By: Tony Meale
The 2012 NFL Draft is just one week away so we've pulled together a mock draft featuring the first and second rounds for the NFC East. Do you agree with the picks? Comment below.
The 49ers enter 2012 as arguably the most complete team in football.
The passing attack was the team's lone weakness – relatively speaking – last season, and if Peyton Manning had signed with the Niners, they'd be the favorite to win the Super Bowl. But bringing in Mario Manningham and a (hopefully) motivated Randy Moss should give Alex Smith all the weapons he needs to succeed, especially since he still has Vernon Davis and Michael Crabtree.
There's a chance – and maybe even a good one – that San Fran uses its first-round pick to draft Coby Fleener and give Smith yet another weapon, but my money is on Harbaugh investing in the trenches, either offensive or defensive, as both units were staples of the team last season. That said, if wide receiver Stephen Hill slips, he'd be a perfect fit in Jim Harbaugh's offense, especially given his ability to block.
Bottom line? The 49ers just need to tweak some things – not change them.
Unless that change involves an upgrade at quarterback. Smith is good for Harbaugh's system, but that doesn't necessarily mean he's a good quarterback. He finished 19th in passing yards last season – one spot behind Rex Grossman – and, including the playoffs, threw for 201 yards or fewer in 12 of 18 games. It'll be tough for the Niners' rush offense or rush defense to play any better than it did in 2011. This season, it's Super Bowl or bust for the Niners, and if they don't get there, people will point to Alex Smith as a big reason why.
The Cardinals committed to Kevin Kolb and should get him one of two things with the 13th overall pick – protection or a No. 2 receiver. If Arizona opts for protection, Iowa tackle Riley Reiff and Stanford guard David DeCastro are obvious options. If Arizona opts for a receiver, Michael Floyd is a no-brainer.
Beyond that, Arizona has six remaining picks, the next coming at 80th overall. The Cardinals are entirely mediocre on defense; in 2011, they finished 21st against the rush, 17th against the pass and 18th overall, while their minus-13 turnover differential was one of the worst in football.
Despite only getting half of a season out of Kolb, the Cardinals still managed to finish 8-8 last year. In this division – the weakest in football – it won't take much for Arizona to take a step forward.
And possibly make the playoffs.
Given that their team finished 2-14 last season, Rams fans have an awful lot to be excited about. They have a 24-year-old franchise quarterback in Sam Bradford and eight picks in the upcoming draft – including three of the top 39 selections and five of the top 96.
St. Louis selects sixth overall, and Justin Blackmon, if available, is an absolute no-brainer choice. The Rams had nine receiving touchdowns last year – by far the fewest in the league (by comparison, Green Bay led the league with 51). Danny Amendola, who missed much of the year, is a fine receiver, but he's not a No. 1 – or even a No. 2. Brandon Lloyd signed with the Patriots, making Danario Alexander – with 431 yards and two touchdowns – statistically the Rams' top returning receiver.
If the Rams nab Blackmon, they should use their two second-round picks (33rd and 39th overall) to bolster the offensive line or get Chris Long and Robert Quinn some help in the pass rush. Possible second-round picks include Ohio State offensive tackle Mike Adams and Michigan State defensive tackle Jerel Worthy. If St. Louis misses out on Blackmon, which would be unfortunate, South Carolina's Alshon Jeffry could at least cushion the blow in round two.
Cortland Finnegan, meanwhile, was a nice addition to the secondary, but Notre Dame's Harrison Smith or even North Alabama's Janoris Jenkins are plausible options.
In the end, if Sam Bradford stays healthy and gets a receiver, the Rams – with the right personnel moves – will flirt with a winning record in 2012.
Aside from Peyton Manning, Matt Flynn may have been the biggest offensive acquisition this offseason, and – like a lot of teams who acquired, committed to, or plan on drafting a starting quarterback – Seattle's biggest job is protecting Flynn and giving him weapons.
The Seahawks have seven picks in the draft – one in each round – and the Seahawks's best bet at 12th overall might be Stanford's David DeCastro or Iowa's Riley Reiff. Or maybe even Notre Dame's Michael Floyd. That would give the Seahawks a legit No. 2 receiver to groom alongside Sidney Rice.
Of course, Seattle also has holes to fill at defensive line and linebacker. Boston College linebacker Luke Kuechly is a tackling machine and would be a borderline steal at Pick 12. If Kuechly is there, the Seahawks should grab him and worry about offensive line later.
Keep in mind that Seattle went 7-9 last year with Tarvaris Jackson. Given that information, Matt Flynn single-handedly makes the Seahawks an 8-8 or 9-7 team (which, admittedly, might say more about Jackson than Flynn). Either way, San Francisco has this division on lockdown, but don't be surprised if Seattle winds up knocking on the Wild Card door.
Tony Meale is a freelance writer for MLB.com, cincinnati.com and ffjungle.com, among others. His fantasy football work has led to guest appearances on several radio outlets, including ESPN Radio and Sirius Radio. He has a Master's in Journalism from Ohio University and has been recognized by the Society of Professional Journalists for outstanding work. A Cincinnati native, he is currently writing a book on one of the great sports stories never told. Follow Tony Meale on Twitter @tonymeale.
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