The final portion of our NFL Draft recap series has arrived. In this final edition, we take a look at the draft classes from an extremely talented NFC West division. Much like the NFC South, multiple teams in this division are definitive championship contenders. On top of that, all four teams have their eyes on the playoffs. To get there, each team needed to make key additions in the NFL Draft. While some of the teams were successful, others “graded,” much lower.
The reason grade is in quotations is because the traditional letter grade system that draft analysts give is a very vague process. Your own bias of players and selections is unavoidable. If you think the team should have gone in a different direction, that will impact your grade of the selection. Even if the selection was a great fit, the person doing the “grading,” might miss that.
Therefore, the best way to grade a draft is to isolate how each player fits into the system they were selected to. Which player will succeed, despite being disliked by the draft media? Which player will fail, despite being a media darling for the majority of the draft process? Who had the deepest draft, who had the weakest draft, and what team was able to find their next superstar?
These are the winners, losers, and bold predictions from the 2020 NFL Draft classes of the NFC West.
The Selections: Isaiah Simmons, Josh Jones, Leki Fotu, Rashard Lawrence, Evan Weaver, Eno Benjamin
Isaiah Simmons is clearly the headliner, but the Cardinals picked up a couple of day one contributors. Josh Jones should transition to right tackle nicely. He can compete for the starting job right away. Leki Fotu is a space-eater in the middle of the defense. He holds blockers at the point of attack, allowing players from the second level to fill the lanes and make plays. Expect him to contribute on first and second down during his career.
Nevertheless, Simmons is the prize. He’s an elite athlete with the ability to be a chess piece at the next level as he is capable of playing a bunch of positions.
Bold Prediction: Eno Benjamin Splits Carries with Kenyan Drake in Year One
We’re definitely going for the “bold,” aspect of predictions right out of the gate. Benjamin was a seventh-round selection, which normally signifies a battle for a roster spot during training camp. However, the fit here is so good, Benjamin could make a monster impact in year one.
Benjamin is a shifty runner. His quickness in the open field is his calling card. There might be concern over his 40 time, but on tape, he can hit the “home run play.” Head Coach Kliff Kingsbury does a great job of getting his playmakers the ball with a chance to work. Kenyan Drake thrived last year in this offense because it was simple. There was little reading and reacting for the running backs. It’s simply one cut, and go.
The ability that Benjamin has in space will allow him to thrive the same way Kenyan Drake did last year. Benjamin sets up defenders in the open field, and he’s able to run through contact despite his smaller stature. Frankly, he probably would have been drafted two rounds higher if he had a pro day to clean up his 40 time.
The Cardinals got a steal in round seven. Benjamin could be a candidate to start in the Cardinals backfield sooner rather than later.
Los Angeles Rams
The Selections: Cam Akers, Van Jefferson, Terrell Lewis, Terrell Burgess, Brycen Hopkins, Jordan Fuller, Clay Johnston, Sam Sloman, Tremayne Anchrum
Despite not having a first-round selection, the Rams grabbed two playmakers in Cam Akers and Van Jefferson. Akers should be the primary back from the get-go. He gets skinny in between the tackles and shows impressive quickness in and out of cuts. Akers is dynamic in the open field, but his ability around the line of scrimmage is what separates him from others in the draft class.
Van Jefferson was also a quality selection. Jefferson is arguably the second-best route runner in the draft class. Head fakes, sharp cuts, ability to separate at the top of the stem; if you name it, Jefferson has it in his toolbox. Drops are a concern, and his catch radius will not wow you. However, Jefferson’s route running is off the charts. As the drops issues get corrected, Jefferson will become a quality pro.
Nevertheless, the concern about the Rams’ draft class starts after their first two selections.
Bold Prediction: The Rams Finish Below .500 in 2020 because of Mistakes in This Draft
Los Angeles went into this draft needing to address the back seven on defense. They also would have benefitted from selecting an offensive lineman or two.
Instead, the Rams took two offensive skill position players (albeit good ones), two safeties, and a tight end with five of their first six picks. While Akers and Jefferson were filling needs, the rest of the draft was a debacle.
Terrell Lewis has the athleticism and length to be a great pass rusher, but he never put it together during his time at Alabama. Lewis struggles to gain leverage in the run game and does not have a lot of counters when rushing the passer. He’s a good “dip and bend,” guy, but that’s about it. Terrell Burgess is a nice player with a lot of versatility, but the scheme fit is questionable. The Rams appear set at safety with John Johnson and Taylor Rapp. Unless Burgess is going to see some time at nickel corner, he might have to wait until next year to see a lot of playing time (Johnson is a free agent after this year).
The day three selections were a mess. In a year where offensive line and cornerback were as deep as they have been in a long time, the Rams chose from an overrated tight end and off-ball linebacker group, while selecting the second safety in the process. Bryce Hall or Harrison Hand could’ve been the selection over Brycen Hopkins. Any offensive linemen could have been the pick over Burgess or Jordan Fuller. After round two, the Rams just did not have a good grasp on team needs.
In short, while the selections the Rams made may work out in the future, it will hinder them in the immediate present. Expect the Rams to underperform again in 2020.
San Francisco 49ers
The Predictions: Javon Kinlaw, Brandon Aiyuk, Colton McKivitz, Charlie Woerner, Jauan Jennings
San Francisco didn’t have many needs entering the draft, nor did they have a lot of selections. Nevertheless, the Niners accomplished what they had during the NFL Draft.
Following the trade of DeForest Buckner to the Indianapolis Colts, many thought the Niners would look into one of the top two defensive tackles with their first selection. The trade of Buckner was strictly for salary cap purposes. It was not because the Niners were abandoning the strategy that led them to the Super Bowl last year. Javon Kinlaw fills that need.
The second need the Niners had was adding a playmaker opposite Deebo Samuel. While Samuel had an excellent rookie campaign, the Niners need a second threat outside the hash marks. Another threat would also keep coverage away from George Kittle. Brandon Aiyuk’s ability with the ball in his hands will make him a treat in Head Coach Kyle Shanahan’s offense.
Bold Prediction: Javon Kinlaw Becomes a Star, but it takes some time
Kinlaw is a big-time athlete worthy of the hype that surrounds his future in the NFL. He has the strength to hold opposing linemen at the point of the attack, as well as the power to bully interior linemen in the passing game. Kinlaw also has the quickness and fluidity to win reps at the line of scrimmage.
There are a few concerns surrounding Kinlaw at the next level. One of them is his production against the top of the SEC. Kinlaw had six sacks in 2019, but four of them came in the first four weeks. As South Carolina ventured deep into SEC play, he did not get home as much. While that’s an overrated skill because quarterback hits and pressures are just as important, there is a skill to actually putting the quarterback on the ground.
Kinlaw struggles to dissect plays on the fly, and that’s the real concern. His discipline on the backside of plays is not a question of ability, it’s a question of becoming better at understanding play concepts. Arik Armstead struggled with this early in his career as well. Armstead also had issues putting the quarterback down on a regular basis. Eventually, Armstead blossomed into a star, and Kinlaw should do the same because he has all the tools to be successful.
Just don’t be alarmed if it takes some time.
The Selections: Jordyn Brooks, Darrell Taylor, Damien Lewis, Colby Parkinson, DeeJay Dallas, Alton Robinson, Freddie Swain, Stephen Sullivan
It’s a good thing the Seahawks roster is ready to win now because this draft was a failure from jump street. Jordyn Brooks plays like his hair is on fire at all times. He has great range from sideline-to-sideline, and he packs a wallop when he hits opponents. The problem is, Brooks is a throwback linebacker. He struggles mightily in zone coverage. Using a first-round pick on a two-down linebacker is a tough sell.
Also, the Seahawks “reached,” with every one of their first four selections. Darrell Taylor was a player the NFL was much higher on than the draft media was. Taylor is a freaky athlete with elite ability off the edge. However, much like Terrell Lewis above, he lacks the counters and the hand fighting necessary to be successful at the next level. Damien Lewis and Colby Parkinson were just flat out weird selections. Lewis plays with power but lacks the foot speed to get out into space in the run game or be successful in pass protection without some help. Parkinson was highly touted once upon a time at Stanford, but he never became the blocker or the route runner that people expected.
Even though the Seahawks draft was questionable, General Manager John Schneider did grab a steal on day three.
Bold Prediction: Alton Robinson Starts for Seattle in 2021
Seattle was the perfect fit for Robinson. He has the ideal size and frame for a 4-3 defensive end, but he’s stiff when running the arch. Robinson is much better when he can long arm opposing tackles. He shows a good understanding of gap assignments and remains disciplined up front. Robinson needed to land with a team that requires their defensive ends to be engaged in the run game, and collapse the pocket rather than bending around the edge. This was an ideal landing spot.
Bruce Irvin and L.J. Collier will start during this upcoming year, but after that, it’s anyone’s guess. Irvin is on the wrong side of 30 and on a one year contract. Collier was less than impressive in his rookie campaign, which means he enters a pivotal second year for his development moving forward. The Seahawks pass rush is less than stellar. Anyone that produces can step up and take a starting spot.
Robinson will get his chance down the line, and eventually become one of the steals of this draft class.
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