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NFC West projected starters for 2023 NFL season: Seahawks closing in on 49ers? Cards, Rams in limbo

With the 2023 NFL Draft and most of free agency in the rearview, Gregg Rosenthal will project starting lineups for all 32 teams because that's his idea of fun. Check out the NFC West breakdowns below.

Table inside Article
QB Colt McCoy DE L.J. Collier
RB James Conner DT Carlos Watkins
WR DeAndre Hopkins DE Rashard Lawrence
WR Marquise Brown Edge B.J. Ojulari
WR Rondale Moore OLB Kyzir White
TE Zach Ertz ILB Zaven Collins
LT D.J. Humphries CB Marco Wilson
LG Josh Jones CB Rashad Fenton
C Hjalte Froholdt S Isaiah Simmons
RG Kelvin Beachum S Budda Baker
RT Paris Johnson Jr. S Jalen Thompson
  • I can't believe Colt McCoy will be the Week 1 starter. Fifth-round rookie Clayton Tune is the next option on the roster. Maybe this could be a Teddy Bridgewater landing spot?
  • It's worth wondering if the Cardinals will even have Kyler Murray get back on the field this season following his recovery from a torn ACL if they are out of the playoff mix.
  • Considering the state of the team's defense and quarterback position, this is a rebuilding year in Arizona. That's why I'm still not sure if DeAndre Hopkins and Zach Ertz will be on this team after training camp or the trade deadline. (UPDATE: The Cardinals announced Friday that they have released DeAndre Hopkins.)
  • The Cardinals are thin at most positions, but not left tackle and wide receiver. Josh Jones was a capable replacement for D.J. Humphries on the blind side last season, and the team drafted Paris Johnson Jr. at No. 6 overall. Right tackle Kelvin Beachum was also brought back. Most teams don't have two decent tackles. The Cardinals have four. Two of the players here could kick inside to guard, but this is another spot where a trade is possible.
  • Wide receiver is also a relative position of strength. I like third-round wideout Michael Wilson's chances of eventually making an impact.
  • If my offensive line setup here was educated guesswork, taking a crack at the Cardinals' defensive front seven was throwing darts blindfolded. Around Minute 25 of trying to figure out who is going to play from this group, I thought of Ricky Watters' immortal words: "For who? For what?"
  • This should be Isaiah Simmons' last season with the Cardinals after they declined the former top-10 pick's fifth-year option. It's hard to guess where he'll settle in with this staff. Off-ball linebacker appears to be taken by Kyzir White. It's possible Simmons could do some situational pass rushing or play nickel back, like he did late last year.
  • All three levels of the defense look below average. That's why it makes no sense to trade safety Budda Baker, barring a Godfather offer. He's a player Arizona should build around.
  • The Cardinals have the lowest over/under win total of any team in Las Vegas, which sounds about right.
Table inside Article
QB Matthew Stafford DE Bobby Brown III
RB Cam Akers DT Aaron Donald
WR Cooper Kupp DE Kobie Turner
WR Van Jefferson Edge Michael Hoecht
WR Lance McCutcheon Edge Byron Young
TE Tyler Higbee MLB Ernest Jones
LT Alaric Jackson CB Cobie Durant
LG Steve Avila CB Derion Kendrick
C Coleman Shelton CB Tre'Vius Hodges-Tomlinson
RG Logan Bruss S Jordan Fuller
RT Rob Havenstein S Quentin Lake
  • The Rams drafted 14 players and signed 25 more undrafted free agents, which is believed to be an unprecedented number. Yup, nearly half the roster is composed of rookies. This is going to be weird.
  • Squint hard, and there's a top-10 offense here, if Sean McVay gets his groove back. At least, the Rams seem to think so.
  • The offense's "ifs" are health-related. Matthew Stafford, Cooper Kupp and much of the offensive line are coming off injury. Cam Akers has never held up for an entire season.
  • Even with better health luck, this offensive line is hoping to be average. It should be better than last season. Joseph Noteboom is coming off a torn Achilles and should return to left tackle at some point. The interior line is counting on untested young players.
  • As someone who watched too much Rams preseason action last season, I'm giving Lance McCutcheon the edge as the WR3. He has the skill set to thrive. Ben Skowronek is the favorite, while fifth-round pick Puka Nacua, Tutu Atwell and a host of UDFAs also have a chance here.
  • The defense is where this exercise gets gnarly. There are three or four surefire starters: linebacker Ernest Jones, safety Jordan Fuller, probably cornerback Cobie Durant and ... The Greatest Defensive Tackle of All Time.
  • Durant and Derion Kendrick were promising late-round rookie cornerbacks last year. Los Angeles should use this season to find out if they are for real.
  • The front seven beyond Aaron Donald is mostly a mystery. Edge rusher Michael Hoecht showed something late last season. He's likely to start. Edge Byron Young and defensive lineman Kobie Turner, both rookie third-rounders, have unique skill sets.
  • This L.A. roster screams for some low-cost veteran additions. Leonard Floyd is available, for instance, but it sure doesn't seem like this version of the Rams is interested in going that route.
  • If the Rams finish close to average on defense, Raheem Morris deserves Coordinator of the Year consideration. Staying around .500 should be considered a major victory for McVay while conducting this strange transition-year experiment.
Table inside Article
QB Brock Purdy DE Nick Bosa
RB Christian McCaffrey DT Javon Hargrave
WR Deebo Samuel DT Arik Armstead
WR Brandon Aiyuk DE Drake Jackson
WR Jauan Jennings ILB Dre Greenlaw
TE George Kittle MLB Fred Warner
LT Trent Williams CB Charvarius Ward
LG Aaron Banks CB Deommodore Lenoir
C Jake Brendel CB Isaiah Oliver
RG Spencer Burford S Tashaun Gipson
RT Colton McKivitz S Talanoa Hufanga
  • Every year, the 49ers seem to have the same questions. Quarterback is iffy (beyond Kyle Shanahan's general ability to spin magic with the position), and the team is expecting to scheme up an offensive line and cornerback group without enough great talent. The formula has worked the last two years.
  • Trey Lance and Sam Darnold will get most of the offseason snaps, with Brock Purdy coming off elbow surgery. It won't be a surprise if Lance is the Week 1 starter again as Purdy recovers. Still, Purdy feels more likely to lead the season in snaps.
  • The running game will be scary if both Christian McCaffrey and Elijah Mitchell can stay healthy all season. This offensive line is clearly built for run-blocking, and Lance would add juice to the run game.
  • It's taken a while, but the 49ers have found their WR3 in Jauan Jennings. There isn't a more physical trio in football than Jennings, Deebo Samuel and Brandon Aiyuk.
  • All offseason, 49ers fans waited for the team to replace Mike McGlinchey. Team brass was steadfast in saying it believes in Colton McKivitz, a 2020 fifth-round pick, all along.
  • The 49ers keep losing defensive coordinators, but their defensive line remains fearsome. Free-agent signee Javon Hargrave essentially replaced DeForest Buckner, just three years after Buckner was traded to Indy.
  • The defensive front was a bit deeper in the past. Drake Jackson stepping up as a second edge rusher across from Nick Bosa would help immensely.
  • A lot of analytically-minded teams scrimp on off-ball linebackers. The 49ers build their defense around them.
  • On most teams, employing Deommodore Lenoir and former Falcon Isaiah Oliver as the CB2/CB3 would qualify as a screaming concern. In San Francisco, I have faith the 49ers will make it work. (And perhaps sign another veteran.)
  • Talanoa Hufanga was first-team All-Pro last season. Third-round pick Ji’Ayir Brown could eventually challenge for his job if Hufanga keeps giving up plays, like at the end of last season.
  • San Francisco used 2023 picks on trades for Lance and McCaffrey, so there wasn't much help in the draft. Kicker Jake Moody is the only projected rookie starter.
  • The 49ers' skill positions outside of quarterback are loaded and in their prime. There are elite linemen on both sides of the ball, including a few future Hall of Famers. The 49ers are division favorites and NFC contenders until proven otherwise.
Table inside Article
QB Geno Smith Edge Uchenna Nwosu
RB Kenneth Walker III DE Dre'Mont Jones
WR DK Metcalf DT Jarran Reed
WR Tyler Lockett Edge Darrell Taylor
WR Jaxon Smith-Njigba OLB Jordyn Brooks
TE Will Dissly MLB Bobby Wagner
LT Charles Cross CB Tariq Woolen
LG Damien Lewis CB Devon Witherspoon
C Evan Brown S Quandre Diggs
RG Phil Haynes S Jamal Adams
RT Abraham Lucas S Julian Love
  • What an offseason for Geno Smith. Not only did he get life-changing money, but the Seahawks got him the best receiver in this draft's class in Jaxon Smith-Njigba. It also sure sounds like Anthony Richardson would have been the Seahawks' pick if he was still on the board.
  • It's not just that JSN is always open. His skill set in the slot also complements Seattle's elite boundary receivers so well, filling a huge hole for the Seahawks that has existed since Doug Baldwin retired.
  • The Seahawks skipped a deep tight end class in the draft, but they have Noah Fant as an explosive pass-catcher and Will Dissly as a complete tight end. It's a good enough group, especially with the other receiving weapons.
  • Zach Charbonnet was possibly the most complete running back in the draft not named Bijan Robinson. It won't surprise me if he winds up getting more snaps than Kenneth Walker III, who is a home-run hitter. I can imagine Pete Carroll preferring Charbonnet, who is reliable as a receiver and should always get 4 yards when it's there.
  • One way to beat the salary cap is to have a quarterback on a rookie contract. Having two tackles on rookie contracts is another. If Charles Cross and Abe Lucas improve, Seattle's incredible 2022 draft haul will look even more epic.
  • The interior offensive line is the clear weakness of the offense. Fifth-round pick Olu Oluwatimi could compete to start at center.
  • It's crazy how deep the Seahawks' secondary looks after the team drafted Devon Witherspoon and signed underrated safety Julian Love. Not to mention, Jamal Adams is working his way back from injury after missing nearly the entire 2022 campaign. Adams could play more of a hybrid linebacker role. Expect plenty of three-safety looks.
  • Tre Brown is a really talented cornerback to be fourth in the team's rotation. Second-year pro Coby Bryant was good for a rookie and isn't listed above because of the three safeties starting. This secondary isn't the Legion of Boom, but the Seahawks can build their defense from back to front.
  • It was surprising the Seahawks let Al Woods and Poona Ford leave for cheap deals after the draft. There's definitely a weakness at defensive tackle. Expect the 49ers and Rams to try to run all over Seattle.
  • Selecting Witherspoon made more sense than reaching for an edge rusher. The trio of Darrell Taylor, Uchenna Nwosu and Boye Mafe, plus second-round pick Derick Hall, can get the job done.
  • Jordyn Brooks is coming off a torn ACL suffered late last year. Devin Bush is a reclamation project who disappointed in Pittsburgh. Will the Seahawks keep two linebackers on the field less?
  • This is the best Seahawks roster since 2020, and expectations should be raised. The 49ers are the favorites to win the division, but not by much. I like this Seattle roster better than any team in the NFC North and NFC South.

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