Projected Starters

NFC West projected starters for 2022 NFL season: Rams, 49ers well put together; Seahawks underrated

With the 2022 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
OFFENSEPLAYERDEFENSEPLAYER
QBKyler MurrayDEJ.J. Watt
RBJames ConnerDTZach Allen
WRMarquise BrownOLBMarkus Golden
WRA.J. GreenILBIsaiah Simmons
WRRondale MooreILBZaven Collins
TEZach ErtzOLBDevon Kennard
LTD.J. HumphriesCBByron Murphy
LGJustin PughCBMarco Wilson
CRodney HudsonCBAntonio Hamilton
RGWill HernandezSBudda Baker
RTKelvin BeachumSJalen Thompson
  • EDITOR'S NOTE: Jeff Gladney was originally listed in this file as Arizona's third starting cornerback, but the 25-year-old died in a car accident early on Memorial Day, rocking the NFL community.
  • DeAndre Hopkins is suspended for the first six games of the season. Kliff Kingsbury needs more schematic answers than throwing every target to Zach Ertz, like Arizona did when Hopkins was hurt last year.
  • Eno Benjamin is the favorite to back up James Conner, a sign Conner may have a big workload as long as he stays healthy.
  • The lack of post-draft drama between Kyler Murray and the Cardinals is one of the more pleasant surprises of the offseason.
  • Marquise Brown's strengths as a deep outside threat definitely fit better with Murray than with Lamar Jackson. When Brown and Hopkins are on the field together, this should be a fun vertical offense, which is rare in today's NFL.
  • It may be a stretch to call the offensive line a massive strength, but it's stable and capable. That said, the run-blocking has fallen off since Kingsbury's first season.
  • Defensive coordinator Vance Joseph needs a healthy J.J. Watt this season. The 33-year-old has the third-highest cap figure on the team and is the only interior player with any juice.
  • The Cardinals are so thin at defensive tackle that it's worth wondering if the plan is to play Watt there primarily.
  • A signing like Justin Houston would make sense here. For now, the Cardinals are counting on some combination of Markus Golden, Devon Kennard and Dennis Gardeck to help replace Chandler Jones.
  • The biggest potential source of defensive improvement is from young core players improving in a familiar system. First-rounders Isaiah Simmons and Zaven Collins have been disappointing, with Collins struggling to get on the field last season as a rookie.
  • Perhaps there's another level to go up for Budda Baker, the best player on this defense. The same could be true for Byron Murphy and Marco Wilson at cornerback.
  • The Cardinals don't have much cap space, but this roster screams out for veteran additions in this final phase of free agency. Arizona could use pickups at running back, cornerback, defensive tackle and possibly edge.
  • Sometimes performing this exercise makes me see a team differently. I have less faith in the Cardinals, and it has nothing to do with Murray. It's hard to see where the real strengths are on this team, and there are too many holes.
Table inside Article
OFFENSEPLAYERDEFENSEPLAYER
QBMatthew StaffordDEGreg Gaines
RBCam AkersDTAaron Donald
WRCooper KuppDEA'Shawn Robinson
WRAllen RobinsonOLBLeonard Floyd
WRVan JeffersonILBBobby Wagner
TETyler HigbeeILBErnest Jones
LTJoe NoteboomCBJalen Ramsey
LGDavid EdwardsCBTroy Hill
CBrian AllenCBDavid Long Jr.
RGLogan BrussSJordan Fuller
RTRob HavensteinSNick Scott
  • Sean McVay changed his offense dramatically to maximize Matthew Stafford's strengths last season. There is a lot this duo can do together in Year 2 to mix it up and keep defenses guessing.
  • Getting Cam Akers back for a full season will diversify this running game. Darrell Henderson is a weapon as a backup.
  • Will Odell Beckham Jr. rejoin this receiver group? If not, it's thinner than ideal beyond the incredible tandem of Cooper Kupp and Allen Robinson. Van Jefferson did not step up when needed in the playoffs.
  • It's early to call last year's second-round receiver Tutu Atwell a wasted pick, but it's trending that way.
  • The Rams have earned the benefit of the doubt when it comes to offensive line construction because their group always outperforms expectations. Still, it should be noted that replacing a potential Hall of Famer at left tackle (Andrew Whitworth) and starting a third-round rookie (Logan Bruss) both carry risk.
  • Will playoff heroes like A'Shawn Robinson, Nick Scott and Ernest Jones take another step this season with bigger roles? The Rams count on internal development to make up for their top-heavy roster.
  • Jones can learn from Bobby Wagner while playing beside him. Wagner should keep this defense cohesive.
  • Getting Troy Hill back at nickelback was huge because it's not an exciting group after Jalen Ramsey.
  • The edge rusher spot opposite Leonard Floyd is up for grabs, with Justin Hollins the most likely candidate to snatch it.
  • Los Angeles is one of the Super Bowl favorites again. These Rams are more vulnerable to a star injury than most squads, but last year's run proved that this staff's ability to coach up depth is a big part of McVay's value.
Table inside Article
OFFENSEPLAYERDEFENSEPLAYER
QBTrey LanceDENick Bosa
RBElijah MitchellDTArik Armstead
WRDeebo SamuelDTJavon Kinlaw
WRBrandon AiyukDESamson Ebukam
WRJauan JenningsLBFred Warner
TEGeorge KittleLBDre Greenlaw
LTTrent WilliamsCBCharvarius Ward
LGAaron BanksCBEmmanuel Moseley
CAlex MackCBAmbry Thomas
RGDaniel BrunskillSJimmie Ward
RTMike McGlincheySGeorge Odum
  • It's possible Jimmy Garoppolo remains on the roster, but Trey Lance should be the heavy favorite to start. My guess is that Jimmy G gets traded during training camp.
  • The 49ers drafted Tyrion Davis-Price three rounds higher than Elijah Mitchell was taken a year ago. That pick probably says more about how the team sees another third-rounder, Trey Sermon, but everyone here has a legitimate chance to play.
  • Assuming you know what Kyle Shanahan is going to do with his depth chart, especially at running back, is a fool's errand.
  • I like Jauan Jennings, but this receiver group is one injury (or Deebo Samuel holdout into the season) away from being a problem. Third-round pick Danny Gray has a chance for immediate snaps.
  • This offensive line, led by Trent Williams, is built to run block. The unit should have fun playing in front of Lance.
  • It's unclear whether center Alex Mack will continue to play football, but he's written in pencil as a starter for now.
  • The 49ers may have the deepest front seven in football. They always find defensive line castoffs who excel in their system, like Samson Ebukam last year. They have so many options beyond the starters who could emerge, including Kemoko Turay, Hassan Ridgeway and Charles Omenihu. Second-round pick Drake Jackson also could shine.
  • San Francisco also goes three deep with high-quality off-ball linebackers, following Azeez Al-Shaair's breakout campaign.
  • It's hard to claim this front seven is better than the 2019 crew that included DeForest Buckner, but it's not far off.
  • Getting more out of Buckner's first-round replacement, Javon Kinlaw, would be enormous. But coming off a torn ACL, he's not guaranteed a starting job.
  • As usual, the Niners' secondary looks like the most undercooked part of the roster. They always manage to figure it out and have some high-upside veterans on the roster (Jason Verrett, Darqueze Dennard) if the young guys don't pan out.
  • The 49ers do such a good job of maximizing cornerback talent and hiding weaknesses there that it was surprising to see them give so much money to Charvarius Ward. That said, he could take a leap from his Chiefs level in this system.
  • An offense led by Trey Lance is going to look different. But the pieces overall are still here to compete for a title in the sixth season under Shanahan and John Lynch.
Table inside Article
OFFENSEPLAYERDEFENSEPLAYER
QBGeno SmithDEShelby Harris
RBKenneth Walker IIIDTPoona Ford
WRDK MetcalfOLBUchenna Nwosu
WRTyler LockettLBJordyn Brooks
TEWill DisslyLBCody Barton
TENoah FantOLBDarrell Taylor
LTCharles CrossCBTre Brown
LGDamien LewisCBSidney Jones
CAustin BlytheCBJustin Coleman
RGGabe JacksonSJamal Adams
RTAbraham LucasSQuandre Diggs
  • Geno Smith and Drew Lock both figure to start plenty of games, even if the Seahawks add a mystery third option to the mix. Geno is the more predictable choice, and Pete Carroll is comfortable with him.
  • The third receiver position looks weak again, with Dee Eskridge or Freddie Swain the top option. Considering Will Dissly's big contract and Noah Fant's receiving skills, expect to see a lot of two-TE sets.
  • Those heavy sets will allow Carroll to run the ball as much as possible. So will two starter-quality RB options in rookie Kenneth Walker III and Rashaad Penny. I'm a big believer that Walker's talent will be too undeniable to limit to backup duty.
  • Chris Carson's health is an open question, and he may no longer fit on this roster.
  • Yup, that's a projection of two rookie starters at tackle. Center is also open. This is a high-variance offensive line that could be above average or terrible; I'd believe any possible outcome.
  • The Seahawks' front seven has a chance to make a lot of noise. It was hard to decide who to leave out of the starting lineup.
  • On the interior, Al Woods played 620 quality snaps for the team last year and will stay in the mix. Quinton Jefferson was added in free agency, and fourth-year big man Bryan Mone should have a role. Shelby Harris is an underrated player and a sneaky-big part of the Russell Wilson trade.
  • The Seahawks can also rotate their edge defenders. Uchenna Nwosu was a smart pickup from the Chargers, and Darrell Taylor had a terrific debut campaign after spending his entire rookie season on injured reserve. If rookie Boye Mafe can harness his athleticism, there should be plenty of pass rush.
  • Carroll is one of the few defensive minds left who plays two linebackers every snap. The Seahawks appear to love Cody Barton, who will essentially replace Bobby Wagner's snaps.
  • Cornerback remains the biggest question on the defense, like it has for much of the last five years. The 'Hawks will miss D.J. Reed and could add more veteran help.
  • Quandre Diggs and Jamal Adams are both coming off injuries and there isn't much beyond the high-priced pair at safety.
  • It's not just Seahawks Twitter and Pete Carroll optimism. This roster -- especially with its stout defensive lineup -- could finish with a winning record if Seattle gets passable quarterback play. Big if!

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