Jan 13, 2013; Atlanta, GA, USA; Atlanta Falcons defensive tackle Jonathan Babineaux (95) and Peria Jerry (94) tackles Seattle Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch (24) during the second quarter in the NFC divisional playoff game at the Georgia Dome. Mandatory Credit: John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports

NFC West Power Rankings: Lining Up The Skill Positions


Yesterday, Ramblin’ Fan ranked the starting quarterbacks in the NFC West, headed by the Seattle Seahawks’ Russell Wilson. Today, we are going to look at all of the “skill positions” in the division. Instead of comparing individual players, we are going to rank the units as a whole. Without wasting anymore time, lets get started with the running backs…


Running Back

1. Marshawn Lynch/Christine Michael, Seattle Seahawks

The top spot in this category is a no-brainer, especially after the ‘Hawks drafted Christine Michael, who might have been the most gifted running back the 2013 NFL Draft class. The incumbent back, Marshawn Lynch, finished the 2012 season just shy of the 1,600 yard mark and trailed only Adrian Peterson in “missed tackles,” or tackle that were either avoided or broken. Outside of a small case of fumble-itis, Lynch has an all-around monster in the run game, and figures to be even more effective with the rookie to spell him and Percy Harvin to clear out the box.

2. Frank Gore/Kendall Hunter/LaMichael James, San Francisco 49ers

The 49ers’ have the most talented 3-headed monster at running back in the NFL, lead by the undervalued Frank Gore and boosted by the scatback,  LaMichael James. With all the backs healthy, Gore will likely see a moderately reduced role in the offense, at least in terms of carries. However, it is doubtful their running attack will see much of a drop off, especially with Kaepernick jolting out of the backfield on nearly 1 of every 10 dropbacks.

3. Daryl Richardson/Isaiah Pead/Zac Stacy, St. Louis Rams

Call them the “Anonymous Trio” because no one outside of the NFC West has likely ever heard of any of the three players that will be lining up in the Rams backfield in 2013. Richardson was a fire cracker last season, taking 98 carries for 475 yards, good for 4.8 per attempt. Pead was slow out of the shoot, marred by roadblocks in the offseason as a result of Cincinnati’s odd academic calendar. Stacy was the man brought in to replace Steven Jackson in the short-yardage situation. The three should prove to be an efficient combination, in what appears to be a more “pass friendly” offense. Also look for Tavon Austin to get some carries out of the backfield…

4. Rashard Mendenhall, Arizona Cardinals

No one is exactly sure what the Arizona Cardinals will be doing in the run game next season. They picked up Stefan Taylor and Andre Ellington in the draft, and stole Rashard Mendenhall from the equally running back-bare Pittsburgh Steelers. Mendenhall figures to be the starter, but the pickup itself is sort of confusing given that the problem in Arizona last season was keeping players healthy and, when they were healthy, holding onto the football. In his time in Pittsburgh, Mendenhall has been the embodiment of both of those issues, having missed significant time in 2012 with injury and having, at least, 3 fumbles per year throughout his career outside of his 2011 season.


Wide Receivers

1. San Francisco 49ers

Prior to the acquisition of Anquan Boldin from Baltimore, the 49ers still had the best receiving corps in the NFC West; clearly, they will maintain that spot with Boldin. Michael Crabtree was the only receiver in the NFC West that finished the season in the Top 30, in terms of receiving yards, and was Top 10 in touchdowns (9) and broken tackles (13) in a bornerline Pro Bowl season. Even with injury concerns about Manningham and the possibility that the A.J. Jenkins’ selection was a “bust,” the ’9ers still have a dynamic duo on the outside. Oh yea, and they stole Quinton Patton in the 4th round of the draft…

2. Arizona Cardinals

Larry Fitzgerald alone is enough to move the Cardinals into the No. 2 slot. The Cardinals took a risk/reward player in Ryan Swope in the 6th round and have Michael Floyd returning for his sophomore season, after putting up decent number in this rookie debut. Andre Roberts is a nice piece in the receiving puzzle too, all of whom should see a drastic boost in their production now that there is an actual NFL quarterback throwing them the football.

3. St. Louis Rams

The third and fourth spot on this list are nearly interchangeable, but we’ll give the nod to St. Louis due to their “award winning” 2013 draft class. Tavon Austin is projected by most to be the next Percy Harvin, minus the injuries and temperament,  or Randall Cobb, minus Aaron Rodgers. Austin will reunite with Stedman Bailey, the Rams’ second choice in the 3rd round, who, together, racked up a combined 228 receptions, 2911 yards, and 37 touchdowns in 2012 at West Virginia University. The rookies will join forces with Chris Givens, who set the rookie record for consecutive games with a 50+ reception. As the “main guy” in St. Louis, due to Amendola’s injury, Givens averaged 75 yards per game over a six-game stretch in the middle of the season, including an 11 catch, 92 yard performance in a win over the San Francisco 49ers and a 5 catch, 115 yard game against Arizona. Tack on an expanded role for Brian Quick, and the continuing development of Austin Pettis, who snagged 4 touchdowns in 2012, and you have a solid case for the St. Louis Rams at No. 3!

4. Seattle Seahawks

Golden Tate and Sidney Rice are not intimidating to anyone in the NFL, and reaped the benefits of having defenses stack the box to stop Marshawn Lynch and/or spy the quarterback so he didn’t take off around the end. The duo combined for a pedestrian 1,436 yards, but did manage 14 touchdowns (13 touchdowns, if you don’t count the Green Bay interception, which no one outside of those living in Seattle does). However, only 30% of their receiving yards game after the catch, with Sidney Rice breaking a grand total of ZERO tackles in his 797 offensive snaps on the field. Percy Harvin is the wildcard, being one of the more electrifying players in the NFL… when he is on the field. The problem is, Harvin has a knack for finding a way to “man the sidelines.” At Florida, Harvin was forced to have heel surgery prior to his Junior year, followed by a high ankle sprain that kept him out of the SEC Championship game. After leaving early for the NFL, Harvin tested positive for marijuana at the NFL Combine. During the 2009 season, Harvin went through a wave of “injuries,” first a virus, then the infamous “migraines” which continued on through the 2010 season. In 2012, this last season with Minnesota, Harvin was on pace for his first Pro Bowl invite as an actual wide receiver… that is, until he suffered an ankle injury have sent him to the IR. Seattle’s receiving corps could battle for the top spot in the NFC West if the oft-troubled player can stay on the field…

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  • Trakar

    Again, the rankings seem about right, though the reasoning and support you give is a bit ad hoc and seemingly poorly considered as well as prejudicially stated. I don’t fault you that, it is rather difficult for me to speak of the pros and cons of these teams without a bit of that prejudicial commentary flavoring my language. The main issue I would raise with Seattle’s receiving core, isn’t that they lack talent or the ability to burn opposing defenses for a lot of yards at crucial junctures in games (evidence indicates that they did in most games last year, even those few the team lost). The biggest problem for Seattle’s receivers is that Seattle just doesn’t believe in passing very often, it isn’t the type of game they play. I don’t believe this would change regardless of the receivers on hand (it is possible that with bad receivers they would pass less, but I don’t see the quality of the receivers being a major issue in how many times Seattle goes to the air). The Seahawks don’t play a strong ground game because they have to, they play a hardnose ground game because that’s how they like to play football.
    Again, interesting series. Unfortunately, its hard to do much more than speculate on how new additions are going to alter the picture until we actually start playing games, so we are mainly talking about what became apparent last season.
    (waiting on the Defense!)
    Go ‘Hawks!

  • Hawkman54

    This is so far the most whacked out listing you have – Seattle doesn’t pass that much -They are a ground team first . Plus they didn’t start to open the playbook up until just over half way through the year! But they are still easily better than the Rams and just slight ly behind ( if at all ) Arizona . As far as the Green Bay catch , IT was the proper call by rule , LOOK IT UP ! Now that doesn’t say they didn’t miss the push off , BUT the catch was the right call !

    • Nathan Kearns

      I was going to debate that first point, but I cannot possibly type after that last section about “the catch.” hahahahahaha only Golden Tate and the ‘Hawks fan base think that should have been ruled a touchdown. Go watch Mike Pereira, the former head of officiating, and the lead officiating correspondant for ESPN, said it was a no-catch… sorry.

      Your argument about the receivers is about being a run-oriented offense and not opening the playbook? What does that have to do with Rice or Tate’s inability to do anything with the ball after the catch? They are middle-tier, possession receivers. You might make the case (which I mentioned in the article) that Seattle could be ahead of St. Louis. But, if you think that Seattle’s WRs are anywhere near Arizona, you are high…

  • venator

    Hey Nathan, nice article! I was surprised you think the Niner’s WR corp is the best in the division.

    You only had one line about Patton, I would’ve liked to have heard more about him. What is it about him that you consider him such a steal? What kind of an impact do you think he may have with the Niners?

    I’m curious about him because you might have heard about the recent story of Patton flying to 49ers HQ too early because he was so eager to get started :)

    • Nathan Kearns

      Most would call me insane, but I truly believe that Michael Crabtree is on the verge of surpassing Larry Fitzgerald as the best receiver in the NFC West. Most of that has less to do with their actual skill sets, and more to do with the “state of the organization” in which they are playing in. Arizona is a train wreck, and Fitz is essentially signed on “for life.” Crabtree has just now hitting his version of the “third year” mark, where receivers truly start coming into their own in the NFL, with the classic example being Vincent Jackson. Plus, Crabtree is Kaepernick’s favorite target. Combining an elite skill set with unlimited opportunities is a scary combination…

      As for Quinton Patton, he is a “small school,” adequately sized receiver, who absolutely exploded onto the scene for Louisiana Tech. He was one of the very few receivers without a “red flag” draped over his name, which makes it utterly baffling that he fell that late in the draft.

      The “marks” against Patton were essentially in his “go up and get it” abilities, namely a lack of body control in the air, as well as the occasional problem with drops and trouble with “over the shoulder” catches. However, his acceleration, route running, and natural hands had some mockers having him go as high as the late-1st round, with the 3rd round being the absolute latest he would fall in the draft.

      Patton will likely have a relatively steep learning curve for the NFL, much like Brian Quick on the Rams, or other smaller school players like Terrell Owens and Vincent Jackson. However, with Vernon Davis and Michael Crabtree receiving, and Kaepernick and the ’9ers run game as a defensive back deterant, it would not be surprising to see Patton become a household name in 2-3 years, or, at minimum, a quality starter in the NFL.

      • venator

        So how do you rank the Niner’s now with Crabtree getting hurt?