NFL

How Did NFC West Teams Fare in the Last Three NFL Drafts?

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NFL executives used to insist it takes three years to properly evaluate a draft class. Unfortunately, that crap doesn’t fly anymore. In today’s NFL, teams realize the best way to build a contender while staying under the salary cap is to get immediate contributions from players on their rookie contracts. With that in mind, we are kicking off a new series examining how every team has done over the last three drafts.  

To prevent our evaluations from turning into a novel of biblical lengths, we will focus on three players from each team’s recent draft classes: the best pick, the worst pick and the X Factor. This week: the NFC West. If you missed our previous pieces, check out the AFC EastAFC NorthAFC SouthAFC WestNFC EastNFC North and NFC South draft reviews.

Arizona Cardinals

Best Pick: RB Andre Ellington (Sixth Round, 2013)

Finding quality running backs late in the draft has become more and more common, but picking up a three-down threat like Ellington in the sixth round is a steal no matter how you slice it. He showed how explosive he can be as a rookie, when he averaged 5.5 ypc and caught 39 passes as a third-down back. His yards per carry dropped to 3.3 last season as he battled a foot injury, but he is healthy now and expected to be the Cardinals’ lead back.

Said coach Bruce Arians: “When I went back and looked at some of the cut-ups, you can’t deny his skills — his feet, his acceleration — he’s got dynamic skills and game-changing speed. That being said, it remains to be seen whether he can stay healthy for a full season.”

Worst Pick: OG Jonathan Cooper (First Round, 2013)

It’s amazing how many elite offensive line prospects from the top of the 2013 draft have fizzled out. Cooper, the No. 7 overall pick, missed his rookie season to a broken leg. Last season, he was beaten out by the unheralded duo of Ted Larsen and Paul Fanaika and wound up starting just two games. He will have a chance to compete at right guard this offseason, opposite the newly signed Mike Iupati, but this may be his last chance to realize his potential in the desert.

X Factor: QB Logan Thomas (Fourth Round, 2014)

Arians refused to throw Thomas into the fire last season, even when his quarterback position was ravaged by injuries. The raw quarterback from Virginia has elite athleticism and a rocket arm, but he lacks the ability to read defenses, go through his progressions and anticipate routes and coverages. Arians insists he has a plan for Thomas and that he is a part of the team’s future, but it remains to be seen how far off that future might be.

Saint Louis Rams

Best Pick: DT Aaron Donald (First Round, 2014)

The numbers speak for themselves. Donald finished his rookie season with 48 tackles, nine sacks, two forced fumbles and a pass breakup. He instantly became one of the most disruptive interior defensive linemen in the game, which was enough to get him voted into the Pro Bowl as a rookie.

Said Rams LB James Laurinaitis: “You just kind of saw it week by week as he got more comfortable and just put in there more and more and trusted more and more and he just continued to make plays and splash plays, tackles for loss, sacks, but as a D tackle, he’s very disruptive.”

Worst Pick: WR Tavon Austin (First Round, 2013)

Just as Donald’s numbers speak for themselves, so do Austin’s. He has just 71 catches combined over the last two seasons and averages less than 10 yards per reception, which is hard to fathom for a player touted as a big-play threat. He has put in work as a punt returner — averaging 11.2 yards per return last season and scoring a couple of touchdowns — and his 375 career rushing yards are a bonus. However, a top-eight pick must be more than a gadget player to justify his team’s investment.

X Factor: OT Greg Robinson (First Round, 2014)

Robinson started 12 games as a rookie, the final nine at left tackle. He gave up 6.5 sacks and was penalized 11 times, with most of his struggles coming on the left side. Part of the problem may have been a nagging toe injury, which has been surgically corrected this offseason. With better health and more experience, Robinson could live up to his lofty draft status (No. 2 overall). But the Rams need a lot more from Robinson in order for their offense to reach its potential.

San Francisco 49ers

Best Pick: FS Eric Reid (First Round, 2013)

Despite dealing with some reoccurring concussions, Reid has started 31 of a possible 32 games. He has been a ballhawk in San Francisco’s secondary, intercepting seven passes and breaking up 18 others. He made less of an impact as a sophomore, but some of that can be attributed to him playing more centerfield and being targeted less by opposing QBs.

Worst Pick: WR A.J. Jenkins (First Round, 2012) 

Jenkins was such a disaster in his one season with the 49ers that he was promptly traded to the Chiefs in a swap of disappointing receivers (with Jon Baldwin coming to the Bay Area). Jenkins has not fared much better in Kansas City, averaging less than a catch per game and failing to find the end zone. While he is still in the league (unlike Baldwin), there is no way to classify this pick other than that unfortunate four-letter word: Bust.

X Factor: DE Tank Carradine (Second Round, 2013)

Carradine missed his entire rookie season as he recovered from a torn ACL. He worked his way into the rotation as last season progressed, appearing in nine games and finishing with 17 tackles and three sacks. He is still a raw player who needs to learn the nuances of the game beyond simply chasing the quarterback, but the ability and drive are there. He is in-line for a much bigger role this season, especially if Justin Smith decides to call it a career.

Seattle Seahawks

Best Pick: QB Russell Wilson (Third Round, 2012)

No need to justify this pick … it’s Russell freaking Wilson. With him under center, the Seahawks have made consecutive Super Bowl appearances (winning one) and gone 26-2 at home (including playoffs). Amazing.

Worst Pick: WR Paul Richardson (Second Round, 2014)

Nothing went right in Richardson’s rookie season. He contributed little as a receiver — catching just 29 passes for 271 yards and one score — and failed to stand out as a kick returner. To add injury to insult, he tore his ACL in January — the same knee he tore up in college — and is expected to miss the start of the 2015 season. That’s not exactly what Seattle had in mind when it made Richardson its top pick in the 2014 draft.

X Factor: RB Christine Michael (Second Round, 2013)

When the Seahawks selected Michael in 2013, the plan was to have him inserted as the team’s starting running back by now. However, Marshawn Lynch played his way into a new contract and has left Michael and Robert Turbin to fight for his table scraps. Michael averaged 4.4 ypc as a rookie and 5.1 last season, but there is no telling what he could do if the given the lion’s share of the carries.

“Christine is a really talented kid and we would love for him to kind of flourish with his opportunity this year,” coach Pete Carroll said.


About Michael Lombardo

Michael Lombardo

Michael Lombardo has spent more than 10 years as a team expert at Scout.com, primarily covering the Chargers, Cardinals and Panthers. He has been published by the NFL Network, Fox Sports and other venues.