3/18/17 NFC Cellar Edition

West dives into the NFC teams that finished last in their divisions: where Philly need to upgrade, Carolina’s inconsistencies, Chicago’s direction, and San Francisco’s start from scratch.

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What is up die hards? West Monell in the building for Awol Sports with a NFC cellar edition. Talking about the 4 teams that finished last in their divisions. Philadelphia at 7-9, the upgrades they need to make. Carolina 6-10, how wildly inconsistent are they? Chicago went 3-13, I like the direction there going, and San Francisco, starting from scratch after a 2-14 season. Going in that order, by record.
 
Upgrades for the Philadelphia Eagles
If you don’t know, middle linebacker Jordan Hicks looks well on his way to be an upper tier player at his position. Yeah, the Eagles got some solid production from Nigel Bradham and they could probably get away with him starting again. As for the other side, Mychal Kendricks has been in the dog house and it doesn’t seem like he’ll be on the roster, let alone be slated to start in 2017. I’m gonna point to someone very talented, but of course, this can’t be the only plan. Joe Walker, who went to Oregon, had a good camp last year before tearing his knee in August. He missed all of 2016. It’s gonna take him time to get back to what he was. That can’t be the only option that the Eagles set their sights on. Just like they overhauled the O-line the past couple of seasons, they’re actually 10-deep now, the linebacker position needs some TLC as well.
Walker is a guy that I like, but his best game probably won’t show until the second half of the season, or even the following season. Whether it be by draft or some plug and play veteran free agent, such as Bradham, outside linebacker should be a top-3 priority. The other 2 being cornerback and running back. Also, keep in mind, I’m just trying to put a talent on the field when it comes to Walker. He’s played at middle linebacker. I’m certainly confident in having him as a backup to Hicks, but if he can regain form, why keep him on the sidelines?
Sticking with the defense, cornerback is the glaring weakness on the team. I will caution you, yes the draft is deep in the secondary. I do expect them to come out with a couple of corners. Just keep in mind that they do like how Jalen Mills was growing as a rookie. The 7th rounder found his way to significant playing time. Ron Brooks played solid, a guy familiar with the defensive scheme. A couple of reminders as well, they added Dwayne Gratz the former Jaguar, and signed Aaron Grymes from the CFL. Maybe only camp bodies, that remains to be seen. Gratz is someone that I watched more in 2014 since I’ve been one of the early guys on the Jags rebuilding bandwagon. I thought he was solid enough to be on the field. He was a 3rd round pick and has starting experience just like Mills. Not bad. Grymes was a CFL champion and all-star standout. In 2014 and 2015 he allocated 8 interceptions, 1 from a playoff game. As for NFL experience, last preseason against the Steelers he snagged an interception in the end zone. So, I can’t tell ya if they’re going to bring in 2 new starters or not, but definitely 2 more cornerbacks to compete. One will absolutely be an instant starter.
I know, I know, don’t I know it, all the hype about Alshon Jeffery especially, and also Torrey Smith to an extent. You’ve heard enough about their specific abilities, you’ve watched them play, all of that. What I’m shedding light on, and you may have heard how great of a leader Smith is in the locker room. Hopefully Smith can get Nelson Agholor improve. Maybe Jeffery can show Dorial Green-Beckham how to play at his size. That’s part of the maturation process for younger players, having that veteran to mimic and follow. Yeah, that’s if DGB doesn’t get cut so we’ll see. How great would that be if wide receivers coach Mike Groh can get DGB to develop, and these younger guys. Groh worked with Jeffery for a couple years in Chi-town, and helped Kenny Britt to his first 1,000 yard campaign of his career in 2016.
All good signs. And yes, Jordan Matthews in the slot is what we all prefer. I expect Jeffery to play at a high level. I expect Smith to catch some deep balls. I expect Matthews to do damage with that YAC underneath. I was frustrated with Aghoor as early as the first few games of last season, but I like this situation for the entire receiving core. It would be great if Agholor, who was a first runs pick, can start to catch on. At this point, that should be considered a cherry on a top. If it means anything to you, I think these young guys have to outplay Paul Turner to stay on the roster, mainly DGB and Bryce Treggs. They’re gonna keep Agholor for this season. Matthews is more likely than not to remain I would think. If he does get traded that would signal to me that they wanna keep working with DGB, but I like what I’ve seen from Turner. He’s got a good feel for the game, he has the instincts to play backyard football with Carson Wentz when plays break down. And to that same degree, that’s why I like Trey Burton, he provides that scramble drill ability that Zach Ertz doesn’t really have.
Inconsistency with the Carolina Panthers
 
6-10. Not the results they were expecting after winning the NFC and losing in the Super Bowl. It is what I expected, however, this was the team I remember getting blown out in prime time back in 2014. In 2012 they went 7-9 and missed the postseason. They they won 3 consecutive division titles in 2013, 2014, and 2015. They may have won the NFC South in 2014, but there was a big difference in how they played from the other 2 years. In 2014 they were the survivor, the team to win the division with a record of 7-8-1, and that tie gave them the nod over the 7-9 Saints. 2015 was their fantastic 15-1 season, Cam Newton won league MVP, and they rode a season-long hot streak into the big game. Before 2013, no NFC South team had one back-to-back titles and the Panthers put an end to that.
What kind of team will we see in 2017? This team couldn’t pass the ball. They were dead last in trying to defense against the pass. Luke Kuechly going down is gonna leave a glaring hole. They overplayed their hand with the Josh Norman situation. Their deep threat, Tedd Ginn Jr., just signed with the rival Saints. The Panthers are hoping some ties will improve their play. Center Ryan Kalil is good, his brother Matt leaves the Vikings, and they hope he can be their answer on the blind side. He wasn’t playing well, and he gets banged up. It’s not gonna be a pretty plug and play scenario, but they’re counting on his 5x Pro Bowl brother to help him out up there.
The other tie that I’m referring to, they brought back Julius Peppers. The front-7 is nasty. They’re gonna be in every game. They may even be solid enough at safety but the cornerback position needs an upgrade. I would say corner, O-line, and running back are the only things that they really need to add to the roster. Even then, it won’t matter if Cam can’t grow as a quarterback. He can’t run around forever, take all those hits forever, and it doesn’t always equate to wins. We have yet to see him get injured for the season or anything like that and he can knock on wood. There’s no excuse for the former MVP. Yeah, the O-line needs to play better, but there’s worse units around the league than his. Yeah, Johnathan Stewart is solid, but there’s worse out there. They will likely add to the backfield in the second wave of free agency or in the draft. The receivers are big, Greg Olsen is elite, defenses are gonna stack the box if he can’t complete a deep ball. If signing wide outs Charles Johnson and Russell Shepard doesn’t detour them, they should probably look at finding a Tedd Ginn replacement.
I look at their secondary, and I expect inconsistency. The same can be said for every unit on the offensive side of the picture. I know they ranked 12th on the ground, but if they can really stabilize the ground game beyond Newton’s contributions…not only will it go hand-in-hand with their strong front-7 and allow them to continue with that identity, they should help Cam and the receivers by utilizing more play-action. Not every pass has to be some 10-15 yard dig or fade, essentially. Shorten the routes to 5-7 yards, put Cam in a better situation with a spotty O-line, have him rolling out. The rest is on him not to play hero ball for the majority of his plays. If Newton is capable of developing more as a passer, he will be able to play less hero ball and more team ball.
Direction of the Chicago Bears
So the Bears are gonna roll with Mike Glennon, a guy with some strting experience at the NFL level. IT’s a total Bears thing to do, considering the past between Ryan Pace and John Fox, and I spoke on that before. I knew they were gonna target a quarterback already in the league, not so much a rookie. The Bears built an offensive line and found their starting running back in the 5th round last year. Jordan Howard came on strong for 1,300 yards, 7 games over 100 yards, 7 total touchdowns and nearly 300 yards receiving. This offseason they pick up Dion Sims, a blocking tight end that compliments Zach Miller. I like the flashes from young wide out Cameron Meredith, who finished just shy of 900 yards as a rookie with a mess at the helm. Josh Bellamy can be a role player, he can get open down the field. The first rounder Kevin White is someone they expect big things from. 4 games in 2 seasons isn’t a great start, so hopefully he can get healthy, stay healthy, his best game so far is 6 receptions for 62 yards.
This offseason Chicago picked up Kendall Wright and Markus Wheaton. Wright is entering his 6th season. Back in 2013 he topped a thousand yards. Guys, that was with Ryan Fitzpatrick and Jake Locker. The names aren’t gonna whoo anyone. On the down low, however, I kinda like the direction they’re going on offense. One that scored the 4th fewest points and 19th in rushing. 19th in rushing with Howard going for 1300. They should be OK there. 13th in passing, probably because they were trailing so much, and unless Glennon goes all Brock Osweiler or Matt Schaub, it could only get better.
Defense is the priority with this team. 6th against the pass, they definitely need to get some muscle inside to stop the run. They were the 6th worst. It doesn’t help to play from behind and allow the other team to run more and use the clock. Here’s the deal. They went 3-13 with a mess under center and a bunch of young players on offense. New faces all over the defense. Out of those 13 losses, 8 of those were one possession games. Those 8 games plus the 3 that they won, so for 11 games they were in a position to win. Those are the signs you have to look at when rebuilding, and to gauge how far along you truly are. I call Coach Fox the troubleshooter for a reason, even keeled, and that’s the identity that his teams play with. They rebuilt the trenches, still could add a couple more D-linemen to help contain the run, and a safety. They’ve already addressed cornerback in free agency this year, inside linebacker in free agency last year. They’re being smart about the process.
San Francisco Starting From Scratch
 
First-time GM in John Lynch. First-time head coach in Kyle Shanahan. Navarro Bowman will be healthy to start the season. The defense will play better now that Chip Kelly is gone and the offensive tempo will resemble something more traditional. So where is this team good?
For starters, the O-line will be better without playing at such a fast pace. They have a pretty good group, left to right: Joe Staley, Zane Beadles, they traded for center Jeremy Zuttah, Josh Garnett, and Trent Brown. Now to the rest of the offense.
Shanahan brings in familiar faces to help with the rebuild. Quarterback Brian Hoyer, receivers Pierre Garcon and Aldrick Robinson, and tight end Logan Paulsen. That’s what you gotta do to show the rest of the team new offensive concepts. A blend of starters, stop-gap starters, and backups that know the system. That can help lead the locker room and the younger players. That’s a good approach on how to rebuild.
We’re gonna find out what Carlos Hyde is made of after rushing for 988 and 9 total touchdowns last season. He’s gonna get the first opportunity. He won’t be the only back getting snaps and touches, Shanahan will take you out if you’re not productive, we’ve seen that in Cleveland, Washington, and in the A-T-L.. Kyle Juszczyk (Ju-zizik) is a fullback that they signed to be a swiss army knife. He’ll be blocking, toting the rock, and a safety outlet in the flats. Another addition is speedster Marquise Goodwin out wide. They may not have the marquee names on offense, but they were smart to allocate a lot of different talents to integrate and be creative with.
The 49ers do have a few pieces to build around defensively, aside from Bowman and they maybe interested in getting a solid backup for him. Up front, Arik Armstead and DeForest Buckner. Eric Reid at free safety.
Teams with a lot of upgrades to make will usually address one side of the ball in free agency and the other on draft weekend. They’ve gotten their offensive-minded coach some veterans to work with offensively. They’ll probably draft a quarterback at some point, running back too, and definitely a pass rusher. I think they go with the best player available with the 2nd overall pick. Myles Garrett is who they hope would fall. Just bring in the best guy, don’t force the QB pick there. Jonathan Hankins on the D-line. One of the many top talents in the secondary Could be a safety, could be a corner. Maybe even surprise us with a running back. Looking at all the signs I see them going defense.
Here’s what I looked up as it pertains to Kyle Shanahan being apart of a team and who they draft during his first year with them.
In 2006 with the Texans, they selected defensive end Mario Williams first overall. Something to note, in that same draft class, Houston came away with DeMeco Ryans, Eric Winston, and Owen Daniels. All starters.
In 2010 with the Redskins, left tackle Trent Williams was their cornerstone pick. They didn’t have another pick until the 4th round where they got starting linebacker Perry Riley.
Then, Cleveland 2014, cornerback Justin Gilbert in the 1st round, along with QB Johnny Manziel, so they took one just not with their top pick, they didn’t force it. Round 2 lineman Joel Bitonio, who just received an extension. Starting linebacker Christian Kirksey. A running back that got rotated in and out, started some games, Terrance West.
The latest, the Falcons in 2015 picking pass rusher Vic Beasley 8th overall. Then going corner with Jalen Collins in the 2nd, Tevin Coleman the running back in the 3rd round. They also got Grady Jerrett later on, who set a Super Bowl record with 3 sacks.
When they go quarterback or running back, they’re not going to force it. I think the O-line is good enough to not draft one high either. So that points to the defense and they’re not going to go linebacker there. It’s gonna come down to who they perceive as the best player on the bored behind Myles Garrett. D-line or DB.
That’s  gonna do it for this NFC Cellar edition. The Eagles are in the thick of things in the NFC East. They went 7-9 without a receiving core and have a franchise quarterback. Carolina, I don’t know what to expect from their offense, but that front-7 will give them a chance to win every week. I don’t view the Falcons as the clear front-runner in the NFC South going into 2017. Chicago is quietly rebuilding a talented team on both sides of the ball. And the 49ers are doing the right things this offseason so far as we head into the draft on Thursday April 27.
As always, thank you for tuning in die-hards. I enjoy coming on the air with you. Awol Sports on FaceBook, awol_west on Twitter. Talk to me. Have an awesome weekend.