Curious Fits: NFC West

By Alen Dumonjic
May 28, 2013

Photo: Daaka2

Every year, NFL teams select players in the draft that are curious fits. Questions about overall talent level and scheme fit are raised, most of which are valid. Last year, there were plenty of questions about players, some of which were answered while others are still up in the air. It'll be the same with the 2013 class, and I'll be selecting one player from each team.

To begin, the focus is on the NFC West, a division that has quickly become arguably the best in the NFL because of how quickly its teams have improved.

Arizona Cardinals

The Arizona Cardinals, perhaps the division's worst team, made a splash in the draft, selecting a stud offensive lineman in the first round (Jonathan Cooper, G, UNC) and adding playmakers on both sides of the ball.

The most popular playmaker was former LSU nickel back Tyrann Matheiu, a flashy defender who doesn't quite meet the size requirements for the pros but has a nose for the ball. There's a lot of questions about Mathieu's ability to transition to the pros, but he's not the most curious pick. That's fourth round pick Alex Okafor.

Okafor was a defensive end at Texas and a good one at that. Previously a defensive tackle, Okafor uses his hands very well and is a fine player at the point of contact. He's not much of a standup rusher, however, and that's what he'll be asked to do in Todd Bowles' exotic scheme.

He doesn't have much juice off the edge and might be best fit as a defensive end. That's not to say he can't do the job at outside linebacker; rather, he's not necessarily as adept to it as he is to end. He's one to watch for sure.

San Francisco 49ers

On the other end of curiosity are the San Francisco 49ers, well-known for their drafting. They made an interesting one in the fourth round this year, selecting South Carolina running back Marcus Lattimore.

Lattimore is an inspiration, having torn ligaments in both knees, with the worst coming in his right. Against Tennessee this past season, he tore his LCL, PCL and ACL. Fortunately, he still has his leg and a shot at contributing in the NFL. But how great of a shot does he have with the 49ers, who have a backfield that includes Frank Gore, LaMichael James, Kendall Hunter, Anthony Dixon and underrated free agent pickup D.J. Harper?

That's a crowded backfield, and a bit of a confusing selection on the 49ers' part, especially if Lattimore doesn't come back healthy. That's why they make the big bucks, though.

Seattle Seahawks

As for the Seahawks, the NFL's bad boys, they arguably got the biggest steal of the draft when they landed Alabama nose tackle Jesse Williams in the fifth round. Williams had the talent to be a first round selection but fell after a reported shaky evaluation of his knee, according to NFL.com's Albert Breer. Breer's report also mentions that Williams' slide in the draft was a case of the “public perceiving a player to be a better prospect than he was in scouts' eyes,” which I don't buy one bit.

Williams is a hard working lineman that can play nose tackle (one technique) or defensive end (five, seven or nine) depending on the front. He can provide a bit of pass-rush and is an excellent run defender, although he is still learning how to play the game.

That's part of why Williams was such an attractive prospect for many leading up to the draft, but also why he's a curious fit with the Seahawks. Will he continue to hone his craft at the nose or end spot? He might be best fit at nose, but the Seahawks could look to use him as a closed end in the Red Bryant mold.

St. Louis Rams

Last of all are the St. Louis Rams, who made great strides last season under first-year head coach Jeff Fisher and general manager Les Snead. Both men are known for their gambling on prospects, notably cornerback Janoris Jenkins in 2012 and linebacker Alec Ogletree in 2013. Although Ogletree was a risky selection, he has a lot of talent that makes it easier to pick him.

Conversely, former USC safety T.J. McDonald doesn't have many questions about his character (as far as I know), but there are questions about his ability on the football field. 

McDonald was selected in the third round by the Rams, who were in need of an upgrade at safety. They selected the type of player who runs well but is tight in the hips and at his best coming downhill. That could be an issue in the Rams' defensive scheme, which places emphasis on the safeties getting outside to the numbers.

Next week: NFC East

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