With Kyler Murray in Arizona, Jimmy Garoppolo healthy, Year 3 of Sean McVay in Los Angeles, and the always-steady Seahawks fresh off a playoff berth, the NFC West is easily one of the most fascinating divisions in football.
Despite the big draft investment on offense, the Cardinals will likely need more blocking reinforcements after this season. The rest of the division should prioritize defense.
As a primer for the college football season that ties in the NFL and the NFL Draft, we want to provide the top 2020 prospects who’d perfectly fill next year’s needs for every professional team in division-by-division installments.
Now up, the NFC West.
Biggest need: OL
The fit: Auburn LT Prince Tega Wanogho
Wanogho smartly stayed at Auburn for his senior season and is positioned to move into the first-round conversation in 2020. At 6-foot-7 and 305 pounds, he’s an imposing presence on the edge with long limbs and surprising knee bend for his size. Plus, on paper, he should only get better as someone who started playing football as a senior in high school after coming to Alabama from Nigeria because of collegiate interest in him as a basketball player.
While not the most effortless mover at the position, Wanogho isn’t clunky when getting to the second level and has an impressive combination of balanced strikes with his hands and decently light feet that lead to good lateral mobility in pass protection.
Check this pass set against Washington last season when he makes initial contact with the edge rusher, and is able to mirror the defender on an inside move. Not an easy rep for most offensive tackles:
As for projecting the Cardinals’ biggest need in 2020, it was a toss-up between offensive line and pass-rush help. Both areas are weak. However, Arizona’s blocking group is more patchwork than the defensive line, and even if Kliff Kingsbury’s system mitigates the need for a brick wall blocking unit, I’m guessing the team will lean toward protecting No. 1 overall pick Kyler Murray over adding an outside rusher in the front seven early in the draft next year.
D.J. Humphries hasn’t been anywhere close to being good enough to provide the team hope he’s a franchise cornerstone at a premium position. With a strong senior season in 2019, Wanogho will likely have many GMs believing he can be that type of player.
Biggest need: LB
The fit: California LB Evan Weaver
Weaver had a breakout junior year with 155 total tackles, six pass breakups, 4.5 sacks, and two picks. At 6-3 and 235 pounds, he has NFL linebacker size. He’s not the twitchiest athlete I’ve ever scouted but makes up for his lack of initial explosiveness with fast play-recognition skills and impressive overall speed.
He’s comfortable playing in space, a vital skill for linebackers today.
On this play against Washington State, Weaver sinks into zone, changes directions, and quickly closes on the shallow cross to make the tackle:
The linebacker position in the NFL is becoming a two-player gig, but the Rams are likely to be in need of a quality player at that spot in 2020.
Cory Littleton was a liability against the run but a star in coverage a season ago. He’s set to hit free agency after this year. There isn’t much long-term depth at the linebacker position on Los Angeles’ roster, especially when considering coverage has become a linebacker’s most critical job responsibility.
Weaver would give the Rams another new-age linebacker who can occasionally get after the quarterback as an authoritative blitzer.
Biggest need: Edge rusher
The fit: Notre Dame EDGE Julian Okwara
After part-time jobs as a freshman and sophomore, Okwara erupted as a junior in a full-time role for the Fighting Irish. He had eight sacks and 12.5 tackles for loss in 13 games, and he’s just scratching the surface of how good he can be.
Okwara is a dynamic athlete with burst off the snap, solid bend around the corner, and a developed arsenal of pass-rushing moves. While those moves aren’t consistently effective — or powerful enough — just yet, they flashed on film.
Here’s an example of an awesome counter move from Okwara that narrowly forced a strip sack against Stanford. He’s lined up at left defensive end and faced No. 75 on this play:
Even though Seattle drafted versatile, hand-work master L.J Collier in Round 1 of the 2019 Draft, the team needs pass-rushing talent behind him. Ziggy Ansah is playing on a one-year contract and the other edge rushers with NFL experience currently on the roster are Nazair Jones, Rasheem Green, Branden Jackson, and Cassius Marsh, the latter of whom is set to hit free agency in 2020.
During the John Schneider-Pete Carroll era, the Seahawks have been enamored with long, rangy athletes on defense, and Okwara fits the bill in that respect.
His length will almost assuredly be touted as a major plus, and Okwara looks like someone bound to make waves at the combine next year.
Biggest need: Cornerback
The fit: Wake Forest CB Essang Bassey
Watching Bassey is a blast. Oftentimes I think he might have a sixth sense that notifies him when his receiver’s going to be targeted.
In 2018, the Wake Forest star had 15 pass breakups and a pick, which came after a phenomenal sophomore year with 16 defended passes and three interceptions. Bassey’s a magnet to the football. He not only reads routes insanely fast but is one of the smoothest movers at the position in college football thanks to awesome feet and fantastic balance. Bassey glides.
At 5-10 and 185 pounds, he lacks ideal outside cornerback size, but his ability from off coverage will likely make him a first-round pick in 2020. Look at him close on the football against NC State back in 2017. He starts the play just off the top of the screen:
An overhaul at the cornerback spot is imminent for the 49ers. Though Richard Sherman is still a quality player under contract through 2020, if he’s released that year, when he’ll be 32, he’d save San Francisco $9 million with just a $1M dead cap hit.
Jason Verrett is talented but has had disastrously bad luck on the injury front. Ahkello Witherspoon has had a very slow start to his career after being picked in the third round of the 2017 Draft. K’Waun Williams is a middle-of-the-road player and Jimmie Ward is set to be a free agent in 2020.
Bassey would give San Francisco the electric playmaker the team is almost surely going to need at the cornerback spot after this season.