Ranking the NFC West defenses

Matt Williamson of Scouts Inc. spent some time sizing up NFC West defenses and ranking them first through fourth. His thoughts:

To me, ranking the NFC West defenses from one to four is very easy with the possible exception of whether the St. Louis Rams or Seattle Seahawks will rank at the bottom. San Francisco is in the top spot -- and by a rather distant margin. A top-five finish overall for the 49ers is not out of the question, especially when you consider their easy schedule. But they probably will finish closer to the eighth to 10th range. The Cardinals are firmly in the second hole and I expect them to finish in the early teens when compared to the rest of the league. Seattle and St. Louis both are among the worst defenses in the NFL, but I will put the Rams last in this division by a narrow margin.

San Francisco’s defense doesn’t have any huge discernible weakness. The 49ers are solid at each level, but with the exception of Patrick Willis, who is as good as any defensive player in this league, there isn’t a ton of star power here. They play hard and are well coached. Willis is clearly the best defensive player in the division. I expect the pass rush to be improved and an underrated defensive line to get more credit as the season goes along.

Speaking of defensive lines, Arizona could be on the cusp of having one of the best lines in the NFL. Behind Willis, Darnell Dockett is the next-best defensive player in the division. In my mind, Justin Smith, Adrian Wilson and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie make up the rest of the list of top five NFC West defensive players. Calais Campbell might even be next on that list.

Even with two of the top five members from this list in their secondary, I have doubts about Arizona at the second and third levels. Joey Porter could bring production and more important, attitude, to this defense, but the inside linebackers, overall depth and the corners other than Rodgers-Cromartie don’t inspire confidence. Second-round pick Daryl Washington has looked exceptional, though.

Still, these concerns are nowhere as severe as what is going on in Seattle and especially in St. Louis. The Seahawks might be exceptional at linebacker. I also like Earl Thomas, Marcus Trufant and especially Brandon Mebane, but there is a lot of risk with all of these Seattle defenders mentioned. Trufant simply didn’t play very well in 2009. And the rest of the core players around them are less than inspiring, especially in the secondary and up front.

Which defensive players in St. Louis could start on just about any defense in the league? I can only come up with two names for that, Oshiomogho Atogwe and James Laurinaitis. And even with these two, I surely could name a dozen inside linebackers and safeties whom I would take over the Rams’ best defenders. To its credit, St. Louis does have an underrated group of linebackers who receive little publicity, and Chris Long is someone whom I remain quite high on for the long term.

Steve Spagnuolo also might be able to get more from his personnel than most coaches, but for the most part, Spags has very few cards in his hand. The Rams took their offensive centerpiece, Sam Bradford, in this past draft. They need to do the same on the defensive side of the ball with their early first-round pick in the next draft.