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April 17, 2008

NFC West: Long might be answer for Rams

Rivals.com has partnered with NFL scout and draft expert Frank Coyle of draftinsiders.com to analyze the five biggest needs of each NFL team. Today, we look at the NFC West.

St. Louis has lost several defensive linemen in free agency over the past few years and have struggled to replace Grant Wistrom's pass rush. Virginia's Chris Long could be the answer to those problems. Check out the team needs for the Rams and the entire NFC West.

NFC West: Arizona Cardinals | San Francisco 49ers | Seattle Seahawks | St. Louis Rams

Arizona (8-8 in 2007)
Head coach: Ken Whisenhunt (Second year)
Key needs: 1. Cornerback 2. Running back 3. Wide receiver
1. Cornerback - The Cardinals will move former top pick Antrel Rolle to free safety. Starting corners Eric Green and Rod Hood are adequate but show little upside on a unit with marginal depth. They most likely will opt to deal with this area in the early rounds and possibly use their No. 1 pick on a corner if USF's Mike Jenkins is on the board. They also like Arizona's Antoine Cason and Auburn's Pat Lee in the early rounds. The Cardinals could address this position twice and possibly with two fairly early selections.
2. Runnning back - The Cardinals are positioned to get one of the top three backs in the draft in Arkansas' Darren McFadden, Illinois' Rashard Mendenhall and Oregon's Jonathan Stewart. Veteran Edgerrin James has a lot of mileage and is on the downside of his career. They will consider Mendenhall in the first round or wait until the second or third rounds for backs such as Rutgers' Ray Rice, East Carolina's Chris Johnson and Texas' Jamaal Charles. They selected J.J. Arrington in the second round two years ago, but he has been a huge disappointment. They need to add a quality feature back from this deep running back class, most likely with one of their top-100 selections.
3. Wide receiver - The Cardinals lost veteran Bryant Johnson in free agency and have little depth. They like Virginia Tech's Eddie Royal and Florida's Andre Caldwell in the second round and Appalachian State's Dexter Jackson and California's Lavelle Hawkins in the third round.
4. Offensive tackle - The Cards addressed this position last year with No. 1 pick Levi Brown, who improved over the course of an injury-prone rookie season. They could address this area again with prospects such as Pitt's Jeff Otah and Vanderbilt's Chris Williams possibly on the board. They also like Nebraska's Carl Nicks and Texas' Tony Hills in the third round.
5. Linebacker - The Cardinals probably will address this unit twice in the draft. They like Purdue's Cliff Avril a lot and have him on their short list for the second round. With an early pick in the third round, they probably will have a chance at prospects such as Michigan's Shawn Crable, Georgia Tech's Darrell Robertson and Vanderbilt's Jonathan Goff. Expect this position to be addressed with both an inside and outside linebacker.
San Francisco (5-11 in 2007)
Head coach: Mike Nolan (Fourth year)
Key needs: 1. Offensive line 2. Linebacker 3. Defensive end
1. Offensive line - The 49ers have a few holes along the line that must be addressed or quarterback Alex Smith never will realize his potential. With Joe Staley moving to left tackle from the right side, the 49ers hope to add one of the top right tackles in this deep class. They like Boston College tackle Gosder Cherilus but would have to trade up from the 29th overall spot to select him. They like USC tackle Sam Baker in first round. They have little depth on the interior and could address that area fairly early, with a third- or fourth-round selection. They like Oregon State's Roy Schuening, Pitt's Mike McGlynn, Arizona State's Mike Pollak and Arkansas' Robert Felton.
2. Linebacker - The 49ers have not received the impact necessary from their outside linebackers. They like hybrid end/linebacker Cliff Avril for the outside and have him earmarked for the second round. They also like Michigan's Shawn Crable, Georgia Tech's Darrell Robertson and TCU's Tommy Blake in the middle rounds.
3. Defensive end - The 49ers have suffered losses here with the retirement of Bryant Young and the free-agent defection of Marques Douglas. They like Miami's Calais Campbell early. They also like Eastern Michigan's Jason Jones, West Virginia's Keilen Dykes and Hampton's Kendall Langford in the middle rounds.
4. Wide receiver - The 49ers addressed their weak receiving corps with the free-agent signings of Bryant Johnson and Isaac Bruce. They still will consider an early selection here. California's DeSean Jackson, LSU's Early Doucet, Oklahoma's Malcolm Kelly and Indiana's James Hardy could be available.
5. Cornerback - Youngster Shawntae Spencer has made some progress but still needs to step up. With the 29th overall pick, the 49ers probably would get a chance at Arizona's Antoine Cason or Virginia Tech's Brandon Flowers, which could be tempting.
Seattle (10-6 in 2007)
Head coach: Mike Holmgren (17th year)
Key needs: 1. Offensive line 2. Tight end 3. Defensive tackle
1. Offensive line - The Seahawks are getting old along the line. They will consider a tackle and a guard early and like Boston College tackle Gosder Cherilus and USC tackle Sam Baker at the No. 25. Veteran guard Mike Wahle is a good stopgap addition, but a guard like Oregon State's Roy Schuening or USC's Chilo Rachal would be a nice fit with Seattle.
2. Tight end - Seattle definitely will address this area, and probably in the early rounds. Notre Dame's John Carlson and Purdue's Dustin Keller are perfect fits for a Mike Holmgren offense and probable second-round selections. The Seahawks also will consider USC's Fred Davis and Texas A&M's Martellus Bennett in the third.
3. Defensive Tackle - They were happy last season with rookie Brandon Mebane, who replaced injury-prone Marcus Tubbs. They look for Tubbs to return but also hope to add another top talent for the inside. They will look to address this unit fairly early, possibly with their second-round selection. They like Notre Dame's Trevor Laws and Arkansas' Marcus Harrison in the second round, and Maryland's Dre Moore and Florida State's Letroy Guion in the third round.
4. Running back - This unit added veterans Julius Jones and T.J. Duckett to provide depth behind starter Shaun Alexander. They are good stopgap additions, but a feature back such as Oregon's Jonathan Stewart would be difficult to pass on with the 25th overall pick. They also like Arkansas' Felix Jones late in the first round and East Carolina's Chris Johnson and Texas' Jamaal Charles in the second round.
5. Kicker - The Seahawks lost Josh Brown in free agency and signed veteran Olindo Mare quickly as a stopgap replacement. They will consider NC State's Steven Hauschka and Wisconsin's Taylor Mehlhaff in the late rounds.
St. Louis (3-13 in 2007)
Head coach: Scott Linehan (3rd year)
Key needs: 1. Offensive line 2. Defensive end 3. Cornerback
1. Defensive end - The Rams have lost several defensive linemen to free agency in the past few seasons and have struggled to replace Grant Wistrom's pass rush. They probably will address this area. They may have a chance at Virginia's Chris Long. They also like Auburn's Quentin Groves and USC's Lawrence Jackson in the second round.
2. Wide receiver - The Rams lost Isaac Bruce in free agency this year after losing Kevin Curtis and Shaun McDonald last year. Starters Drew Bennett and Torry Holt are over 30, and there is little depth. The Rams would welcome a playmaker and could have their chance at one in the second round. They hope for a difference-maker such as Indiana's James Hardy or LSU's Early Doucet in the second round and like Florida's Andre Caldwell, Vanderbilt's Earl Bennett and Houston's Donnie Avery in the third round. They also like Appalachian State's Dexter Jackson and Hawaii's Davone Bess in the middle rounds.
3. Offensive tackle - The Rams have major problems on the outside with injury-prone Orlando Pace turning 33 this fall and youngster Alex Barron struggling to find consistency. Jake Long has moved up the charts quickly and is probably on the board at No. 2 overall. They could select Boston College's Gosder Cherilus in the second if he's still on the board. They like USC's Sam Baker in the second round and Nebraska's Carl Nicks and Texas' Tony Hills in the third round.
4. Cornerback - Starting corners Tye Hill and Fakhir Brown are adequate, but rookie Jonathan Wade struggled to fill the nickel role last season. The Rams could address this spot early if the right prospect is available. They like Virginia Tech's Brandon Flowers, and also are impressed with Indiana's Tracy Porter and Kansas' Aqib Talib in the second round. They will consider corners such as Colorado's Terrence Wheatley, USF's Trae Williams and Akron's Reggie Corner in the middle rounds.
5. Running back - The Rams probably will address this area at some point of the draft, as there is marginal depth on their roster. They probably won't use a top-100 pick at this position but will look to a situation-type back on the second day such as Georgia's Thomas Brown or Morgan State's Chad Simpson.

Frank Coyle is a nationally known NFL scout who publishes Draft Insiders' Digest and www.draftinsiders.com. In it's 16th season, Draft Insiders' Digest is dedicated to year-round coverage of NFL and NCAA Football. He covers the NFL Draft and free agency extensively with a veteran scouting staff that provides insightful and unique information on players and team potential in the coming seasons. Draft Insiders' Digest is an extensive publication that produces 15 issues throughout the year and a Draft Yearbook with over 450 in-depth scouting reports.

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