Friday, May 16, 2008

NFC West Preview: Unit By Unit Rankings (Part II)

by: Michael Steffes

Ok, with the offense out of the way, lets get down to the Seahawks star unit; The defense. Wow, it has been a long time since we could say that.

A few notes...

First, I really wanted to divide the defensive line into Tackles and Ends, but in the end I combined them. It is two hard to separate them because both the Cards and Niners are playing a hybrid 3-4/4-3. Because of that, it was unfair to measure the tackles and ends against each other because they are asked to do different things.

Also, I included some special teams rankings. It was only fair. I felt bad for the Niners, and that was the only way they were going to get a high ranking.


First off, let me start by saying that as high as I am on the Seahawks d-line right now, I am not ready to put them up against the best in the business. That said, when comparing with in this division, they are easily the best. One player, Patrick Kerney does that almost by himself. He is really the only guy in the division who offenses still fear. Add in Mebane and the current depth, and this is a good group top to bottom. The Rams came in second here, but mostly by attrition. Chris Long has to prove it, but by all accounts should be solid right away. Little can still rush and Carraker had a solid rookie year and should be better. I felt San Fran and Arizona were pretty even. I gave the nod to San Fran because they do what they are supposed to. Justin Smith has been a pretty good all around end, and I like their nose tackles. With Arizona, they would be better if Dockett and Berry stay healthy, but when has that ever happen. I am a Michigan fan, and I think Watson and Branch are terrible players. Plus almost all their depth comes from the 3 DE's they selected in the draft. You could say I have very little faith in Calais Campbell ever being special as well.

Was there any doubt about the top ranked linebacking group. I believe the Hawks have the best starting group in the NFL. The team is happier with the depth than I am, but assuming the starters are good to go, which they almost always have been, this unit is first by a LARGE margin. I gave the Niners 2nd. They have some questions to be sure, but they have Patrick Willis. 170 Tackles last year! They also have better depth at that position than the other two teams. I like both Will Witherspoon and Karlos Dansby a lot. But when I looked at the Cards, I think they are a little better. Chike Okeafor is playing outside for them. Plus if you expect Clark Haggins to remain a quality player, they are deeper than the Rams. The Rams needed linebackers and then proceeded to wait until the 6th and 7th to draft any. Not good.

On the defensive side of the ball, I found the safeties the hardest to rank. As you can see, I am allowing the Cards, Rams, and Hawks to all share the top spot. Each for a different reason. Adrian Wilson is an all world safety, but is coming off a tough injury for a player who needs to be explosive. Moving Rolle to safety might make them the best. He is a ball hawk to complement Wilson ferocious hitting. However, it is too early to tell with Wilson's injury and Rolle's lack of experience. The Rams have pretty darn good safeties as well. Oshiomogho Atogwe is probably the Rams best defender right now and Corey Chavious is solid. I included the Hawks here because they ask the safeties to play a totally different roll than the other teams. They ask that the safeties just keep people in front of them. Considering the Hawks were tops in touchdown passes allowed, they are pretty darn good at doing their jobs. Russel could be better, but he is equal to a Corey Chavious. How bout them Niners? Poor Niner fans. Roman and Lewis don't scare anybody.

Only one NFC West corner went to the Pro Bowl, and he wasn't the one who got the biggest free agent contract before the year began. Trufant, by all accounts, looks just as good now as he did before he got paid. With Jennings in year three, and the experience of Babs, plus a speedy Josh Wilson who will hopefully improve, the Hawks are tops again. Clements by himself puts San Fran to 2, but they are going to need some sort of pass rush to show their corners skills. Arizona came in third because of the way they played last year, which was over their heads. However, adding DRC to Rod Hood and Eric Green makes them better than the sorry group in St. Louis. Ron Bartell? Fakhir Brown? Justin King? Anybody smell burnt toast?

In the name of fair and balanced, I have included the specialists. If you read the team previews, you know I am very high on the Niners specialists. Andy Lee was a very good punter last year. Joe Nedney is solid, as he should be as the team's primary scoring threat. Rackers and Barr get the Cards second. They have a bit more flash than the other two teams. I strongly considered ranking the Hawks above the Rams, simply because they are using two Seattle castaways in Donnie Jones and Josh Brown. But in the end, I had to be realistic. Plackemeirer was one of the worst punters last year numbers wise and the Hawks kicker situation is in flux. And as much as I hate to say it now, Brown did look like a pretty good kicker, at times. Take note though Seahawk fans, specialists are about as unpredictable as any positional group out there, so these rankings could flip flop by week 2.

Not wanting to end on a bad note, I separated the returners. Nate Burleson is EASILY the best of the bunch. Even if he gets taken off duty, Josh Wilson had the same number of return TD's as Arizona's up-and- comer Steve Breaston. Between Nate, Wilson, and maybe Forsett, I am expecting the Hawks trend of good returns to continue. As for the bottom two, I tied them at third. Alan Rossum and Dante Hall both are over the hill. The teams are basically hoping for one return a year that equals their previous skill levels. Neither will do much over the course of a season, in my opinion. Plus, they tend to get banged up easily.

Well, alright Seahawk Addicts. That sums up the week long NFC West preview. You should have plenty to discuss. One thing is clear. The Hawks are the best team in this division, and I feel confident that even Cardinals, Rams, and Niner fans would admit that to themselves in the cobwebbed corners of their souls. If this team doesn't come out with a purpose this year it will be a shame, but regardless they clearly have enough to win this division again. Go Hawks!!