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Preseason Watch List: NFC West

A detailed look at the key questions facing each team in the preseason

Arizona Cardinals

The Arizona Cardinals have decided to stay closer to home this preseason, and will hold training camp at the University of Phoenix Stadium rather than Northern Arizona University. That's not the only change for the franchise as a new coaching regime takes hold led by head coach Bruce Arians, offensive coordinator Harold Goodwin and defensive coordinator Todd Bowles. The Cardinals will look to improve across the board after finishing 5-11 last year, but will be particularly focused on improving an offense that ranked 31st in points scored and 32nd in yards.

Preseason Game Schedule

  • 8/9 -- @Green Bay (8:00 ET)
  • 8/17 -- Dallas (4:30 ET)
  • 8/24 -- San Diego (10:00 ET)
  • 8/29 -- @Denver (9:00 ET)

What We're Watching

  • Is Carson Palmer the answer at quarterback? -- Carson Palmer should have little difficulty outperforming the likes of Kevin Kolb, John Skelton and Ryan Lindley, but is that saying much? Bruce Arians likes to take shots downfield and Palmer certainly has the arm and mentality to execute the system. If Palmer shines in the preseason, fantasy owners may start to completely reevaluate the prospects for the rest of the Arizona skill players. 
  • Did Arizona do enough to fix the offensive line? -- The Cardinals put the 'offensive' in offensive line in recent years and need to desperately reshape the line's cohesion if Arians is going to improve the league's worst offense. Levi Brown returns from an injury to reclaim the LT spot, while rookie first rounder Jonathan Cooper is being handed the LG spot immediately. That allows Daryn Colledge to move to RG, where he'll be backed up by rookie 4th rounder Earl Watford. 
  • Will Michael Floyd take the next step? -- Michael Floyd had a respectable rookie season (45 receptions for 562 yards and 2 touchdowns) but wasn't a true difference maker. The Cardinals want Floyd to assert himself in camp and make the decision to start him over Andre Roberts an easy one. Floyd's current ADP represents compelling value if he breaks camp as the starter opposite Larry Fitzgerald
  • Is Rashard Mendenhall really the man? -- The Cardinals had the worst rushing attack in the NFL last year, and bring four running backs into camp that all have their pros and cons. While some expect a committee approach, Bruce Arians declared Mendenhall the clear-cut starter pointing back to their time together in Pittsburgh. Unfortunately Mendenhall hasn't been healthy in nearly a year and a half, dealing with ACL and Achilles injuries. 

Seattle Seahawks

The Seahawks begin training camp on July 25th at the Virginia Mason Athletic Center, and will call VMAC home until August 14th. The Seahawks are coming off an 11-5 season and are widely regarded as one of the league's top Super Bowl contenders this season thanks to an elite defense (1st in points allowed last year) and a young but potentially explosive offense led by 2nd year QB Russell Wilson, RB Marshawn Lynch and offseason acquisition WR Percy Harvin. Camp will be about keeping the team healthy and defining the backup roles as the majority of starting positions are set. 

Preseason Game Schedule

  • 8/8 -- @San Diego (10:00 ET)
  • 8/17 -- Denver (10:00 ET)
  • 8/23 -- @Green Bay (8:00 ET)
  • 8/29 -- Oakland (10:00 ET)

What We're Watching

  • Integrating Percy Harvin -- Harvin signed a 6-year, $67mm contract with $25mm in guarantees after being traded to Seattle in March and will be asked to be the focal point of the passing attack. Based on mini-camps, Harvin will be used both in the slot and outside, and will also see the ball as a runner. 
  • Who's backing up Marshawn Lynch? -- The Seahawks used a 2nd round draft choice of Christine Michael which opens the door for an intense camp battle against talented incumbent Robert Turbin for backup duties. Whoever wins the #2 role is worth fantasy consideration given the strength of the offensive line, the team's commitment to the ground game, and Marshawn Lynch's unsettled DUI charges. 
  • Putting Dan Quinn's imprint on the defense -- When your defense ranks 1st in points allowed, and then adds the likes of Antoine Winfield, Michael Bennett and Cliff Avril, it's hard to imagine changing things but Pete Carroll didn't stand pat after DC Gus Bradley left for Jacksonville. New coordinator Dan Quinn is implementing a far more aggressive system, and will have his secondary play more man coverage -- big changes for a defense that is already Super Bowl caliber. 
  • How do Chris Clemons and Bruce Irvin fit into the equation? -- Chris Clemons and Bruce Irvin are tailor made for the attacking 4-3 defense the Seahawks plan to implement this year, but both are major question marks for different reasons. Clemons tore his ACL in the playoffs and his return timetable remains uncertain, while Irvin was suspended for four games due to PED use. 
  • Tarvaris Jackson vs. Brady Quinn -- With Wilson established as the franchise signal caller, the more interesting question is who backs him up this year. Brady Quinn seemed the obvious choice until the Seahawks brought back Tarvaris Jackson -- who started for the Seahawks in 2011. 

San Francisco 49ers

The 49ers finished 11-4-1 last season and won the NFC -- falling just short of another Super Bowl victory. In any event, the team is positioned to contend yet again and will be looking to build of what's already in place when they report to training camp in late July. This year the team will only have one open practice (due to the ongoing construction of the new stadium), so fans will have to live with updates from the beat writers allowed to attend practices. This will be Colin Kaepernick's first training camp as the starter, and his development will be critical to elevating the offense (11th in points scored last year) to perform in line with the elite defense (2nd in points allowed). 

Preseason Game Schedule

  • 8/8 -- Denver (9:00 ET)
  • 8/16 -- @Kansas City (8:00 ET)
  • 8/25 -- Minnesota (8:00 ET)
  • 8/29 -- @San Diego (10:00 ET)

What We're Watching

  • Charting Colin Kaepernick's maturation -- Kaepernick is being drafted as a clear cut fantasy QB1, but many (including the majority of our staff) are unsure if he's going to be given enough opportunities to throw the ball to match his current ADP. A strong preseason would go a long way to reinforcing the already lofty expectations for the third year passer. 
  • Is Frank Gore still a workhorse? -- San Francisco ranked 4th in rushing yards last year (2,491 yards) and will continue to emphasize the ground attack. The 49ers have a deep roster of RBs but Frank Gore remains the clear starter. Can the 29-year old Gore match or exceed last year's 1,448 yards from scrimmage? 
  • Who steps up to replace Michael Crabtree? -- Michael Crabtree tore his Achilles tendon in May, which effectively ends his 2013 season. The 49ers will slot Anquan Boldin into the #1 role, but now the question becomes who steps into the #2 role? The two in-house candidates are last year's rookie flop A.J. Jenkins and this year's rookie 4th rounder, Quinton Patton
  • Does Vernon Davis re-emerge as a fantasy star? -- Davis was inconsistent last year (41 receptions for 548 yards) but -- due to the Michael Crabtree and Mario Manningham injuries -- lined up exclusively with the wide receivers in mini-camp. Might this signal a resurgent role in the passing game for the uber athletic tight end? Remember Davis had a 965-yard, 13 touchdown season four years ago. 
  • Who replaces Dashon Goldson? -- Goldson took his All Pro talents to Tampa Bay, which creates a three way competition for the starting free safety position. Veterans Craig Dahl and C.J. Spillman will try to hold off Eric Reid, the 49ers 1st round draft choice. 
  • Can Nnamdi Asomugha earn a role? -- It's hard to believe that Asomugha was considered the 2nd best defensive back in the NFL just two seasons ago but two abysmal seasons in Philadelphia led Asomugha to sign a "prove it" deal in San Francisco.

St. Louis Rams

The Rams are getting an early start, with rookies reporting on July 21st while veterans follow two days later. When the team returns to Rams Park, the goal will be building off the foundation laid last year in Jeff Fisher's inaugural season. The Rams were 7-8-1 last year and have more work to do on offense (25th in points, 23rd in yards) than they do on defense (14th in points and yards allowed), but there is clearly room for improvement in all facets of the game. 

Preseason Game Schedule

  • 8/8 -- @Cleveland (8:00 ET)
  • 8/17 -- Green Bay (8:00 ET)
  • 8/24 -- @Denver (8:00 ET)
  • 8/29 -- Baltimore (8:00 ET)

What We're Watching

  • No more excuses for Sam Bradford -- Jeff Fisher has overhauled the offensive roster and essentially re-created the Oklahoma offense for Bradford. A strong preseason will vault Bradford up fantasy boards, but continued inconsistencies during training camp could be cause to avoid him as your QB2. 
  • Improving the offensive line -- The Rams finished in the middle of the pack with 35 sacks allowed, but team executives felt it imperative to upgrade the unit in order to fully push Sam Bradford's development. Jake Long accepted a four-year, $34mm deal with $16mm in guarantees to become the Rams new anchor left tackle. The great news is by adding Long, the team can move Roger Saffold to right tackle -- essentially upgrading both tackle positions with one roster addition. 
  • Will Jared Cook live up to his contract? -- Jared Cook came into the league full of 'potential' but by and large disappointed in four seasons in Tennessee (his highest fantasy ranking was TE14 in 2011). Yet, the Rams signed Cook to the largest contract ever for a tight end (5 years, $35mm, $19mm guaranteed) and plan on making him an offensive centerpiece. Is he up to the task? 
  • Deciphering the WR depth chart -- The Rams have the youngest WR corps in the NFL, with a 3rd year player (Austin Pettis), two 2nd year players (Chris Givens and Brian Quick) and two rookies (Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey) all vying for playing time. Most fantasy owners are betting big on Austin, but whoever wins the other starting job could have value as a late round stash. 
  • Isaiah Pead vs. Zac Stacy vs. Daryl Richardson -- Steven Jackson now calls Atlanta home, which sets up a new era in St. Louis. It'll be pivotal to watch the preseason for clues as to how the carries will be divied up. A true committee approach offers little fantasy appeal, but Jeff Fisher has traditionally favored a workhorse approach which means one of this trio of young runners could be a breakout star. 
  • Fixing the run defense -- The Rams led the league in sacks (52) last year but were porous against the run (24th in yards allowed, 15th in yards per attempt) and will look for new defensive coordinator Tim Walton to fix the unit. He'll be counting on rookie LB Alec Ogletree and safety T.J. McDonald to make immediate contributions as the Rams opted against adding defensive free agents.