ARIZONA CARDINALS 7-8-1
PRIMARY NEED: GUARD
NO DEFENSE has more talent under expired contracts than the Cardinals': Calais Campbell, Frostee Rucker, Chandler Jones, Kevin Minter, D.J. Swearinger and Tony Jefferson are all free agents. Some of them will have to be replaced externally. But things are even more dire along the interior O-line. Left guard Mike Iupati (who had a poor season) is the only usable returning piece. Center A.Q. Shipley's deal is up; guards Evan Mathis and Earl Watford also enter free agency (and they're both replaceable). Arizona runs a lot of empty formations, with no one in the backfield to help protect QB Carson Palmer. It's imperative that the core of this line be strong.
LOS ANGELES RAMS 4--12
PRIMARY NEED: OFFENSIVE LINE
PICK A spot, any spot. Left tackle Greg Robinson's feet aren't up to snuff for an NFL starter. Left guard Rodger Saffold is an average blocker, but he's injury-prone. Center Tim Barnes lacks athleticism; so does right guard Cody Wichmann. Right tackle Rob Havenstein.... Well, O.K., maybe he's worth keeping—but only because he has shown improvement in his two years in the NFL and because he plays a position at which the league lacks capable athletes. If new coach Sean McVay is to run the cutting-edge system he previously employed with the Redskins, if second-year QB Jared Goff is to have a prayer, if running back Todd Gurley is to see any daylight, the Rams must make changes up front.
SEATTLE SEAHAWKS 10-5-1
PRIMARY NEED: CORNERBACK
POPULAR opinion holds that the Seahawks need help along the O-line. That's not untrue. But understand: Seattle has addressed this position already. This team is just waiting on some young guys to mature. It's entirely possible—likely, in fact—that this group will remain unchanged. Pete Carroll and GM John Schneider have enough job stability (and wisdom) to wait out the O-line's development. The more pressing need is at corner. The depth here is iffy, and the right-side spot, opposite Richard Sherman, is very much in question after rising fifth-year pro DeShawn Shead tore his left ACL in the playoff loss to the Falcons. Expect the Seahawks to look for a strong, lanky defender to play outside.
SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS 2--14
PRIMARY NEED: QUARTERBACK
AN UNUSUAL front-office arrangement and unpredictable behavior by the owner—those aren't the only reasons quality coaching candidates initially rejected this job. (The 49ers were lucky to get one of the best young coordinators, former Falcons OC Kyle Shanahan.) There's also the matter of San Francisco not having a QB capable of elevating this team. Colin Kaepernick lacks the pocket acumen, field vision and throwing touch to lead an NFL offense. There's a tendency to think that Shanahan's system, with its emphasis on moving pockets and play-action, can save the 29-year-old. But no. Even on the move, his limitations are problematic. Plus, even in Shanahan's scheme, the QB plays on the move on fewer than half the snaps.