2022 NFL Season Preview: NFC West
By: Logan Lepiscopo
Los Angeles Rams
The Super Bowl champs are ready to run it back this year with somehow an even stronger team than last season. The Rams signed Matthew Stafford to a four-year extension and brought in two more veterans, one on each side of the ball, Bobby Wagner, and Allen Robinson. The Rams have 7.49M left in cap space and the rumors around Odell Beckham Jr. coming back are still flying high, Beckham back in this offense would make it the most lethal offense in the NFL. The Rams did not have a draft pick until the third round and used just three of their eight draft picks on the offensive side of the ball.
Strengths: It is hard to pick out just one strength for the Rams, this roster is one of if not the most well-rounded teams in the NFL. Offensively you have one of the best WR trios in the NFL, you have a future hall of fame quarterback under center, and you have the young Cam Akers back in to start at running back. On defense you have Aaron Donald, Bobby Wagner, and Jalen Ramsey… is there a need to introduce anybody else?
Weaknesses: Many are worried about the Rams offensive line heading into the 2022 season because of the loss of Andrew Whitworth, having Joe Noteboom in to replace Whitworth makes the offensive line not even a minor concern to me. My biggest concern and weakness for the Los Angeles Rams is their pass rush. Von Miller is not an easy guy to replace, though the numbers don’t look like they are there, Miller had a great year rushing the passer. Aaron Donald, Leonard Floyd, and Greg Gaines are still there to rush the passer, it is a matter of what linebacker is going to be able to slide in and fill that Von Miller role.
The Cardinals did great work keeping the offense together, resigning Zach Ertz, James Conner, and A.J. Green and even got Marquise Brown to fill in for Christian Kirk through a draft trade. DeAndre Hopkins currently has a six-game suspension being hung over his head for PED use, but this wide receiver group will do just fine without Hopkins. In the 2022 NFL draft the Cardinals got robbed trading their first-round pick for Marquise Brown but got a new young tight end with their first pick in the second round Trey McBride. The team got edge help with their next two picks in the third-round drafting Cameron Thomas and Myjai Sanders. The Arizona Cardinals also drafted late round players in positions of need.
Strengths: Wide receiver, quarterback, running back, and tight end are all strengths of the Cardinals. This team’s starting four wide receivers are incredible, Zach Ertz and Trey McBride are going to be a scary tight end duo, they have Kyler Murray throwing the football, and oh, if the passing game isn’t working you have James Conner and Darrel Williams to pound the rock. On the defensive side of the football the Cardinals do not have much going for them, Budda Baker and J.J. Watt is the 1A and 1B to this defense’s success but the supporting cast around those two is absent.
Weaknesses: Since we left off on the defense in the strengths, let us address the defenses weaknesses; pass rush, linebackers, and cornerbacks. I do not expect much from this Cardinals defense, the 21.5 PPG allowed to opponents in 2021 is going to see an increase even if it is minimal. Pass rushers are led by 33-year-old J.J. Watt that cannot stay healthy, the linebackers are led by 31-year-old Marcus Golden, and the cornerback group is led by Byron Murphy Jr. who had ranked 80th among PFF graded cornerbacks. Offensively the guys in the trenches are well beyond their best playing days. The offensive line has an average age of 30.2 years old, the youngest being newly signed right guard Will Hernandez. The Cardinals offensive line is certainly not lacking any veteran presence, but with three of the five starters being over 30 years old, causes for some injury concern and how much more their body can handle, just one player on the Cardinals offensive line played all 17 games in 2021, and that was the 26, soon 27-year-old Will Hernandez.
San Francisco 49ers
Bang Bang Niner Gang! Somehow, someway, Deebo Samuel is still on the roster despite all of the free agency drama that there was. The 49ers did not make any big splashes in free agency, Charvarius Ward may be the biggest name that was added to the team. The 49ers are another NFC West team that did not hold a first-round pick in the draft this year, using their first selection in the second round for Drake Jackson out of USC. San Francisco also drafted a couple very athletic rookies in the sixth round; offensive lineman Nick Nakelj and defensive back Tariq Castro-Fields. The current depth chart for the 49ers shows Trey Lance to be the projected starter week one. Garoppolo and his agent could officially seek a trade, so the question still remains… where will Jimmy Garoppolo go?
Strengths: The front seven of the 49ers is easily the team’s biggest strength heading into the 2022 season. Nick Bosa, Dee Ford, Javon Kinlaw, and Arik Armstead all healthy and ready to go for week one are going to cause offenses to panic. Then in the linebacker group there is Dre Greenlaw, Azeez Al-Shaair, and none other than Fred Warner. Looking at this front seven on paper I would say that us is one of the best, perhaps the best in the NFL. Offensively Deebo Samuel is the primary focus of the team, George Kittle and Elijah Mitchell cannot be forgotten either; it is more of if the two can stay on the field fully healthy all season.
Weaknesses: I am still somewhat worried about this 49ers cornerback room, but it is not my biggest concern for San Francisco. The interior offensive line is my weakest point for this team, losing both Alex Mack and Laken Tomlinson is not just something a team can adjust to without a small struggle. The wide receiver department is another area I would label as a weakness for the 49ers due to the lack of depth behind Deebo Samuel. Brandon Aiyuk has been mediocre considering he was a first-round pick and bringing Ray-Ray McCloud in is nothing but a special teams move.
Seattle’s fans are really going to need to step up as the 12th man this season because on paper it looks like this is going to be one of the worst seasons in recent Seahawks history. A lot happened during free agency for the Seahawks, the headline of Russell Wilson becoming a Denver Bronco is easily the biggest this entire offseason. Seattle signed Uchenna Nwosu to help their pass rush, brought back Quandre Diggs, and defensive tackle Quinton Jefferson. The Seahawks had an amazing draft class picking some of the most athletic prospects in the entire 2022 class: Charles Cross, Boye Mafe, Kenneth Walker III, Abraham Lucas, Coby Bryant, Tariq Woolen, and Tyreke Smith. A very small yet athletic draft class and I am a huge fan of what they did to help speed up the rebuilding process.
Strengths: *Cricket Noises* Tyler Lockett and DK Metcalf? Jamal Adams and Quandre Diggs? Jordyn Brooks is a star in the making along with newly acquired Uchenna Nwosu. Shelby Harris and Noah Fant were acquired through the Russell Wilson trade and should hop right into the spotlight in Seattle. I quite honestly never thought there would be a team with not a single one position to label a strength if I had to label one though it would more than likely be the safety position with Jamal Adams and Quandre Diggs. Expect the Seahawks to be tanking for one of these quarterbacks coming out of the 2023 draft class.
Weaknesses: Everything outside the eight players that I listed above. The quarterback situation is awful, Geno Smith and Drew Lock are going to be the worst quarterback competition this offseason and it currently sounds like Geno Smith has the advantage going into mandatory training camp. The running back situation is not necessarily bad; it is just an injury waiting to happen between Rashaad Penny and Chris Carson, not to mention rookie Kenneth Walker III was listed with a hamstring injury roughly a week ago, at the time this was written. The offensive line is terrible, ranked 32nd by PFF, hopefully rookie Charles Cross can come in and be the left tackle that this Seattle franchise needs. The cornerback group is just as bad, the Seahawks finished with the second most passing yards allowed per game last season, and the season before that, 2022 however I expect Seattle to be right at the top of the list. Perhaps allowing over 300 passing yards a game (that would be around where the team was two years ago averaging 300.7 passing yards allowed per game).