NFC West Defensive Changes

Arizona Cardinals

2014 Ranks - Pass: 16th; Run: 5th

Although the Cardinals lost a lot of veterans this off-season, DE Calais Campbell remains to lead the defense. His +31.3 grade was the 4th highest among players at his position. 

Although the Cardinals lost a lot of veterans this off-season, DE Calais Campbell remains to lead the defense. His +31.3 grade was the 4th highest among players at his position. 

Key Losses:
CB Antonio Cromartie (-0.2)
NT Dan Williams (+11.5)
DE Darnell Dockett (missed 2014 season due to torn ACL)
DE Tommy Kelly (+5.7)
ILB Larry Foote (-20.3)
OLB Sam Acho (+2.0)

Key Additions:
NT Corey Peters (+0.9)
DE Cory Redding (+6.0)
ILB Sean Weatherspoon (-8.3)
OLB Lamarr Woodley (-6.8)

Notes:

  • With defensive coordinator Todd Bowles landing the head coaching gig for the Jets, it seemed like as good a time as any to clean house of dusty old veterans Dockett, Kelly, and Foote who have their best years well behind them.
  • Part of the reason that this unit was so effective last year was the aggressive defensive play-calling by coordinator Todd Bowles, leading to 42 sacks which was tied for 7th most in the league.  
  • Peters and Redding are fine players on the inside but DE LaMarr Woodley is notorious for phoning it in the past few years after getting paid. He was released by the Steelers after 2013 and then again by the Raiders after 2014. He has the ability but, now on his 3rd team in 3 years, his issue is the effort. Update: On August 20, Peters was placed on season-ending IR due to a torn Achilles. 
  • Poor safety play and a down year from CB Patrick Peterson led to a disappointing performance for the Cardinals against the pass. If this unit is going to improve against the pass, it’s up to Patrick Peterson to return to form. He got burned way too often for an elite corner.
  • This year, Tyrann Mathieu gets the start at free safety which should help things, but losing veteran CB Antonio Cromartie probably makes it a net negative. 

2015 Matchup Projection - Pass: Neutral; Run: Neutral

For the most part, the replacements are good enough that the Cardinals defense shouldn’t be much worse although CB Cromartie and NT Williams were a cut above and their absence will hinder the defense against both the run and pass. 


St. Louis Rams

2014 Ranks - Pass: 18th; Run: 9th

DT Aaron Donald earned the 2014 NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year award. In 2015, he has a legitimate shot for defensive player of the year. 

DT Aaron Donald earned the 2014 NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year award. In 2015, he has a legitimate shot for defensive player of the year. 

Key Losses:
DT Kendall Langford (+0.7)

Key Additions:
DT Nick Fairley (+9.8)
OLB Akeem Ayers (+0.7)

Notes:

  • DT Langford was a solid player but DT Fairly is a straight upgrade. 
  • OLB Akeem Ayers will provide additional oomph to the pass rush.
  • DE Chris Long returns from injury after playing just 6 games in 2014.
  • First round pick DT Aaron Donald was a revelation for the Rams in his rookie year (+34.4) and is a contender for 2015's defensive player of the year.

2015 Matchup Projection - Pass: Neutral; Run: Unfavorable

The D-line is incredible but the linebackers are below average and the secondary is mediocre.  This unit will generate a lot of sacks but it’s not unbeatable. 


San Francisco 49ers

2014 Ranks - Pass: 4th; Run: 7th

Citing concerns about concussions, LB Chris Borland retired after just one year in the NFL. Borland was San Francisco's highest graded player on defense in 2014 (+20.8).

Citing concerns about concussions, LB Chris Borland retired after just one year in the NFL. Borland was San Francisco's highest graded player on defense in 2014 (+20.8).

Key Losses:
LB Patrick Willis (+2.0)
LB Chris Borland (+20.8)
CB Chris Culliver (+8.0)
CB Perrish Cox (+1.2)
DE Dan Skuta (+1.6)
DE Justin Smith (+15.6)
LB Aldon Smith (+5.8)

Key Additions:
CB Shareece Wright (-16.8)
DE Darnell Dockett (missed 2014 season due to torn ACL)
DE Arik Armstead (Round 1, Pick 17)
S Jaquiski Tartt (Round 2, Pick 14)
OLB Eli Harold (Round 3, Pick 15)

Notes:

  • When former head coach Jim Harbaugh was driven out of town, he must have cast a curse on the team because LB Borland, LB Willis, and DE Smith just up and retired, leaving sizeable gaps throughout the lineup. 
  • In addition, the 49ers lost their top 2 corners and the replacement, CB Shareece Wright, earned the 4th worst grade out of 108 qualifying cornerbacks... ugh.
  • The 34-year-old DE Darnell Dockett is coming off an ACL tear. His presence wont be enough to make up for the loss of DEs Skuta and Smith.
  • On August 7, LB Aldon Smith was arrested for hit and run, DUI, and vandalism. This will be his third DUI charge. The 49ers released him a few hours after the arrest. Smith's career may be over.  
  • To account for all the losses, the 49ers spent their 1st three draft picks to replenish the defense. However, counting on all these rookies to produce immediately is obviously optimistic. 
  • New head coach JIm Tomsula will have his work cut out for him motivating a team that has been thrown into such a tumultuous transition period. 

2015 Matchup Projection - Pass: Favorable; Run: Favorable

The sky is falling for the 49ers and it isn't pretty. The retirement of 3 core pieces of the defense as well as the loss of both corners have left the 49ers reeling. The 49ers still have quite a few talented players on defense but it's really hard for a unit to lose this many starters and remain cohesive. It’ll take a lot for the defense to avoid just being a disaster this year. 


Seattle Seahawks

2014 Ranks - Pass: 1st; Run: 2nd

Still the best secondary in football. 

Still the best secondary in football. 

Key Losses:
CB Byron Maxwell (-0.2)
DI Kevin Williams (-0.3)
LB Malcolm Smith (-9.0)

Key Additions:
CB Cary Williams (-1.0)
DI Ahtyba Rubin (-14.3)
CB Will Blackmon (-6.9)

Notes:

  • The big loss here is CB Byron Maxwell. But the Seahawks' secondary is so good that it most likely won't matter that much. CB Cary Williams wasn't great last year but, with safeties Kam Chancellor and Earl Thomas III backing him up and covering his weakness, I expect Williams will be just fine. 
  • FS Earl Thomas is still recovering from a torn labrum sustained in last year's playoffs. It is uncertain whether or not he will be 100% at the start of the season. 

2015 Matchup Projection - Pass: Unfavorable; Run: Unfavorable

The best defense in football over the past two years may regress a little this year but don't carried away. They're still really, really good.