After a 13-3 2015 season and an embarrassing 49-15 loss in the NFC Championship, the Arizona Cardinals had their sights set on vengeance in 2016. It all fell apart however, resulting in an 8-7-1 record. Injuries, bad luck, and a disappointing season from veteran quarterback Carson Palmer are the main reasons why. Nonetheless, this is a 2017 preview and after a strong draft, I believe the Cardinals are all business in 2017 and undoubtedly have their sights set on a ring. Offensively, the Cardinals are well rounded. The return of 33 year old future Hall of Fame wide out Larry Fitzgerald is huge. He has not seen a decrease in production yet, and the addition of Grambling State “can do” receiver Chad Williams should give Palmer enough to throw at in 2017. That toppled with the fact that the Cardinals have arguably the most productive player in football, running back David Johnson. They also have a strong core up front means this offense should be ready to run with the NFL’s elite.
Defensively, this team seems to be in an even better spot. Their 3-4 scheme allows their unparalleled onslaught of upper echelon edge rushers consisting of Markus Golden, Chandler Jones and new faces Jarvis Jones from the Steelers and number 13 pick, athletic pass rushing freak, Hassan Reddick to display their respective yet expansive wheelhouse’s. The scheme also allows Robert Nkemdiche and Corey Peters to do their best job making their presence felt up front. Deone Buchannon has found a niche at inside backer for them and the draft day addition of University of Washington safety Budda Baker in addition to the pickup of veteran safety Antoine Bethea from the 49ers only strengthens their already loaded secondary. Head Coach Bruce Arians is one of my personal favorites and is among the NFL’s great motivators. I truly believe like most other teams, this teams production will come down to their ability to stay healthy and the play of Carson Palmer. He had an MVP like season during the NFC championship run and consistent ability to not turn the ball over and get it to his slew of play-makers should result in a playoff and maybe even Super Bowl run for the cardinals in 2017.
San Fransisco 49ers
The San Fransisco 49ers entered the 2016 season headed in a new direction. It’s something that has plagued their franchise ever since the falling out between GM Trent Baalke and former head coach Jim Harbaugh. Harbaugh took the Niners to two consecutive NFC Championships in 2012 and 2013, before leaving the franchise after a tumultuous 8-8 2014 campaign. One year removed from the departure of Harbaugh, and fresh off giving his replacement Jim Tomsula the axe, the Niners looked to Chip Kelly to mend their wounds. Kelly, a former offensive x’s and o’s wizard at the collegiate level, had seen his league wide prestige and intrigue dwindle after two disheartening seasons in Philadelphia. Kelly’s recent woes carried on to San Fransisco, as the team struggled mightily throughout the year finishing 2-14. Kelly’s offense looked lost the majority of the season as Carlos Hyde failed to break the 1,000 yard mark, struggling with injuries along the way, and Jermey Kerley failed to fit into shoes that were clearly too big as a wide receiver one. The burden of the offensive failure however, mostly fell on the dismal quarterback play. Chip Kelly was unable to resurrect the career of Collin Kaepernick. Kaepernick struggled throughout the season, starting twelve games, completing 59% of his passes for 2241 yards. While his play struggled, Kaepernick and his team found themselves in the national media for a different reason. A controversial anthem protest, where he and some of his teammates kneeled during the national anthem, this sadly is all this team will be remembered for. But don’t worry Niners fans, this forgetful season will flee into the deepest part of your minds, only to be resurrected when Collin Kaepernick gets his inevitable 30 for 30 treatment.
A bright future however could be on its way. The Baalke-Kelly tandem was let go at seasons end and the John Lynch, Kyle Shanahan era officially began. The hiring of John Lynch surprised more than a few, with no prior front office experience but a hall of fame playing resume as a safety with the Broncos. With Kyle Shanahan the Niners get the hottest name on the carousel, boasting impressive seasons as an offensive coordinator in Washington, Cleveland, and most recently a super bowl run in Atlanta. During free agency the new look Niners began to take form, signing wide receiver Pierre Garcon and quarterback Brian Hoyer, both former starters for Shanahan in Washington and Cleveland respectively. Depth signings included wide receiver Marquise Goodwin, fullback Kyle Juszczyk, and the vastly underrated quarterback Matt Barkley. April’s first round produced two immediate impact players on defense in Stanford’s Solomon Thomas and Alabama’s Rueben Foster, at picks #3 and #31. In Thomas, San Fransisco gets a versatile defensive end who can move up and down their defensive line. With Foster the Niners got the best inside linebacker in the draft, an absolute heat seeking mauler who should have no problem starting from day one, much like Patrick Willis did ten years ago. The selection of Joe Williams in the fourth round could also pay dividends as he looks like a natural fit along side Carlos Hyde in Kyle Shanahan’s emphasized two-back system. All of this combined with the natural progression of 2016’s first rounders defensive lineman DeForest Buckner and offensive guard Joshua Garnet, both of whom impressed in year one, gives the Niners an exciting young core. Although these are steps in the right direction the franchise still has much work to do. Despite having his best professional season under Shanahan with Cleveland in 2014, Brian Hoyer is still a fringe starter at best. This lackluster situation under center fused with a competitive last place schedule, has the Niners looking at 7-9 being a best case scenario, but 5-11 more of a reality. All of this will without a doubt will put the Niners in the running for the next best young signal caller in the 2018 draft.
The Seahawks had a decent season last year, however it wasn’t up to the ususal standard Pete Carroll and Jon Schneider have established up in the north west. They did manage to beat the Patriots in Foxboro in the regular season and the Lions at home in the playoffs, however they layed multiple duds in the forms of a 5-14 loss to Tampa Bay, a 3-9 loss to the Rams, and a 10-38 loss to the Packers in which the offense turned the ball over 6 times.
Their major offensive issues stemmed not from a down year from Russell Wilson, but an offensive line by which was one of the worst I had ever seen. The Seahawks have a history of acquiring prototype players like Kam Chancellor or Richard Sherman and it being a home run, but there are the George Fant types who end up ruining seasons. For those who don’t know Fant, he was a college basketball player at Western Kentucky who ended up transitioning to football in his 5th year at the school and played as a tight end. He was undrafted in the 2016 draft, and after not playing a lick of football in his life, he was suddenly the starting left tackle for the Seattle Seahawks.
And he was terrible.
I can’t even blame Fant for being bad. The idea of never playing offensive tackle in your entire life then having to go protect Russell Wilson’s blind side is almost unimaginable. I do however blame the Seahawks in what I see as a large case of organizational hubris by thinking they can wave a magic wand and turn anybody into a stud. There’s also the case of Germain Ifedi, another tackle prototype who they took in the first round of the 2016 draft. In 2016 he started only 12 games at guard, still managing to give up 38 QB pressures and have 7 penalties called against him. Their 4th round guard pick Mike Glowinski is trash, and Justin Britt hasn’t been awful at center but he’s a large drop off from Max Unger who they had traded away.
So naturally, the Seahawks went into free agency and the draft and addressed the major issue.
Just kidding. George Fant will start at left tackle again, and since Ifedi showed so much promise at guard he’s going to start at right tackle. The only thing the Seahawks did to address the line was sign 2nd overall pick flop Luke Joeckel. They will once again try and turn water into wine, but even that seems more likely than the Seahawks o-line being any better this year.
I can’t even get excited about them drafting Malik McDowell or Nazair Jones because they blatantly ignored their biggest position of need, even if this draft was light on offensive line. The defense will defintely ball with the return of Earl Thomas and since the division is so weak I find it hard to predict them to miss the playoffs, but I think a Super Bowl is out of the picture.
Oh the Rams. I don’t really know where to begin with them, but this is a team that seems hopelessly adrift at sea. It all starts with the quarterback, Jared Goof.
Ultimately, the Rams never put him in a situation to succeed. Coming out of Cal, it was known that this is a guy who could be a productive QB, however he would need a strong supporting cast around him. By trading away so many picks to get him, I fear that they’ve stunted his growth and may give up before he’s even had the proper time to prove himself. Tavon Austin and Robert Woods are definitely the worst wide receiver duo as far as price is concerned, and the drafting of Gerald Everett does not make much sense to me, and I thought selecting Cooper Kupp was a mistake also. Outside of that however, I really don’t believe in Goff’s ability to be a leader or a guy who people will rally around. Whether it be Hard Knocks, All or Nothing, or just Mic’d Up, nothing he says seems to resonate or even come from a place of self-confidence.
I do get a little excited about the defense purely because of the Wade Phillips addition. I have never been a fan of Gregg Williams and the defense vastly under performed last year. Aaron Donald is the best interior line player in the league, and I think Alec Ogeltree is a top notch linebacker. The addition of Connor Barwin is nice as well. The secondary is vulnerable and I think they’d take back their Janoris Jenkins decision if they still could.
I don’t see much reason to be excited about this team, and if Goff falls on his face and the Rams have a high pick next year, QB isn’t out of the question.