Kenny from New Jersey asked through the mailbag which position I thought was weakest on the St. Louis Rams. Matt Williamson of Scouts Inc. addressed the subject for each NFC West team while I was away late last month. I'll link to his thoughts and offer my own. Thanks to Kenny for the idea.
St. Louis Rams
Matt Williamson: Playmakers. "Just how far away are the Rams? I consider the NFC West the weakest division in the league, but the cream of the division -- San Francisco and Arizona -- is far better off in the playmakers department than St. Louis. Remember, when classifying the Rams’ playmakers, I reached a little with (Chris) Long and maybe (James) Laurinaitis."
My take: I'll single out tight end as an area for concern even though Daniel Fells can be effective in a support role and Bajema is a solid backup. They could use a tight end with the versatility to hold up in pass protection or threaten defenses downfield or simply to serve as an outlet for rookie quarterback Sam Bradford. The Rams used later-round picks on the position. Fells, Billy Bajema, Darcy Johnson, Eric Butler, Fendi Onobun and Michael Hoomanawanui won't scare opponents in 2010.
San Francisco 49ers
Matt Williamson: cornerback. "Overall, this certainly isn’t an awe-inspiring group of cornerbacks, but if this is the worst facet of your team, you are doing OK."
My take: I'll agree with Williamson to the extent that he says the 49ers lack obvious weaknesses. Quarterback is one obvious potential issue until Alex Smith shows consistency over the course of a season. Williamson thinks Smith is in position to enjoy a breakout season. I agree, but am not sure the 49ers can know whether they've effectively addressed their issues in the return game by adding Ted Ginn Jr. It's fair to say the 49ers do not have a dominant pass rusher, but they've generally been effective rushing the passer as a team.
Matt Williamson: Defensive end. "The uninspiring supporting cast at defensive end puts a lot of stress on (Lawrence) Jackson. He has the most ability of the group and Pete Carroll is very familiar with him from their time together at USC, but Jackson has been underwhelming since entering the league as a high draft choice. In the last 14 games of the 2009 season, Jackson registered a meager 1.5 sacks. That isn’t going to cut it."
My take: I'd single out the pass rush as the Seahawks' greatest weakness, whether it's at defensive end or in the front seven overall. Perhaps the Seahawks' can scheme their way to a better rush. Perhaps Aaron Curry develops into more of a threat. It's just tough to find a proven pass rusher on the roster now that injuries have forced Patrick Kerney into retirement.
Matt Williamson: Quarterback. "(Matt) Leinart is a good touch passer and surely an offseason of being the lead dog at the game’s most important position will help his development. Plus, this is a strong coaching staff that should do a nice job of taking some weight off this young quarterback’s shoulders. Still, there is no way around it right now. The quarterback position is a weakness for the Cardinals as Leinart still is shoddy with his footwork, hasn’t shown high-end arm strength and is a sitting duck in the pocket."
My take: The coaching aspect will be key as the Cardinals adjust their offense following Kurt Warner's retirement. Arizona has the offensive line, running backs and wide receivers to give Leinart a chance to exceed expectations. There's still enough uncertainty, though, to single out quarterback as the most significant weakness on the roster. Linebacker also came to mind, but the Cardinals have some promising prospects at the position and their defensive line could be strong enough to cover in some cases.