back we saw in 2006, but part of that was the Niners having zero passing attack. I think that if the Niners throw with more efficiency, which Mike Martz should help with, then Gore will look more like 06'. The Seahawks are simply a work in progress. We don't know. Maybe we will all be wowed beyond our imagination, but on paper, the Hawks look mediocre at this position. However, still, I ranked AZ last. I see Edge as the next Shaun, and this is probably the year he starts to look bad. The Cards really should have gotten someone better to put behind him.

Wide Receivers is a clear cut winner for Arizona. Boldin and Fitzgerald are monsters. Fortunate for the rest of the division, they have been injury prone and have played with streaky quarterbacks. I ranked the Hawks second. Of course I am including both Bobby Engram and Deion Branch in this equation. Branch will be back at some point. Engram and Nate started most of the games last year anyway, and while they don't have the pedigree of a Torry Holt, overall the Hawks have a better group. The Rams hit third, mainly because Holt is aging. He wasn't the same guy last year. Plus Bennett is no Issac Bruce. Reche Caldwell and rookies don't do much for me. The Niners, are well, the Niners. Bruce and Johnson have to prove they can be featured guys for different reasons. Arnez Battle has been consistently OK. Beyond that they have nothing.

Tight end was the first position that really caused some waffling on my part. In the end I just couldn't justify ranking the teams. Its a tie! In my mind, at this time they are all significantly crappy or unproven. You can make your case for any team. The starters are Pope, McMichael, Vernon Davis, and maybe Carlson. McMichael has done the most to this point, but he is still nothing to sing from a mountain top about. Davis has maybe the most talent; somebody nudge me when he starts using it. I guess if this was a long term projection I would take the Hawks and Carlson, but for now, nobody stands out. Feel free to chime in...

Now while I still ranked the Hawks running backs behind the competition, I felt the improvements in their line vaulted them to the top. To me coaching was factored in here as well. What it really came down to was Walter Jones. He is the best/most proven guy in the division. When you add a former Pro Bowler next to him to go with a first round pick and another top flight tackle in Lock, it is easily the most solid unit. Right guard is the only hole and Sims at least has experience. I made AZ second despite the presence of Pace on the Rams. I think really the bottom three lines are fairly even... and average. Staley figures to be rising star in San Fran just like Levi Brown n AZ. The Rams still have Pace. All of those lines could go either way. The Hawks are the only one I feel comfortable with both tackles and an entire side. San Frans line is just pitiful outside of Staley which is why they are on the bottom. Chilo Rachel could make them better, but not this year in my opinion.

This has turned into a lengthy post already. I will split the two sides of the ball. I think that I tended to be a bit biased on the D, but that should make for a happy Friday afternoon post, right. I will have that up later today. Hope you enjoyed. I look forward to seeing the comments.