Analysis

2020 NFL rookie grades, NFC West: 49ers hit on premium picks; will Cardinals' boldness pay off?

Super Bowl LV's in the books, bringing an unprecedented NFL season to a close. So, how did the new guys perform in this uniquely challenging 269-game slate? Gennaro Filice and Nick Shook are taking a division-by-division look at each team's rookie class, providing grades and analysis on Year 1 production. Filice examines the NFC West below.

Grade
B+
San Francisco 49ers
San Francisco 49ers
Total picks: 5 · 6-10

Round 1

Round 5

Round 6

Round 7

Notable Undrafted Free Agent


The 49ers only made five selections, but the two first-rounders sure look like keepers. Let's start with Aiyuk, who doesn't always get the national adulation he deserves. In a loaded rookie receiver class that featured record-setter Justin Jefferson and four other guys who eclipsed 800 receiving yards (CeeDee Lamb, Tee Higgins, Chase Claypool and Jerry Jeudy), Aiyuk feels like something of a forgotten man. Not to the good folks over at Pro Football Focus, who ranked him as the eighth-best rookie in the entire draft class, but to the football-watching public at large. Maybe this socially distanced existence has me creating straw men from an isolation chamber, but it just doesn't feel like Aiyuk gets the hype of some of his higher-profile WR classmates -- and I'm here to fix that! Like Deebo Samuel, Aiyuk is a perfect fit for Kyle Shanahan's catch-and-run scheme. Remember the hurdle touchdown against Philadelphia? Dude's electric with the ball in his hands. Put some respect on the name! Oh, and stop disrespecting Kinlaw. Yes, he was essentially taken with the first-round pick San Francisco acquired in the DeForest Buckner trade. No, he didn't come close to matching Buckner's production this past season. This is OK. Kinlaw still has work to do in the technical aspects of his game, but he flashed disruptive ability on a weekly basis, routinely detonating O-lines with brute strength and rare athleticism. And shoot, look at the big man deliver this pick-six! Patience is a virtue, especially when it comes to 6-foot-5, 319-pound freaks.

Grade
B
Los Angeles Rams
Los Angeles Rams
Total picks: 9 · 10-6

Round 2

Round 3

Round 4

Round 6

Round 7


As you've heard ad nauseam by now, the Rams haven't made a first-round selection since nabbing Jared Goff No. 1 overall in 2016, and after sending two more 1s along with Goff to Detroit in the blockbuster deal for Matthew Stafford, they're not slated to pick in Round 1 until 2024. So, barring future wheeling and dealing, they're set to go seven straight drafts without a first-rounder. This would be a problem if general manager Les Snead weren't hitting on his picks in the latter two days of the draft ... but he is! Akers, L.A.'s highest pick in the past three drafts at No. 52 overall, joined a crowded backfield and missed some time with injuries in the first half of the season. But down the stretch, he started to look like the kind of offensive motor Sean McVay hasn't had since Todd Gurley was right. Everyone took notice when he filleted New England on Thursday Night Football, but that 171-yard outburst wasn't the end. In two playoff games, Akers racked up 221 rushing yards, 51 receiving yards, two touchdowns and a two-point conversion for good measure. McVay has favored a committee backfield in recent seasons, but this talented Florida State product might force a bell-cow role. Jefferson's rookie numbers don't blow you away -- 19 catches for 220 yards and a touchdown -- but he displayed the kind of polish you'd expect from the son of an NFL wide receivers coach. With Josh Reynolds hitting free agency next month, Jefferson should settle in nicely alongside Robert Woods and Cooper Kupp in the Rams' three-receiver formations next season. Stafford can work with that. Lewis showcased disruptive ability when he was able to get on the field, but that's been the story going back to his Alabama days. Rocked up at 6-foot-5, 262 pounds, he's a tantalizing physical presence who just can't seem to evade the injury bug. This class' diamond in the rough -- the kind of Day 3 steal who allows you to keep trading Day 1 picks -- is Fuller. He gets lost in the shuffle of a very nice safety class that also included Julian Blackmon, Kamren Curl, Jeremy Chinn and Super Bowl champ/Supreme Tyreek Hill Troller Antoine Winfield Jr., but Fuller was a Week 1 starter on the NFL's best defense. Although he missed four games with a neck injury, Fuller still accumulated 60 tackles, five pass breakups and three picks -- two of which came off a guy named Tom Brady on Monday Night Football.

Grade
B-
Seattle Seahawks
Seattle Seahawks
Total picks: 8 · 12-4

Round 1

Round 2

Round 3

Round 4

Round 5

Round 6

Round 7


Unsurprisingly, Seattle surprised everyone with their first selection of the draft. And Brooks failed to make much of an impact in the first half of the season, partially because of a knee injury that sidelined him for a couple games. But as the Seahawks' defense turned things around in the final months of the regular season, so did Brooks. He became a heat-seeking missile against the run, routinely shooting past -- or through -- blockers to blow up outside zones, jet sweeps and goal-line dives. Brooks made splash plays galore as a downhill thumper, which was exactly his M.O. at Texas Tech. But his pass coverage, which was the biggest question about Brooks' game in the pre-draft process, remains a work in progress. This is a critical factor, especially if Seattle allows veteran K.J. Wright to walk in free agency. While Brooks turned it on in the stretch run, Taylor never got going. GM John Schneider gambled on the edge rusher -- trading up to select him despite the fact that he'd played his final season at Tennessee with a stress fracture in his fibula and had surgery just a few months before the draft -- but Year 1 was a complete loss. Numerous setbacks from surgery kept Taylor inactive all season. The 'Hawks still have high hopes that this pick will provide some much-needed QB disruption going forward, but it's a swing and a miss thus far. Schneider did nail Seattle's third-round selection, though, nabbing a 17-game starter in Lewis. Earning PFWA All-Rookie Team honors at guard, he's an absolute tank in the run game. And midway through Day 3, Seattle did get some juice off the edge in Robinson, who stuffed the stat sheet with four sacks, four QB hits, five tackles for loss and 11 pressures as a rotational pass rusher.

Grade
C
Arizona Cardinals
Arizona Cardinals
Total picks: 6 · 8-8

Round 1

Round 3

Round 4

Round 6

Round 7


When the Cardinals went on the clock at No. 8 last April, a large segment of draft watchers thought they should go tackle. But instead of taking Jedrick Wills, Mekhi Becton or Tristan Wirfs -- who were all selected in the subsequent five picks -- Arizona grabbed the Swiss Army Knife defender with size, speed and sex appeal. (Full disclosure: Your faithful gradesman was on board with this move. What can I say? I'm a sucker for hybrid freaks with 4.39 wheels.) Through the first couple months of the season, this looked like a calamitous mistake. While Wills, Becton and Wirfs were capably starting, Simmons was barely getting on the field. We're talking single-digit snaps in three of his first seven games! But after Arizona's Week 8 bye, Simmons' usage increased significantly, with defensive coordinator Vance Joseph deploying him as the chess piece he was drafted to be. Spending time at linebacker, edge rusher, safety and slot corner, Simmons piled up 46 tackles (four for loss), two sacks, two passes defensed, a pick, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery, earning a spot on the PFWA All-Rookie Team. And he looked like the kind of versatile cover man who's invaluable in an NFL increasingly defined by mismatch nightmares on offense. Maybe the Cards still end up ruing the day they passed on a tackle at No. 8. The third-round stab at the position on Jones netted a grand total of 54 snaps in Year 1. And QB Kyler Murray seems perturbed by the state of his O-line, judging by his recent sub(re)tweeting. (IT'S QB EMPOWERMENT SZN.) But Simmons showed enough in the second half of the season to keep me intrigued. Like I said, I'm a sucker for the type.

Follow Gennaro Filice on Twitter.

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