Of all the NFC West rivals’ NFL Draft classes, the one the 49ers should worry about the most is the class the Cardinals put together.
Yes, the San Francisco 49ers hold a 3-1 record over their NFC West division rivals, the Arizona Cardinals, the last two years. But aside from a Week 16 dominant performance by the Niners last year, these contests have been hard-fought and of the nail-biting variety.
Head coach Kyle Shanahan’s squad already has a tough time tackling quarterback Kyler Murray, and Week 1’s defensive performance against wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins left a lot to be desired.
But that’s all in the past now, and both NFC West squads are looking to build upon what they have for future campaigns.
And while it’s been easy to break down San Francisco’s 2021 NFL Draft class (we’ve done so quite a bit), it’s also important to acknowledge what else is going on within the division. Of the other three teams within the NFC West, the Cardinals easily put together the draft class that could give the 49ers the biggest fits.
Why Cardinals NFL Draft class could threaten 49ers in 2021
Almost by default, Arizona finds itself atop this list because the Seattle Seahawks came away from the draft with only three players, while the Los Angeles Rams didn’t have a first-round pick. Even though LA ended up selecting Louisville wide receiver Tutu Atwell with its first selection, Atwell’s tiny 5-foot-9 frame isn’t necessarily indicative of being a difference-making variety.
Even if one wants to tout the Rams’ draft class as a good one, Arizona’s is the class that could give the Niners some problems.
To recap, here’s who the Cardinals grabbed:
- Tulsa LB Zaven Collins (No. 16 overall)
- Purdue WR Rondale Moore (No. 49 overall)
- Florida CB Marco Wilson (No. 136 overall)
- Duke DE Victor Dimukeje (No. 210 overall)
- UCF CB Tay Gowan (No. 223 overall)
- Cincinnati S James Wiggins (No. 243 overall)
- Penn State C Michal Menet (No. 247 overall)
Right away Collins can jump off the table as someone who can help the Red Birds’ first-round pick from a year ago, safety/linebacker Isaiah Simmons, better cover San Francisco’s tight end, George Kittle. And Collins is a playmaking defender in that mold, too.
So, while Kittle will continue to be a major offensive force, the Cardinals just got deeper with options to defend against him.
Defensive backs Marco Wilson, Tay Gowan and James Wiggins are all promising, although Wilson’s inconsistencies made him a bit of a reach in Round 4. But if Arizona can develop those while counting upon his athleticism, he could be a solid contributor.
Yet Gowan and Wiggins were great value picks, and each could find themselves playing significant roles early.
A player who could ultimately give the 49ers more trouble, though, is Moore.
Like Atwell, Moore’s size is a massive concern. But of the two, Moore is much more explosive and can be a home-run threat anytime he gets the ball in his hands. He ran a 4.29 40-yard time at his pro day, after all.
Paired with Hopkins, it’s likely Moore should see plenty of one-on-one coverage against nickel defensive backs. In the Niners’ case, that’ll either be the soon-to-be 30-year-old veteran, K’Waun Williams, or rookie defensive back Deommodore Lenoir. The former doesn’t have the speed to keep up with Moore, and the latter’s lack of quick-twitch reaction skills could mean Moore is beyond Lenoir when the two face off against each other.
Again, these are all prospects. All of Arizona’s rookies could work out well. Or none of them. Probably just some of them.
Either way, if there’s a divisional opponent’s class San Francisco should worry about the most, it’s that of the Cardinals.