NFC West Player Analysis: Every team, Every unit, Every Player

Know your Players: A unit-by-unit breakdown on every team in the NFC West by The Sports Xchange

ARIZONA CARDINALS

UNIT-BY-UNIT ANALYSIS

QUARTERBACKS: Starter -- Sam Bradford. Backups -- Josh Rosen, Mike Glennon.

Bradford will remain the starter as long as he stays healthy and can be productive. There are concerns about his oft-injured left knee, but he's one of the most accurate quarterbacks in NFL history and when he's on, he's lights out. That will be incredibly important for an offense looking to establish its new identity, which is run first, pass later. The Cardinals won't throw the ball deep down the field very much under Bradford, but if the offense turns over to Rosen, the rookie isn't afraid to sling it around and take his shots. His time is coming; it's just a matter of when. Glennon provides experienced depth, just in case.

RUNNING BACKS: Starter -- David Johnson. Backups -- Chase Edmonds, T.J. Logan, FB Derrick Coleman.

There will be times when the Cardinals showcase a two-back set where Johnson is the lead ball carrier and Coleman provides an up-front blocking charge at fullback. Johnson enjoyed running with a fullback during his college days at Northern Iowa, it should be noted. In Edmonds, the team's rookie fourth-round pick out of Fordham, the Cardinals have an electrifying backup who has greet speed and elusiveness and is more than just adequate in pass-pro blocking. Logan adds even greater breakaway speed as an occasional, third-down option back and pass catcher. All three running backs are exceptional receivers, especially Johnson.

TIGHT ENDS: Starters -- Jermaine Gresham, Ricky Seals-Jones. Backup -- Gabe Holmes.

Gresham missed all of training camp and the preseason while on the PUP list recovering from an Achilles' injury he suffered in the final game of the 2017 season. He played with Bradford in college at Oklahoma and should provide a steady target for the quarterback as well as NFL-level blocking. Seals-Jones is the real wild card at the position. He's a matchup nightmare for defensive backs and linebackers because of his catch radius and leaping ability. Holmes is more of a blocker than anything and will be utilized regularly in that capacity.

WIDE RECEIVERS: Starters -- Larry Fitzgerald, Christian Kirk. Backups -- Chad Williams, J.J. Nelson, Trent Sherfield.

Now 35, Fitzgerald has shown no signs of slowing down. It's the receivers behind him that will be intriguing to watch because it will help determine just how much Fitzgerald will be asked to contribute. In Kirk and Williams, the Cardinals have a pair of fresh faces ready to blossom. They each flashed during the preseason, but will have to prove they can get it done, consistently. Nelson is the team's main deep threat, for what that's worth. He's had problems hanging onto the ball. Sherfield won a roster spot because of a great camp and preseason.

OFFENSIVE LINEMEN: Starters -- LT D.J. Humphries, LG Mike Iupati, C Mason Cole, RG Justin Pugh, RT Andre Smith. Backups -- LT John Wetzel, G Jeremy Vujnovich, C Daniel Munyer, RT Blaine Clausell, T Korey Cunningham.

Four of the five starters all missed time last season on injured reserve, which could be a concern moving forward. You can also look at it as a positive -- that they are healthy again. Featuring two new additions on the right side and a rookie in the middle, there naturally are questions about chemistry and a working rhythm but this unit seemed to find it early on. Expect Iupati to return to the Pro Bowl. The depth behind the starters is serviceable and improved with the late additions of Vujnovich and Clausell. Cunningham could develop into a stud with the right coaching.

DEFENSIVE LINEMEN: Starters -- DLE Markus Golden, DT Corey Peters, DT Robert Nkemdiche, DRE Chandler Jones. Backups -- DE Benson Mayowa, DT Rodney Gunter, DT Olsen Pierre, DE Jacquies Smith, DT Zach Moore.

The key question up front is health. Golden was just activated off the PUP list after suffering a torn ACL last October and it will take him some time to get back into game shape. Mayowa's presence there will be a blessing, just in case. Peters and Nkemdiche missed most of the preseason with knee and foot issues, respectively. Jones could vie for Defensive Player of the Year honors with another brilliant season like the one he had a year ago. In Pierre and Gunter, the Cardinals have two excellent rotational tackles who can step in and not miss a beat.

LINEBACKERS: Starters -- SLB Haason Reddick, MLB Josh Bynes, WLB Deone Bucannon. Backups -- LB Gerald Hodges, LB Zeke Jones, LB Dennis Gardeck.

There is exceptional speed and hitting ability here between Reddick, Bynes and Bucannon. If they can wrap up and tackle, things should be just fine. Hodges turned out to be a valuable preseason addition when injuries began to really rock this unit. Jones and Gardeck are two of five undrafted rookie free agents who made the initial 53-man roster and will have to keep practicing harder than ever to stay on the team. There will be plenty of times during games this season where you can expect Arizona to go with just two linebackers and play five defensive backs -- and not just in regular nickel situations, either.

DEFENSIVE BACKS: Starters -- LCB Patrick Peterson, RCB Jamar Taylor, SS Budda Baker, FS Antoine Bethea. Backups -- CB Deatrick Nichols, CB Bene' Benwikere, FS Tre Boston, SS Rudy Ford, CB Brandon Williams.

Peterson expects to get his hands on more footballs now that he's playing in more zone-coverage situations. Although he will still shadow opponents' No. 1 wide receivers, he's going to play off them a few yards on occasion and have the ability to jump routes because of it. The Cardinals hope they've found a long-term solution as the starter opposite him in Taylor, whom they acquired from the Browns for a sixth-round pick. The safety trio of Bethea, Baker and Boston will be on the field together more times than not and when that happens, so do multiple splash plays. Benwikere leads a handful of decent reserves.

SPECIAL TEAMS: K Phil Dawson, P Andy Lee, LS Aaron Brewer, KR T.J. Logan, PR Christian Kirk.

The Cardinals gave a rookie kicker every opportunity to beat out the 43-year-old Dawson, but the veteran held off the challenge from Kansas State's Matt McCrane and head coach Steve Wilks better hope he made the right decision. Dawson missed a career high-tying eight field goals last year, although he rebounded well down the stretch. Lee remains one of the league's most accountable punters, especially as it relates to kicks downed inside the 20. It's the return game where things get exciting, as youngsters Kirk and Logan have a knack for eluding tacklers and showing breakaway speed once they do. Brewer doesn't make mistakes on his snaps.

LOS ANGELES RAMS

UNIT-BY-UNIT ANALYSIS

QUARTERBACKS: Starter -- Jared Goff. Backups -- Sean Mannion, Brandon Allen.

Jared Goff broke out in his second season after a rocky rookie year to claim a berth in the Pro Bowl and take the Rams to the playoffs. It was a dramatic turnaround after he struggled his first year, but the pressure is on not just to repeat it but improve. If he does, the Rams are perched for a special year. Sean Mannion is back for his fourth year but has yet to really prove he can be a trusted backup, let alone a potential starter. Brandon Allen returns for his second season as the third quarterback.

RUNNING BACKS: Starter - Todd Gurley. Backups -- - Malcolm Brown, Justin Davis, John Kelly.

Gurley rebounded from a sophomore slump in 2016 to produce an NFL Offensive Player of the Year caliber season in which he rushed for 1,305 yards and 13 touchdowns and caught 64 passes for 788 yards and six scores. He was awarded a lucrative contract extension and is primed for an even bigger season. Brown is a dependable backup, while Kelly impressed as a rookie in camp and preseason to claim a roster spot. The Rams have high hopes for Davis, an explosive second-year player from USC.

TIGHT ENDS: Starter -- Tyler Higbee. Backups -- Gerald Everett, Johnny Mundt.

The Rams are hoping for more from their tight ends this year, and while Everett suffered a shoulder injury and was limited in camp and preseason, he is an ideal athlete and pass catcher to excel in this offense. Higbee is a valued blocker and still has potential in the pass game. Mundt was a surprise performer in camp to claim a roster spot and has a chance to work his way into a role.

WIDE RECEIVERS: Starters -- Brandin Cooks, Robert Woods, Cooper Kupp. Backups -- Josh Reynolds, Pharoh Cooper, Mike Thomas.

The Rams are ecstatic about their wide receiver group after adding the highly productive Cooks to the already established duo of Woods and Kupp. Cooks has exceeded more than 1,000 yards in each of his last three seasons and is expected to make a seamless transition to the Rams. Woods emerged as a go-to receiver after three nondescript seasons in Buffalo, the result of playing in a creative offense with an elite quarterback. Kupp was a revelation as a rookie and the ceiling remains high. Reynolds was slowed in camp with an ankle injury but the Rams remain high on the second-year player. Cooper is an elite kickoff and punt returner in addition to an emerging weapon in the pass game.

OFFENSIVE LINEMEN: Starters -- LT Andrew Whitworth, LG Rodger Saffold, C John Sullivan, RG Jamon Brown (SUS), Rob Havenstein. Backups -- T Joseph Noteboom, G Austin Blythe, G Jamil Demby, C Brian Allen.

The Rams will begin the season with Brown on the suspended list for the first two games, meaning Blythe will fill in. It's a small hiccup on an otherwise elite and experienced group that returns all five starters. The Rams went with youth as the backups as three rookies made the 53-man roster. Noteboom and Allen, in particular, were impressive in training camp and preseason and appear to be ready to contribute if called upon.

DEFENSIVE LINEMEN: Starters -- DE Michael Brockers, NT Ndamukong Suh, DT Aaron Donald. Backups -- NT John Franklin-Myers, Sebastian Joseph-Day, DT Ethan Westbrooks, Tanzel Smart, Dominique Easley.

The Rams' front three of Suh, Brockers and Donald is as dominant, athletic and productive as any in the NFL. Donald is the reigning NFL Defensive Player of the Year and recently signed a new five-year, $137 million extension that guarantees him $87 million. The thought of pairing him alongside Suh and across from Brockers is a frightening proposition. Westbrooks and Easley provide valuable depth, although Easley might move outside in certain packages. The Rams have hope for rookies Franklin-Myers and Joseph-Day.

LINEBACKERS: Starters -- OLB Matt Longacre, OLB Samson Ebukam, ILB Cory Littleton, ILB Mark Barron. Backups -- OLB Trevon Young, OLB Justin Lawler, ILB Bryce Hager, ILB Micah Kiser, ILB Ramik Wilson.

The Rams will have three new starters at linebacker, which poses a definite level of uncertainty. Ebukam, Longacre and Littleton are first-year starters who must prove they can produce over the course of a 16-game schedule. Barron is the lone returning starter but his health is always an issue and the Rams hope to nurse him through a season. Hager and Wilson are valued backups while Lawler and Young won roster spots as rookies.

DEFENSIVE BACKS: Starters -- CB Marcus Peters, CB Aqib Talib, S John Johnson III, S Lamarcus Joyner. Backups -- CB Nickell Robey-Coleman, CB Sam Shields, CB Troy Hill, S Blake Countess, S Isaiah Johnson, S Marqui Christian.

From top to bottom this is the Rams deepest position led by ball-hawking and press-covering CBs Peters and Talib, both of who arrived in L.A. via trade. Joyner and Johnson create a formidable back end as both can cover and tackle. Cornerback depth is impressive with Robey-Coleman, Shields and Hill, and Johnson, Countess and Christian are valued safety backups.

SPECIAL TEAMS: K Greg Zuerlein, P Johnny Hekker, LS Jake McQuaide, KR/PR Pharoh Cooper.

To put the Rams special teams in perspective, Zuerlein, Hekker and Cooper all made the Pro Bowl last year. Zuerlein looked good in camp after recovering from season-ending back surgery.

SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS

UNIT-BY-UNIT ANALYSIS

QUARTERBACKS: Starter -- Jimmy Garoppolo. Backup -- C.J. Beathard.

The 49ers worked overtime to improve their star quarterback's supporting cast, which should make him better. That would be hard to believe, because he was near-perfect in leading the team to a 5-0 finish even with an offensive line in disarray and WR Pierre Garcon missing on the outside. Those two things are no longer a problem, but RB Jerick McKinnon's season-ending knee injury is. Here's another non-issue: backup quarterback. The 49ers believe they are in better hands than most with Beathard.

RUNNING BACKS: Starters -- Matt Breida, FB Kyle Juszczyk. Backups -- Alfred Morris, Raheem Mostert, Jerick McKinnon (IR).

One bad cut at the end of practice and the 49ers went from having one of the most intriguing players in the league to having arguably the worst collections of backs. It would be no surprise if Morris, who didn't take full advantage of a nice opportunity he got in Dallas last season, emerges as the club's top back, at least in the early going. Juszczyk, whose career-high for pass receptions is 41, could have that many by Halloween.

TIGHT ENDS: Starter -- George Kittle. Backups -- Garrett Celek, Cole Wick.

Looking for a breakout player? Kittle goes from a guy who benefitted in 2017 from being Beathard's former college teammate to the guy most likely to get a bulk of the short passes that were expected to go to McKinnon this season. Celek is a dependable target at the goal line, so few teams figure to throw as much to tight ends this season as the 49ers.

WIDE RECEIVERS: Starters -- Pierre Garcon, Marquise Goodwin. Backups -- Trent Taylor, Kendrick Bourne, Dante Pettis, Rickie James, Victor Bolden Jr. (SUS).

Like Kittle, Taylor takes on a greater role with the loss of McKinnon. He's a nice complement to Garcon and Goodwin. The question is: Can the latter two coexist? The 49ers' most exciting pass completion of the preseason came when Garcon admittedly ran the wrong pattern, cut in front of Goodwin, the intended target, and hauled in a long gainer. Their pairing made more sense when Goodwin was considered a deep-route specialist. But he developed into way more than that with Garoppolo at quarterback late last season, while Garcon was sidelined.

OFFENSIVE LINEMEN: Starters -- LT Joe Staley, LG Laken Tomlinson, C Weston Richburg, RG Mike Person, RT Mike McGlinchey. Backups -- C/G Erik Magnuson, G Joshua Garnett, G/T Garry Gilliam, T Shon Coleman, T Matt Tobin.

With the drafting of McGlinchey and the signing of Richburg, the 49ers are so improved along the offensive front, even Staley was excited about postponing retirement. They're so deep, they've made former first-round pick Garnett a backup and released Jonathan Cooper, who was the guy expected to challenge Garnett for the starting right guard position. That person is now Person, who no doubt will find himself sharing time with Garnett. The additions of Coleman and Tobin give the club at least one quality backup at every position.

DEFENSIVE LINEMEN: Starters -- LDE Arik Armstead, LDT Earl Mitchell, RDT DeForest Buckner, RDE Solomon Thomas. Backups -- DE Ronald Blair III, DE Cassius Marsh, DT D.J. Jones, DT Sheldon Day, DT Jullian Taylor.

Why the interest in Khalil Mack? There's no pass-rushing specialist among the group, which includes three former first-round picks, meaning success likely will come from stunts and a familiarity with one another. There's something to be said about the latter. Newcomer Jeremiah Attaochu surprisingly was released in favor of Marsh, who has experience in the system.

LINEBACKERS: Starters -- WLB Malcolm Smith, MLB Fred Warner, SLB Mark Nzeocha. Backups -- OLB Dekoda Watson, OLB Elijah Lee, MLB Brock Coyle, MLB Reuben Foster (SUS).

The 49ers have opted to go with athleticism (Warner) over dependability (Coyle) in the opener with Foster serving the first of a two-game suspension. No doubt, the 49ers will be keeping a keen eye on the rookie. He could be one mistake from being removed, or one good game from getting the club to consider playing Foster on the outside when he returns in Week 3. Second to running back, this unit begins the season as one of the weakest links on the team.

DEFENSIVE BACKS: Starters -- LCB Richard Sherman, RCB Ahkello Witherspoon, FS Adrian Colbert, SS Jaquiski Tartt. Backups -- CB/S Jimmie Ward, CB K'Waun Williams, CB DJ Reed, CB Greg Mabin, CB Antone Exum, FS Tarvarius Moore, SS Marcell Harris (IR/could return later in season).

The oft-injured Ward, proven Williams and potential-laden Reed await openings in what could be a volatile starting group that features a big-time injury question mark and three inexperienced players. Suffice it to say, Sherman better be awfully good, and the 49ers better have a much improved pass rush. The club felt it was strong enough in the back to allow longtime standout Eric Reid to go. We'll see.

SPECIAL TEAMS: K Robbie Gould, P Bradley Pinion, LS Kyle Nelson, KR/PR Dante Pettis, KR Matt Breida, PR Trent Taylor, PR DJ Reed.

The 49ers might have been unbeaten in December last season, but they arguably were undefeated in the kicking game all season. That's how good Gould and Pinion were. Now imagine the team with a return game, for which the elusive Pettis was drafted.

SEATTLE SEAHAWKS

UNIT-BY-UNIT ANALYSIS

QUARTERBACKS: Starter -- Russell Wilson. Backups -- Brett Hundley.

Wilson will be the undisputed starter, but the Seahawks made an interesting move late in the preseason by acquiring Hundley from the Packers for a sixth-round draft choice. Seattle clearly wasn't comfortable with Alex McGough, a seventh-round pick out of FIU, as the primary backup plan behind Wilson at this stage. Hundley gives the Seahawks a young 25-year-old quarterback with plenty of upside who also has started nine games in his NFL career. He has adequate arm strength and he's a great athlete, as shown by his 7.5 yards per carry average while replacing Aaron Rodgers last season. Though he could be a one-year rental, Seattle views him as a great system fit and an upgrade in case Wilson goes down.

RUNNING BACKS: Starter -- Chris Carson, FB Tre Madden. Backups -- Rashaad Penny, C.J. Prosise, Mike Davis, RB J.D. McKissic (IR/could return later in season).

Deemed the "most impressive" player of the offseason by head coach Pete Carroll, Carson bounced back perfectly from a season-ending ankle injury suffered in Week 4 last season and enters the new year as Seattle's undisputed starter. After missing a few weeks due to a broken finger, Penny suited up for the preseason finale but did not play. The Seahawks first-round selection out of San Diego State won't start, but he should be ready to play right away and offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer will find ways to get him involved early and often. The oft-injured Prosise should be Seattle's third-down back with McKissic on injured reserve with a Jones fracture in his foot, while Davis has proven to be reliable when called upon and gives Seattle a nice insurance option as a between-the-tackles style runner.

TIGHT ENDS: Starter -- Nick Vannett. Backups -- Will Dissly, Darrell Daniels, Ed Dickson (NFI/could return later in season).

Following two disappointing seasons to open his career in Seattle, Vannett had an outstanding offseason and will be the new starter replacing now-departed Jimmy Graham to start 2018. Dickson, who signed a multi-year contract in March, will miss at least the first six games of the regular season after the team chose not to activate him from the non-football injury list. Without him, Seattle will count on the blocking-oriented Dissly and newly-acquired Daniels to play key snaps in his absence.

WIDE RECEIVERS: Starters -- Doug Baldwin, Tyler Lockett. Backups -- Brandon Marshall, Jaron Brown, David Moore.

Despite being sidelined with a sore knee most of August, Baldwin returned to practice prior to the preseason finale and should be ready for the season opener. Across from him, Lockett will be expected to produce a career year after the Seahawks awarded him a three-year extension. Returning from multiple surgeries, Marshall found the fountain of youth during training camp and should play a bigger role than initially expected in Seattle's passing game, while Brown gives Wilson another dynamic threat on the outside who can spread the field using his speed. Moore, the team's MVP of the preseason, could be the wild card for this group after beating out Amara Darboh and Keenan Reynolds for the final spot on the depth chart.

OFFENSIVE LINEMEN: Starters -- LT Duane Brown, LG Ethan Pocic, C Justin Britt, RG D.J. Fluker, RT Germain Ifedi. Backups -- T George Fant, C Joey Hunt, G J.R. Sweezy, G Jordan Simmons.

Seattle has found continuity along the offensive line, as Brown, Pocic, Britt, Fluker, and Ifedi have remained starters throughout training camp and the preseason. Viewed as the Seahawks Achilles' heel in recent seasons, the addition of Fluker as well as Pocic's 20-pound weight gain during the offseason have added some much-needed muscle to the middle of the line, which should help the run game return to form after two dismal seasons ranked in the bottom third of the league. Ifedi has been the only starter under fire due to lingering penalty issues, but he finished the preseason on a strong note and Fant will be waiting in the wings if he struggles early in the year. Though he didn't play a snap in the preseason, Sweezy provides excellent insurance behind Fluker and Pocic at the guard positions, as he started 49 games between 2012 and 2015 for the Seahawks.

DEFENSIVE LINEMEN: Starters -- DE Dion Jordan, NT Jarran Reed, DT Tom Johnson, LEO Frank Clark. Backups -- DE Rasheem Green, DE Jacob Martin, DT Nazair Jones, DT Shamar Stephen, DT Quinton Jefferson, DT Poona Ford.

With Cliff Avril and Michael Bennett no longer in Seattle, Jordan and Clark will be penciled in as the starters at defensive end, though Jordan may not be ready to suit up for Week 1 after missing the entire preseason with a shin injury. If he's unable to play, Green enjoyed a dominant preseason with 18 tackles and 3.0 sacks and the 21-year-old rookie out of USC could be in line to start far earlier than expected. The versatile Jefferson should also see snaps rotating into the lineup as a strong-side defensive end as well. In the interior, Johnson's pass rushing prowess earned him a starting role alongside Reed, but the Seahawks have plenty of depth at the position with Jones, Stephen, and Ford all capable of being disruptive forces against the run.

LINEBACKERS: Starters -- WLB K.J. Wright, MLB Bobby Wagner, SLB Barkevious Mingo. Backups -- WLB Shaquem Griffin, LB Austin Calitro, LB Jermaine Grace.

Wagner remains one of the elite linebackers in the NFL, but he will have a new cast playing alongside him to start the season. With Wright sidelined for a few weeks following arthroscopic knee surgery, Griffin will take over as the starter at weak-side linebacker and Mingo will see action at the SAM linebacker position. Calitro, one of Seattle's biggest stars of the preseason, earned a roster spot as a reserve linebacker and will play a key role on special teams. Though listed as a defensive end, Martin could also be in the mix for snaps behind Mingo.

DEFENSIVE BACKS: Starters -- LCB Shaquill Griffin, RCB Dontae Johnson, Nickel CB Justin Coleman, FS Tedric Thompson, SS Bradley McDougald. Backups -- CB Tre Flowers, CB Neiko Thorpe, CB Simeon Thomas, SS Delano Hill, S Shalom Luani, S Earl Thomas.

Following the release of Richard Sherman, Griffin has taken over as Seattle's new starting cornerback on the left side. Across from him, the Seahawks lost veteran Byron Maxwell to season-ending injured reserve and will roll with Johnson, who started 16 games for the 49ers in 2017, as his replacement on the right side. Coleman has emerged as one of the premier slot corners in the NFC and should see extensive snaps as he did during his first year with the Seahawks. Flowers, a former safety at Oklahoma State, could be in the mix for snaps on the outside later in the season after starting several preseason games. Still recovering from a wrist injury, Thorpe will remain a force on special teams upon his return to action. Thompson was slated to man center field as Seattle's new starting free safety with Thomas holding out, but he reported Wednesday, so playing time will have to be decided early. Veteran Bradley McDougald will play strong safety. If Thompson struggles when he has to play, Hill is also available and could slide to strong safety with the versatile McDougald moving back to the free safety spot.

SPECIAL TEAMS: K Sebastian Janikowski, P Michael Dickson, LS Tyler Ott, KR/PR Tyler Lockett.

After enduring the Blair Walsh Project in 2017, the Seahawks turned to the 40-year-old Janikowski as his replacement. Aside from an ugly final preseason game in which "The Polish Cannon" missed two extra-point attempts, the ex-Raiders starter has been money and showed he can still kick the ball a country mile by making a 55-yard field goal against the Vikings earlier in exhibition play. Dickson, who Seattle traded up to draft in the fifth round, can do things with the football rarely seen by NFL punters and his arrival made long-time starter Jon Ryan expendable. After earning All-Pro honors as a return specialist in each of his first three seasons, the speedy, elusive Lockett will resume the role as Seattle's kickoff and punt returner.

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