The poor strength of the NFC West in 2010 means the division gets a chance to reload/rebuild in April, picking early in the first round of the 2011 NFL Draft. Two teams — the San Francisco 49ers and Arizona Cardinals — pick in the top 10 and the third picks inside the top-15. Only the Seattle Seahawks, winners of the NFC West, pick late in the first round, a reward for making a playoffs.
What is the competition looking like and which players are on the table for each team in the draft? Let’s look at the latest 2011 NFL mock draft.
Arizona Cardinals: The No. 5 pick in the draft awaits the Cardinals, who finished the season at 5-11. SB Nation has Nebraska cornerback Prince Amukamara heading to Arizona with that pick as the Cardinals try to shore up their secondary. Amukamara is the second best corner in the draft, behind Patrick Peterson, a potential No. 1 overall pick out of LSU.
San Francisco 49ers: With the seventh pick in the draft, the 49ers have a shot at one of the top-flight quarterbacks. After a 2010 season with Alex and Troy Smith splitting the duties, its clear where the position of need for the Niners is. With that in mind, the latest mock draft has Auburn quarterback Cam Newton headed to the Niners, giving new head coach Jim Harbaugh a dual-threat weapon under center.
St. Louis Rams: With Sam Bradford continuing to progress and impress, the Rams are moving in the right direction. With the 14th pick in the draft, St. Louis will likely snag another weapon for Bradford, who desperately needs receivers as St. Louis puts his talents to use. Michael Floyd, out of Notre Dame, is the pick in the latest mock draft, giving Bradford a No. 1 option out wide.
(Edit: Malcom Floyd is staying at Notre Dame. St. Louis will have to look for other options at No. 14.)
Seattle Seahawks: Quarterback? Running back? Defensive line? The Seahawks have plenty of positions to fill, but don’t yet know where they’ll pick in the draft. As of now, Seattle would pick 25th, though it’s subject to change should Seattle continue to advance in the NFL playoffs. With that 25th pick, Seattle is still projected to take a quarterback, either Ryan Mallett or Jake Locker, depending on which is available.
With the NFC West in position to grab early-round talent in the draft, perhaps the division won’t always be the laughing stock of the NFL. Then again, that laughing stock division just shocked the New Orleans Saints in the playoff and boasts one of the best young quarterbacks in the lead. With early picks in the draft, expect the talent level to increase in the division.