Mocking potential NFC West alternatives

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

Sensing the shortage of mock drafts this time of year, I joined ESPN.com's other divisional bloggers in putting together our own version.

A confession: I sent Virginia tackle Eugene Monroe to the Rams at No. 2 knowing the decision helped avert a dilemma with Seattle at No. 4.

Sending another player to the Rams -- specifically receiver Michael Crabtree -- might have complicated the choice I was facing two picks later.

If Crabtree disappeared from the available pool at No. 2 and my AFC West counterpart, Bill Williamson, snagged Wake Forest linebacker Aaron Curry for the Chiefs at No. 3, then what for Seattle? I wasn't ready to join the Mark Sanchez-to-Seattle hype machine, but the possibility seemed more realistic without Crabtree and Curry available as alternatives.

The Rams need a tackle more than Seattle needs one, the thinking goes, so it's convenient for St. Louis to take one, leaving the Seahawks with more palatable options two picks later.

Alas, these are all theories built on assumptions. Reality figures to diverge significantly.

Four of Scouts Inc.'s 32 highest-ranked players -- Tennessee defensive end Robert Ayers, Florida receiver Percy Harvin, Western Michigan safety Louis Delmas and Connecticut cornerback Darius Butler -- failed to find their way into our divisional bloggers' mock. Two players appearing on our mock -- Rutgers receiver Kenny Britt and Wake Forest cornerback Alphonso Smith -- did not earn spots on the Scouts Inc. top 32.

I doubt whether any two NFL teams share the same rankings for the top 32 players.

There is no consensus, in other words.

With that, I'll break down where each of my projected NFC West projections could break down.

St. Louis Rams

The Rams need a starting offensive tackle. Everyone knows it. Drafting offensive tackles also qualifies as a relatively safe practice. General manager Billy Devaney and head coach Steve Spagnuolo have sounded like play-it-safe types in recent months. They've talked about building along the lines and avoiding players with character risks.

OK, but what if they think they can find a starting tackle after the first round? What if Devaney takes a more aggressive approach to the draft? His mentor, Bobby Beathard, routinely traded away first-round choices while with the Chargers in the 1990s. Trading back appears much less likely for the Rams given the current financial stakes associated with the top choices, but none of us knows for sure precisely what the Rams' new braintrust thinks of its existing talent.

The Rams' obvious needs at tackle, receiver, defensive tackle and linebacker open multiple scenarios. They could even take a quarterback.

Devaney's Chargers once used the second overall choice for Ryan Leaf. Spagnuolo and Rams offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur were with the Eagles when Philadelphia selected Donovan McNabb second overall. Spagnuolo's most recent mentor, Tom Coughlin, won a Super Bowl with a quarterback his organization acquired in exchange for a top-five pick and other choices.

Seattle Seahawks

Crabtree makes sense for Seattle if you think he's one of the very few choices appealing enough to qualify as a top-10 pick any year, not just this one.

Another general manager told me he considered Crabtree a riskier pick than Seattle GM Tim Ruskell would want to make at No. 4. That helps explain why Ruskell, like most GMs holding the highest choices, would much prefer to be selecting later in the round.

Ruskell has even joked about scenarios whereby multiple teams passed on their selections. At least I think he was joking. If he was, the Seahawks will select someone, and it's tough to find prospects with more talent than Crabtree.

I could see the Seahawks selecting Curry, but he was off the board when I made the selection for the bloggers' mock. Curry stands out as the type of big-school, small-risk prospect Ruskell and his personnel people would love to have on their team.

I'm not sure the Seahawks have the luxury of watching a quarterback sit on the bench for the next season or two. The team needs immediate results after finishing with a 4-12 record last season. Another losing season would turn up the pressure on Ruskell, who will get much of the credit -- and blame -- for the Seahawks' plight now that Mike Holmgren is gone.

San Francisco 49ers

The 49ers are perched in prime position to claim the best of what's left after the first nine choices. They can let the teams drafting ahead of them make the tough decisions.

San Francisco almost can't go wrong unless Matthew Stafford or Sanchez remains available, against conventional wisdom. Even then, the 49ers could always try to trade the pick to one of the quarterback-seeking teams drafting behind them.

I gave Mississippi tackle Michael Oher to the 49ers without feeling
particularly confident in the projection. Yes, the 49ers could use another tackle. Yes, analysts generally rank Oher among the top four prospects at the position. But if the 49ers feel less urgency after signing Marvel Smith, or if they think they can find a tackle later -- Joe Staley was the 28th choice in 2007 -- the team could easily justify heading in another direction.

Mike Singletary presumably wouldn't complain if the 49ers targeted a pass-rusher. Nabbing a receiver such as Crabtree or Jeremy Maclin would give the offense needed flavor. And if Ohio State defensive back Malcolm Jenkins projects as a Pro Bowl player in the secondary, the 49ers could probably justify the selection.

Arizona Cardinals

The more I think about the Cardinals, the more I think trading Anquan Boldin could help set up the team for the future. Think of it this way: Boldin is gone after two more seasons, anyway. The Cardinals didn't start winning last season until they acknowledged the running game more consistently, putting Kurt Warner in position for play-action passes.

Acquiring the 26th overall choice from Baltimore in a package for Boldin would give Arizona a better chance to find a starting running back in the first round. I gave them Connecticut's Donald Brown with the 31st choice. A run on running backs earlier in the round could test the Cardinals' discipline. Adding the Ravens' choice might provide some insurance.

The Cardinals could also use insurance on defense. Linebacker Karlos Dansby could be entering his final season with the team. Antonio Smith departed in free agency. Chike Okeafor and Bertrand Berry remained productive last season, but both are in their 30s.

If the Cardinals can't find value at running back in the first round, they could certainly use more youth in their front seven. Adding Kenny Iwebema and Calais Campbell in the 2008 draft was only a start.