2020 NFC West Breakdown By Position: The Offense

During the month of August, the Last Word on Sports NFL department will be breaking down every division in the league by position. This article contains a position-by-position breakdown of the NFC West offenses. The breakdown will contain “the best” at each position followed by “the rest” in descending order.

2020 NFC West Breakdown By Position: The Offense

Quarterback

The Best: Seattle Seahawks

The Rest: San Francisco 49ers, Arizona Cardinals, Los Angeles Rams

There is no question about the “cream of the crop” in the NFC West. Russell Wilson may be coming off his best season as a pro, as he passed for north of 4000 yards, 31 touchdowns, and threw just five interceptions. He also continued his dual-threat ability, rushing for 342 yards, and evading many sacks, as he was already the second-most sacked quarterback behind Deshaun Watson, who had 55 to Wilson’s 54.  In addition to stats, Wilson was also one of the most clutch quarterbacks in the league as he was tied for the most fourth quarter comebacks along with Josh Allen and Jimmy Garoppolo. Despite not receiving any MVP votes, Wilson continues to be a sure-fire top five quarterback in the league, and the best in the NFC West.

Although he received major criticism after his short-comings in the super bowl, Jimmy Garrapolo had an excellent season, which ended up in a super bowl appearance for the 49ers. Garoppolo was fourth in the NFL in completion percentage as he converted 69.1% of his passes in 2019. Outside of the stats, where he threw for almost 4000 yards, Garoppolo has shown that he is a winning quarterback. Like Wilson, he had four fourth quarter comebacks last season and he was first in third down passing. To get to the next level, he will need to cut down on the interceptions, and improve when under pressure.

The number one overall pick in the 2019 NFL draft, Kyler Murray, came in and played excellent in his rookie season. He threw for over 3700 yards, and had a 5:3 touchdown to interception ratio. In the air raid, Murray made a living on quick, short passes behind a subpar offensive line, but he will need to look downfield to have the defense respect the vertical threat.

Jared Goff being this low says more about the strength of the division at the quarterback position than himself. Goff is coming off a down year as his touchdown to interception ratio fell from 2.7:1 to 1.38:1. 

Running Backs

The Best: Seattle Seahawks

The Rest: San Francisco 49ers, Arizona Cardinals, Los Angeles Rams

In a division that has lost premier running back talent over the past few seasons, the 49ers and Seahawks are neck-and-neck at the top. The Seahawks may have one of the best overall running back groups in the NFL. They bring back two 1000 yard rushers in Carlos Hyde and Chris Carson, and a promising third-year player in Rashaad Penny (currently on PUP) whose season came to an end in 2019 with an ACL injury. Carson had just under 1500 total yards last season, averaging 4.4 yards per carry. As the Seahawks are neck-and-neck with the 49ers, Russell Wilson’s dual threat ability may lead to more running room for the Seattle backfield. 

The 49ers are primarily a running back by committee as their top three backs should be Raheem Mostert, Tevin Coleman, and a returning Jerick McKinnon. Despite Mostert not being the typical “bell-cow” back, he averaged 5.6 yards per carry last season. After that, Tevin Coleman had over 700 scrimmage yards last season, despite battling injury towards the end of the season. The X-factor in the division is Jerick McKinnon. McKinnon last played in 2017 with the Vikings when he had 991 scrimmage yards. Durability is a concern for the 49ers, as is the case with the Seahawks. 

Arizona is yet another promising running back group in the NFC West. Kenyan Drake came into his own after being traded to the Cardinals and averaged 5.2 yards per carry, with 814 scrimmage yards in just eight games. The Cardinals brought back Drake on the transition tag in the offseason. In a back-up role, Chase Edmonds is also one of the better in the league as he had 5.1 yards per carry.

With the loss of Todd Gurley, the Rams have no clear-cut starter between Malcolm Brown, Darrell Henderson, and rookie, Cam Akers. The first two on the list have been average thus far in their NFL careers, and Cam Akers has potential to be a good back, but has yet to play a snap.

Wide Receiver

The Best: Arizona Cardinals

The Rest: Los Angeles Rams, Seattle Seahawks, San Francisco 49ers

As a whole, the NFC West is very deep at the wide receiver position. At the top, the Arizona Cardinals traded for a top five receiver, DeAndre Hopkins, in the off-season. Hopkins is easily the best receiver in the division, and one of the best in the league. Behind him, they have the future hall-of-famer, Larry Fitzgerald, who had 75 catches last year in his age-36 season. Another quality wide receiver for the Cardinals is Christian Kirk. Kirk emerged last season with almost 70 catches, and more than 700 yards. In the back-end of the depth chart, Andy Isabella has a chance to be a major big play threat for quarterback Kyler Murray. 

The second spot was close between the Rams and Seahawks. The Rams pulled out a tad bit ahead with two premier wide receivers in Cooper Kupp and Robert Woods. Both receivers had more than 1100 yards last season, and are both legitimate number one receivers. Behind them, Josh Reynolds is a solid veteran receiver who is heading into a contract year, and rookie, Van Jefferson, has a chance to be a contributor right away. 

Right on the heels of the Rams, are the Seahawks. Tyler Lockett is another bonafide number one wide receiver who had a career-high in yards last season with 1057. There is a talented sophomore player behind Lockett in D.K. Metcalf. Metcalf fell to the 64th pick in the 2019 draft and made teams with 900 yards on 58 catches. Last season, many expected David Moore to take a jump after a promising 2018 season, but Moore hauled in two passes in a single game once. Finally, the Seahawks signed Phillip Dorsett to be a backup slot receiver, which should add to depth. 

With the loss of Emmanuel Sanders and the shortened off-season work for Brandon Aiyuk, the 49ers receiver group is at the bottom of the NFC West. Deebo Samuel emerged as an excellent wide receiver and the return of Trent Taylor should help. However, there are too many unknowns in this wide receiver core. 

Tight End

The Best: San Francisco 49ers

The Rest: Los Angeles Rams, Seattle Seahawks, Arizona Cardinals

The 49ers have the best tight end group in the NFC West, and maybe the NFL if healthy. Kittle was a first team all-pro last season with over 1000 receiving yards, and is one of the best blocking tight ends in the league. In 2018, Kittle had more than 1300 yards, and fits well in Mike Shanahan’s system as an in-line blocker and as a receiver. If healthy, Jordan Reed may be the most dynamic receiving tight end in the league. His quickness at the tight end position is one of the best in the league. However, Reed has battled injuries throughout his career and has suffered seven concussions. 

Behind them, the Rams have a solid duo at tight end themselves. Tyler Higbee broke out last season and increased his yardage from 292 to 734. He was also a steady target by averaging 4.6 receptions per game. Gerald Everett is another solid tight end, and had 400 yards last season, with three games missed. The Rams also drafted Bryce Hopkins this year. 

The Seahawks have a revamped tight end group with the signing of Greg Olsen, and the return of Will Dissly, who was off to a breakout season last year before tearing his achilles. Jacob Hollister is another solid tight end for the Seahawks as he had almost 350 yards last season to the injury to Dissly. In the draft, the Seahawks also added Colby Parkinson

The weakest tight end group goes to the Arizona Cardinals with unproven Dan Arnold and sixth-year player Maxx Williams

Offensive Line

The Best: San Francisco 49ers

The Rest: Arizona Cardinals, Los Angeles Rams, Seattle Seahawks

With franchise left tackle Joe Staley retiring the 49ers replaced him with one of the most talented tackles in the league in Trent Williams. By many accounts, including Von Miller, Williams is one of the, if not the best left tackle in the game. Next to Williams, Laken Tomlinson has been good at guard, and Mike McGlinchey has been a reliable right tackle over recent years.

The Cardinals offensive line may not be flashy, but it should be solid with continuity from 2019. They return Justin Pugh and J.R. Sweezy at the guard positions and re-signed D.J. Humphries who was solid in pass blocking last season.

Although the Rams offensive line faltered last season, a healthy Rob Havenstein should give them a boost at the bookends with Andrew Whitworth on the left side. There are concerns on the interior line as Austin Corbett and Joseph Noteboom return at guard.

An ageing left side of the offensive line, and questions at center with Ethan Pocic and right guard with Damien Lewis could be indicative of a tough year ahead for the Seahawks with the interior rush in the NFC West. 

Speaking of the interior rush in the NFC West, make sure to check out the 2020 NFC West defensive breakdown.

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