NFC West Team Analysis for 2021 – Assessing the Strengths and Weaknesses of Each Roster
The best division in football has been the NFC West for a few seasons now. Many people debate that the AFC North is the toughest division in football due to star-studded quarterbacks, however, the NFC West has a new sheriff in town. His name is Matthew Stafford, and he means business.
The NFC West has a realistic chance of sending three teams to the postseason in the upcoming year. If there was ever a year to have every team in the division make the playoffs, this is it.
Arizona looks much improved, and Seattle appears to still be a genuine threat. San Francisco is bound to make a comeback to relevance, and Los Angeles should remain an NFC title contender.
Without further ado, here are the biggest strengths and weaknesses for every team in the NFC West in 2021.
Biggest Strength for the Rams: Superstars
The number of superstars on this roster is a bit absurd. Sean McVay is a stud coach in his own right. His photographic memory has been well-publicized on television, and he’s one of the three best play-callers in the NFL.
Matthew Stafford is the perfect quarterback for McVay, as evidenced by the Rams sacrificing lots of capital to lure him into Tinseltown.
They are likely to reach a few Super Bowls together. For now, the Ram faithful should be thrilled. Stafford can make every throw in the book and has the perfect amount of weapons to put together a sensational season.
Jared Goff started in all those games, and they were competitive as well. Having said that, McVay was not able to use his entire playbook with the questionable arm strength of Goff.
Stafford has never been known for his mobility, but he can get the ball out of his hands as quickly as anyone. Stafford has the makings of becoming a future Hall of Famer if he can find success in January.
To his delight, this will undoubtedly be the most talented team Matthew has ever played on. Hence, the Rams are among the top five favorites to win it all.
Stafford’s arrival is clearly one of the reasons the top NFL betting sites are respecting this squad as a legit contender. Another is because the defense has a couple of franchise pieces on defense.
Aaron Donald is arguably the best defensive player we have seen in the last quarter-century. At just 30 years old, Donald has captured three Defensive Player of the Year awards. Reaching the Pro Bowl seven times and earning six All-Pro teams is flawless.
Donald demands constant doubles and has gotten the best of them. On the heels of amassing 46.5 sacks over the last three seasons, Aaron’s up to a whopping 85.5 sacks for his career.
An absolute specimen in the trenches, Donald should continue to play like a man possessed for the next decade. He has made all his teammates around him significantly better and is receiving warranted “Lawrence Taylor-like love” from many experts.
Troy Aikman believes that Donald is the best he has ever seen. Many other opinions were floating around these past few seasons, and Donald is well on track to reach the Hall of Fame with flying colors.
The other Rams defensive superstar that has been on an island all by himself has been Jalen Ramsey. Ramsey has large mitts at 6’1” and is a tremendous athlete who bullies the majority of opposing wide receivers.
I knew he would be special the first time he lined up and played for Florida State, but he has exceeded even my expectations.
Ramsey brings a ton of length and athleticism that is rare to find in a defensive back. He’s an alpha dog that will walk and talk with the best of them. He has picked off 11 passes in five seasons as a professional, and many more could be on the horizon.
Speaking of former Seminoles, running back Cam Akers is another product out of Tallahassee who’s flowing with upside in the Rams backfield. Only a second-year player, Cam should be a rising star on the offense who flourishes alongside Matthew Stafford. Akers is a reliable pass-catcher who should continue to grow in the offense.
Stafford has a dynamic duo at wide receiver that is worthy of mentioning as well. Cooper Kupp and Robert Woods are great route runners and outstanding after the catch.
Neither possesses top-end speed, but both get open at will. They can dominate on simple slants, screens, and curls. Stafford may not throw for 40-plus touchdown passes, but he’s a sincere upgrade over Goff.
This team has plenty of superstars, and they all could collectively carry them to the finish line.
Biggest Weakness for the Rams: Secondary
Winning a championship with lofty expectations is never an easy thing to manage. They can sometimes prevent a team from growing when all they think about is winning a title. There needs to be a great coaching staff and leaders to avoid being down for long.
The Rams have plenty of leaders and stars, and when looking at weaknesses, there are not many to dissect on the Rams.
I alluded to Jalen Ramsey being a superstar shutdown corner, but he needs more help around him in the secondary if the Rams want to avoid another postseason letdown.
In last year’s divisional round against Green Bay, Aaron Rodgers threw for nearly 300 yards and found Davante Adams at will. Allen Lazard hauled in a 58-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter, which put the game officially out of reach.
The Packers open their year at home on Sunday Night Football against the Bears. Ramsey will likely take down one side of the field away, and he could shadow Allen Robinson.
There needs to be other work done around the All-Pro defensive back. Darnell Mooney is a capable number two wide receiver, and the Rams need to suffocate him on the perimeter.
If this franchise wants to take the next step, the play from the safeties will need to develop.
Williams made great strides throughout the season, but the play in the back end could be the determining factor on just how elite this defense becomes. If they can avoid giving up impactful conversions on third down, the Rams could become the top defense in the league.
If Donald and his teammates upfront cannot get to the quarterback, will the secondary hold up? Time will tell. Some key questions remain for the Rams in 2021, but this might be the most intriguing.
Biggest Strength for the 49ers: Lines of Scrimmage
The 49ers have the pieces to get back to the Super Bowl. They have buried the opposition at the line of scrimmage. They piled up victories in 2019 by simply handing the ball off to a bevy of different running backs. We even saw more of that last season due to all of the injuries.
Trent Williams is one of the best tackles in the NFL, arguably the best, and tackle Mike McGlinchey is developing into quite the road grader. Center Alex Mack is the perfect leader for Shanahan as the two were together when the Falcons made their Super Bowl appearance back in 2017.
Laken Tomlinson is a capable left guard, and Daniel Brunskill is not too shabby for an undrafted player. Brunskill has seen time in 30 games with 23 starts over his young career thus far. As a unit, this is one of the premier lines in the NFL.
And the stout blocking doesn’t end there. Kyle Jusczyk and George Kittle are arguably the best blockers in the NFL at their position. A lot gets made out of Jusczyk catching the ball in the flats.
While that play is always open and available, he is a menace when blocking somebody into next week. Kittle has been an animal his whole career and is an unstoppable force when he stays healthy.
Raheem Mostert will likely reap the benefits as a dominant back when he goes untouched to the second level. He is one of the faster and most elusive backs out there as his top-end speed can reach 20-plus miles per hour. The San Francisco offense is more methodical than explosive, but Mostert can give them that perfect mixture.
As much as the passing game hopes to improve, it’ll be up to the Niners offensive line to pave their way to the postseason.
The defensive side is where San Fran was unstoppable two seasons ago. Losing DeForest Buckner was tough to overcome last season, but Javon Kinlaw should contribute more to his second season.
Arik Armstead and Nick Bosa are the freaks off the edge who make the 49ers such a tough team to block.
The amount of beef this team has is out of control. If teams double Bosa and/or Armstead, the rest of the front four come shooting through the gaps. If you focus too much on the defensive line, the secondary could come on corner blitzes.
While missing Robert Saleh will be tough to replace, DeMeco Ryans is more than capable of making this defense one of the five best units in the NFL.
The 49ers may not have All-Pro weapons at running back or wide receiver, but they are fundamentally sound in the trenches. The size, strength, and athleticism on both sides of the lines will be the best advantage they carry into the 2021 season.
Biggest Weakness for the 49ers: Quarterback Quandary
Kyle Shanahan has some postseason demons to take care of, but he sure has shown some success in the regular season. The 49ers are a franchise that is looking for more consistency.
The fact of the matter is this franchise has won six or fewer games in three of Shanahan’s four seasons at the helm. That is unacceptable for the 49ers organization, and it starts with improving the production under center.
Jimmy Garoppolo came close to winning a Super Bowl two seasons ago, and now the injury bug has struck him yet again.
Going back to the last three seasons, Garoppolo has missed about half of the games. That is tough to witness when the franchise has been itching for a successful quarterback for years.
With Garoppolo’s availability and waning production in mind, the 49ers boldly drafted North Dakota State quarterback Trey Lance to take over, eventually. Lance brings a more athletic, physical presence as a runner that Shanahan has obviously keyed in on.
The ability to dominate a game in the trenches is the preference, but the struggles at quarterback are what make this a difficult team to judge entering the season.
There will undoubtedly be a learning curve for Lance; it’s likely he serves as the backup early on in the season. He is a great athlete who can escape pressure well but has ways to go as a passer. The plan would be to give him snaps in mop-up duty until he gets a feel for Shanny’s system.
All in all, trouble could be looming for the franchise in 2021 based on expectations. Garoppolo is a player that must stay healthy if they expect to continue their winning ways.
This team needs a reliable game manager who can stay on the field and make the key throws when asked. Garoppolo should be that guy, but he has been too inconsistent to say with certainty.
If he makes the necessary strides, this team will reach the postseason without a doubt. If he struggles with another injury or his play diminishes, look for the 49ers could be one of the bigger disappointments in the NFL.
Biggest Strength for the Seahawks: Passing Offense
Russell Wilson for mayor. Russell Wilson has been a godsend for the Seahawks franchise. He is one of the smartest, athletically gifted passers in the league. His ability to drop the ball in a bucket with some precision is what makes him an elite quarterback.
|Russell Wilson – Balling Out Since 2017|
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It has been four consecutive seasons in which Wilson has thrown for 31-plus touchdowns. He is consistently among the elite passers due to his ability to make something out of nothing.
He has made spectacular breath-taking plays when he backpedals and spins away from oncoming traffic.
Wilson is a clutch performer in the fourth quarter who’s starting to receive help from his teammates. DK Metcalf is a genetic freak who can get behind the defense with ease. And then there’s Tyler Lockett, one of the better route runners in the league and a guy who has developed a deep ball connection with Wilson.
The rapport the two have built these last four seasons is incredible.
When Wilson is outside the pocket, Locket will break off his route and read the eyes of Wilson. The opposition has yet to crack the code between the two stars of Seattle. Lockett was peppered with 20 targets and caught 15 of them for 200 yards and three touchdowns on Sunday Night Football versus Arizona. Lockett torched the Cardinals that night, but consistency is where improvement is needed.
Lockett received eight-plus targets in half of the games. He was able to post 60-plus yards in all those contests with ten touchdowns. Unfortunately, he did not score in any other game.
In fact, the entire offense fell off a cliff in those final six weeks (Lockett managed just 33 receptions for 306 yards with two scores). To be one of the best passing options in the NFL, Lockett needs to be more of a focal point early in ball games.
The offense will try to get more out of their run game, but that is far from a sure thing. The passing attack is the bread-and-butter of the Seahawks. This team would be in trouble without it.
The tight ends are not factors, but Will Dissly and Gerald Everett are capable players. Everett was an athletic player for the Rams, and Dissly has made his fair share of plays when Wilson calls his number.
Other weapons could fill in on passing downs. Freddie Swain, D’Wayne Eskridge, and Penny Hart could make contributions as well. The depth could be better, but Russell Wilson could turn any average Joe into a respectable player.
It should be an exciting season ahead for the Seahawks, and they will have chances to come from behind in many games thanks to their star signal-caller and receivers.
Biggest Weakness for the Seahawks: Offensive Line, Backfield
The Seattle offense had plenty of good and bad performances in the 2020 season. Russell Wilson was running for his life down the stretch of the year. The talent this team has in the trenches needs a serious upgrade.
Duane Brown is aging at 35, it’s only a matter of time before he hangs up the cleats. He has one final year remaining on the contract before the franchise will need another blindside tackle protecting Wilson.
The Seattle signal-caller has been dodging bullets for years in the pocket, but it was out of control last season (sacked 47 times, 3rd-most in the NFL).
Ethan Pocic is an average center, but this unit could not move the opposing defensive front. Damien Lewis and Gabe Jackson could be decent this upcoming season, but they are far from All-Pro performers. Starting tackle Brandon Shell is closer to an average backup than he is to a starter.
Perhaps the blame on the deficiencies up front fall back on the front office.
Seattle hasn’t drafted an offensive lineman in the first round since German Ifedi in 2016. The lack of a sincere mauler on the O-line has set this offense back a few pegs.
The team was tied for No. 27 in the NFL in sacks allowed (48). The production has been abysmal, and the talent level is not likely to improve much in 2021.
Pete Carroll is a future Hall of Fame coach who has had very good to great rosters over his time with Seattle, but their line of scrimmage has gradually gotten worse.
Chris Carson was getting obliterated in the backfield consistently, and as a result, is often injured. A solid back when healthy, Carson possesses a solid north-south running style but is not known for his speed.
Carson is also not the quickest of backs, therefore, the woes of the offensive line have negatively impacted his play.
Depth in the RB room is also a concern. Rashaad Penny has had major knee issues and has been unable to sustain any momentum.
The backups behind Carson and Penny are nothing to write home about.
Travis Homer and DeeJay Dallas are nothing more than practice squad players. They both filled in admirably when their name was called last season, but both lack the size to provide anything further than minimal third-down snaps.
Perhaps they will be in the market during the preseason for another running back, but the overall talent is average at best.
When an offense is struggling, the run game has provided a boost to most franchises. Seattle has not gotten much from the backfield, and too much pressure is on the starting quarterback.
If Russell Wilson cannot be a Houdini, the offense becomes stagnant. On the other hand, when Wilson, Lockett, and Metcalf are clicking, the offense is tough to limit.
Biggest Strength for the Cardinals: Speed
The Arizona Cardinals are going to be one of the most entertaining teams in the NFL. Players such as Budda Baker, Isaiah Simmons, Chandler Jones, Byron Murphy, Zaven Collins, and JJ Watt are just some of their stud defenders brimming with speed.
Jones returns after missing most of the season, and Collins and Simmons were two of the better collegiate defenders during their time. 2021 could be when Arizona starts to reap all of these benefits.
Simmons can play everywhere on the field due to his athleticism and overall speed. Despite getting “caught from behind by DK Metcalf,” Baker is still one of the most explosive defensive backs in the NFL. This defensive team speed is among the best in the NFL.
Of course, we can’t talk about the speed of the Cardinals for too long without shining a lot on #1.
Kyler Murray’s wheels make him one of the most explosive quarterbacks in the league; he’s run for nearly 1,400 yards through his first two seasons and has cemented his status as one of the best fantasy football QBs.
The speedy quarterback will take off in a flash and can gain yards on broken plays that were never there from the get-go. Boding well for Kliff Kingsbury, the speed on offense isn’t just about Kyler. The weapons at wide receiver are outrageous in terms of speed.
DeAndre Hopkins has been one of the better wide receivers in the last decade-plus in the NFL. Hopkins has caught over 100 passes in three consecutive seasons. He has a Hall of Fame catch radius and a knack to scoot past defenders – both assisting in maintaining lots of touchdown upside.
We have seen him rise above all defenders in his Hail Mary game-winning touchdown against the Buffalo Bills. That play put the entire state of the league into a frenzy. Hopkins is also known for his ability to catch a slant, evade a tackle, and take it to the house.
Hopkins has a bevy of teammates that should be able to step up as well. Larry Fitzgerald has not confirmed whether or not he is going to retire or play for another year, but there are more than enough bodies to step up and fill the void.
Christian Kirk and Andy Isabella are two undersized speedsters that can take the top off the defense. Kirk went bonkers against Seattle on Sunday Night Football and then did the same against Dallas on Monday Night Football. Kirk was a solid collegiate player at Texas A&M but always could find paydirt due to exceptional speed.
Murray built a solid rapport with Kirk, but the inaccurate passes would sometimes get away from Kirk. Having Kliff Kingsbury dial up more slants and screens increased the number of connections between the duo.
Isabella is yet to receive significant playing time. Still, he is a capable pass-catching speedster. The offense will occasionally run four and five receiver sets. That benefits Kirk and Isabella and can make life easier on Murray, but let’s remember this team signed AJ Green and drafted Rondale Moore.
We’ll see what Green has left in the tank, as there are questions about how much of an impact he can make in this wide-open offense with several pieces in place.
Green has not had a relevant season in terms of health and production since 2017. He was peppered with 100 targets last season but only hauled in 47 receptions for 523 yards (11.1 career low YPC). He missed the entire 2019 season (torn ligaments in ankle), and that was coming off a season in which he missed seven games in 2018.
If Green can be a threat in the red zone, that’ll be a big bonus. In any case, Rondale Moore looks to be a serious difference-maker.
The rookie out of Purdue is similar in stature to Kirk and Isabella but comes with amplified explosiveness. His exceptional career in West Lafayette has touts pointing toward Tyreek Hill for comparisons.
Throw in the speed of Chase Edmonds coming out of the backfield and you begin to see the dilemma for opposing defensive coordinators. The number of weapons and speed scattered into this offense is tough for any DC to digest.
Biggest Weakness for the Cardinals: Running Back Production
The Arizona Cardinals have great production on the ground from their quarterback. Kyler Murray is a threat for 1,000 yards after rushing for 819 last season. Murray is not the issue in the Arizona backfield. The actual running backs are the concerns.
Kenyon Drake has moved onto Vegas and was replaced by James Conner. A solid in-between-the-tackles runner, Conner has endured health concerns thus far in the NFL. After battling cancer and a torn MCL in the 2015 season in college, Conner has made strides just to make it to the NFL.
A tremendous athlete who even lined up at defensive line in a bowl game, Conner should bring more production than Drake provided. Specifically, as a blocker in pass protection.
Edmonds had some moments (see games against Seattle) but was too inconsistent to make much of an impact. He would get arm-tackled and go down with ease at times. An undersized back, Chase profiles as a classic third-down back who can make defenders miss in open space when given a chance.
The problem is he’s used in a different role and Murray did not dump it off much. Arizona would go to the shotgun on third-and-short situations.
It is comical to see that happen for some offenses, but that is why Kingsbury calls the shots. Murray will either take it himself or allow a running back to get buried behind the line of scrimmage.
The team was feast or famine too often, and Arizona is expecting more from the depth chart this season.
Behind Conner and Edmonds are players who may not make the opening season roster. Eno Benjamin and Jonathan Ward are the next men up, and Benjamin has seen the NFL field more.
Benjamin could become an emergency back if something were to happen to either Conner or Edmonds. The former Sun Devil is a local product that can catch the ball out of the backfield and occasionally run with authority.
If either Edmonds or Conner does get dinged up, Murray might as well be considered the full-time running back.
Arizona is more likely to go four or five wide with consistency than bring in a back and try to be a balanced offensive squad. Kingsbury wishes the offense could be more effective in short-yard situations, but this team will only go as far as their star signal-caller takes them.
Which NFC West Team Is Strongest?
The recent loss of Cam Akers has made this division even more of a complete toss-up. It was already considered the toughest to choose from due to its overall strengths.
Defense is what makes the West elite. The Rams and 49ers are two of the five best in the league. The Cardinals will be improved, and the Seahawks are still above average when healthy.
The division should come down to quarterback play, and that is where Matthew Stafford and the Rams should hold the slightest of edges. The Rams and 49ers are co-favorites (+190) per many sportsbooks, but Stafford brings an added element to Sean McVay. The arm strength allows for the use of the entire playbook.
Cooper Kupp and Robert Woods were not known for their blazing speed, but they have made enough plays down the field with Jared Goff to be considered threats alongside Stafford. An improving defense on the Rams with star talent is tough to pass on.
I still love this division to have at least two in the postseason, and the 49ers will be one of them. Arizona is a dangerous team due to their overall speed, and I never like betting against Russell Wilson.
Still, the Rams are the best team out West and will remain the top challenger to Tampa Bay repeating as NFC champions.
For more analysis on other division’s strengths and weaknesses, take a look at the posts below.
- 2021 Strengths and Weaknesses for the NFC North
- 2021 Strengths and Weaknesses for the AFC North
- 2021 Strengths and Weaknesses for the NFC South
- 2021 Strengths and Weaknesses for the AFC South
- 2021 Strengths and Weaknesses for the NFC East
- 2021 Strengths and Weaknesses for the AFC East
- 2021 Strengths and Weaknesses for the AFC West