NFC West projected starters: Arizona Cardinals ooze intrigue
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Gregg Rosenthal will project post-draft starting lineups for all 32 teams, because there’s no better way to celebrate the arrival of spring.

ARIZONA CARDINALS

QB: Kyler Murray
RB: David Johnson
WR: Larry Fitzgerald
WR: Christian Kirk
WR: Andy Isabella
WR: Hakeem Butler
LT: D.J. Humphries
LG: J.R. Sweezy
C: Mason Cole
RG: Justin Pugh
RT: Marcus Gilbert

DE: Darius Philon
DT: Corey Peters
DT: Rodney Gunter
OLB: Chandler Jones
ILB: Jordan Hicks
OLB: Terrell Suggs
CB: David Amerson
CB: Robert Alford
CB: Byron Murphy
S: Budda Baker
S: D.J. Swearinger

» I may be getting carried away with Kliff Kingsbury fever, but could the Cardinals be the first NFL team to truly use four wideouts as their base offense? If Hakeem Butler and Andy Isabella both perform as rookies, they could out-snap the team’s top tight ends Ricky Seals-Jones and Charles Clay.

» No matter what Kingsbury says, it’s safe to assume that Kyler Murray versus backup Brett Hundley will not be a real "competition."

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» David Johnson is the forgotten man in Arizona, but he’s a sneaky pick to lead the league in yards from scrimmage if Kingsbury can maximize his pass-catching ability.

» The Cardinals are counting on better injury luck, better coaching and a few high-risk veteran signings (J.R. Sweezy, Marcus Gilbert) improving their offensive line.

» This does not look like the roster of a team that just finished 3-13. The defense has a promising starting lineup, although the depth at many positions is lacking. The group will rise and fall based on how well some key free agents (Darius Philon, Jordan Hicks, Robert Alford and Terrell Suggs) integrate into the starting lineup. Haason Reddick showed improvement in Year 2. He’ll get snaps in the base package, but leave the field on passing downs.

» The surprise suspension of All-Pro cornerback Patrick Peterson will force second-round rookie Byron Murphy to be a big-time contributor immediately.

» Kingsbury and general manager Steve Keim should actually want more position battles. Other than cornerback and some receiver spots, there doesn’t appear to be a lot of competition on tap for camp because of the lack of quality bench options.

Biggest change from a year ago: The offensive overhaul with Kingsbury and Murray will make this one of the more fascinating groups in the league to watch in September.

LOS ANGELES RAMS

QB: Jared Goff
RB: Todd Gurley
WR: Brandin Cooks
WR: Robert Woods
WR: Cooper Kupp
TE: Tyler Higbee
LT: Andrew Whitworth
LG: Joseph Noteboom
C: Brian Allen
RG: Austin Blythe
RT: Rob Havenstein

DE: Aaron Donald
DT: Greg Gaines
DE: Michael Brockers
OLB: Dante Fowler Jr.
ILB: Cory Littleton
OLB: Clay Matthews
CB: Aqib Talib
CB: Marcus Peters
CB: Nickell Robey-Coleman
S: Eric Weddle
S: John Johnson

» The interior O-line could tell the story of whether Los Angeles’ offense stays in peak form under coach Sean McVay. Rams brass believes in the in-house replacements, Joseph Noteboom and Brian Allen, who spent last season on the bench as rookies.

» I’m leading off talking about the line because the rest of the offense remains intact. Getting Cooper Kupp back from ACL surgery should provide a big boost to Jared Goff. Tight ends Tyler Higbee and Gerald Everett have settled in as useful role players.

» Actions speak louder than words when it comes to Todd Gurley’s workload. No matter what the status of his knee truly is, the drafting of multi-faceted third-round back Darrell Henderson — on top of giving restricted free agent Malcolm Brown solid backup money — indicates that L.A. will use more of a committee approach. (Note: This is what most smart teams do anyhow.)

» The Rams haven’t exactly solved their edge-rusher dilemma. Dante Fowler Jr. has to prove he wasn’t a one-month wonder and Clay Matthews is a part-time player. They could use a young player like Samson Ebukam to step up, but most of the team’s pass rush will still have to come from the defensive line.

» Eric Weddle was a smart free-agent signing, and second-round rookie Taylor Rapp looks like his eventual successor. The Rams haven’t developed much young talent across the defense in recent years, partly because they’ve been so focused on offense and partly because they haven’t had many draft picks. Sebastian Joseph-Day and John Franklin-Myers are two names to watch on the defensive line.

» Marcus Peters is in the final year of his contract. It’s anyone’s guess how he’ll perform after a career with some big ups and downs.

Biggest change from a year ago: This is suddenly one of the most stable rosters in football, as changeover on the offensive line is the team’s biggest question mark.

SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS

QB: Jimmy Garoppolo
RB: Tevin Coleman
FB: Kyle Juszczyk
WR: Dante Pettis
WR: Deebo Samuel
TE: George Kittle
LT: Joe Staley
LG: Laken Tomlinson
C: Weston Richburg
RG: Mike Person
RT: Mike McGlinchey

DE: Nick Bosa
DT: DeForest Buckner
DT: Arik Armstead
DE: Dee Ford
MLB: Fred Warner
OLB: Kwon Alexander
CB: Richard Sherman
CB: Ahkello Witherspoon
CB: K’Waun Williams
S: Jaquiski Tartt
S: Jimmie Ward

» While Jerick McKinnon has the better contract, Tevin Coleman has experience in Kyle Shanahan’s system and is not coming off a torn ACL. That gives Coleman the edge for the Week 1 running back job. Matt Breida is in the mix, as well, for one of the most dynamic backfields in football.

» The wide receiver roles are very much up for grabs. Dante Pettis, rookie second-rounder Deebo Samuels, Marquise Goodwin, Jordan Matthews, Trent Taylor, Jalen Hurd and Kendrick Bourne all figure to be battling for snaps in training camp. There’s a good chance the top four will split snaps evenly, although Pettis has some breakout potential.

» Give Shanahan credit for zigging while the rest of the league zags. Kyle Juszczyk is the only fullback to make a team’s projected-starters list in this entire exercise. He’s been one of the 49ers’ better offensive players the last two seasons.

» That’s an extremely impressive starting defensive line on paper, with former No. 3 overall pick Solomon Thomas getting significant snaps off the bench. (And the line should be impressive, considering the resources poured into it over the years, especially this offseason.)

» There are a lot of major health questions on this team, from Kwon Alexander to cornerback Jason Verrett to the aforementioned McKinnon. Like the Niners’ starting quarterback, it looks like a boom-or-bust roster. Few organizations appear to have as big a potential variance in 2019 record.

Biggest change from a year ago: Huge spending on a lackluster defense has raised the stakes for Year 3 of the John Lynch/Kyle Shanahan partnership.

SEATTLE SEAHAWKS

QB: Russell Wilson
RB: Chris Carson
WR: Tyler Lockett
WR: D.K. Metcalf
WR: Jaron Brown
TE: Will Dissly
LT: Duane Brown
LG: Mike Iupati
C: Justin Britt
RG: D.J. Fluker
RT: Germain Ifedi

DE: Ezekiel Ansah
DT: Jarran Reed
DT: Poona Ford
DE: L.J. Collier
OLB: K.J. Wright
MLB: Bobby Wagner
OLB: Mychal Kendricks
CB: Shaquill Griffin
CB: Tre Flowers
S: Bradley McDougald
S: Tedric Thompson

» Offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer doesn’t need an excuse to run the ball more, and this roster composition could push him in that direction. More two-TE sets (including Nick Vannett) would not be a surprise, and the Seahawks would love to get last year’s first-round running back (Rashaad Penny) more involved in the offense.

» The Seahawks improved their offensive line last year and they are certainly built for run-blocking on paper. But Duane Brown is turning 34 years old in August and Mike Iupati is a big injury risk. It’s still not a great group, even if the coaching staff is better.

» The receiver depth chart is a mystery after Tyler Lockett, who has experienced his own durability issues in the past. In a perfect Seahawks world, rookies D.K. Metcalf and Gary Jennings would step right into big roles. Backups David Moore and Keenan Reynolds seem like candidates to get a ton of preseason hype from in-love 12s before fading into the background when real games start.

» This defensive line has potential to be disruptive if Ezekiel Ansah and L.J. Collier play well. Both players come with significant risk, but Ansah, if healthy, looks like a perfect fit in Pete Carroll’s defense replacing Frank Clark. Quinton Jefferson and Rasheem Green will also be in the mix at defensive end. Jarran Reed and Poona Ford showed signs of being a dominant DT duo late last season.

» The Seahawks’ secondary did a nice job holding it down a season ago, but this group is a long way from the Legion of Boom in talent. Bradley McDougald, a free-agent bargain from Tampa a few years back, was probably the unit’s best player last season.

Biggest change from a year ago: The shock of Seattle’s roster turnover has worn off. So when will the next wave of Seahawks stars arrive?

Follow Gregg Rosenthal on Twitter @greggrosenthal.


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