In 2010, the NFC West had the dubious record of becoming the first division whose winner had a losing record: the Seattle Seahawks finished first despite going 7-9. Since then the division has drastically improved thanks to excellent coaching by Jim Harbaugh and Pete Carroll and some of the most elite players in the NFL. Here are the best players in what has become the best division in the NFL, the NFC West.
QB: Russell Wilson, Seattle Seahawks
The debate of Wilson or Colin Kaepernick will likely go on for the next decade and there is really no wrong choice when you look at the potential of these two guys. Last year, Wilson maintained an even 100 quarterback rating while passing for more than 3,000 yards and 26 touchdowns. What’s more impressive is that it all happened in his rookie season. The 26 touchdown passes tied Peyton Manning for most ever by a rookie quarterback and he did all that damage through the air while surrendering only 10 interceptions. His leadership and poise were also on display in his inaugural campaign, leading the team to four 4th-quarter comebacks last year.
RB: Marshawn Lynch, Seattle Seahawks
Beast mode was in full effect last year. Lynch ran for a career-best 1,590 yards and added 11 touchdowns. His battering ram style of running should be of concern for opposing defenses as well. Lynch was third last year with 639 yards after first contact. The second round selection of Christine Michael should motivate Lynch even more which will translate into another stellar season.
WR note: Michael Crabtree and Percy Harvin are not included due to injury
WR: Larry Fitzgerald, Arizona Cardinals
Fitzgerald had a down year last season but only when it’s compared to the high level of production we’re used to seeing from him. Even so, he totaled 71 receptions and four touchdowns for an offense that ranked next to last in the NFL. The addition of Carson Palmer should stabilize the quarterback situation which should make for a bounce back year.
WR: Anquan Boldin, San Francisco 49ers
A career that ended in Baltimore with a Super Bowl victory tries to resurface once again in the bay area. Boldin is not the receiver he once was but he is every bit the definition of the word reliable. Last year he caught 65 passes and scored four touchdowns. Of the 65 balls he caught, 45 of them were for first downs and with the injury to Micheal Crabtree he will be relied on heavily to put up even better numbers.
WR: Sidney Rice, Seattle Seahawks
Similar to Boldin, Rice has moved up the depth chart with the injury to Percy Harvin and will likely be Wilson’s number one target this upcoming season. In 2012, Rice had 50 receptions and seven scores. For as big a target as he is (6-foot-4 and 202 pounds) these stats seem low but the fact that Seattle was last in the NFL is pass attempts per game should be considered heavily. Another year for Wilson means that he will have more control of the offense which likely means that he will sling the ball a bit more. If Rice’s knee holds up, then he should have a good season.
TE: Vernon Davis, San Francisco 49ers
Probably the most talented player on this offense, Vernon Davis had difficulty connecting with Kaepernick at first, but he came on strong in the latter part of the season. He came up big in the playoffs especially with back to back one hundred yard performances in the NFC Championship game and the Super Bowl. Davis is a matchup nightmare the moment he steps on the field not only as an offensive weapon but as an important blocker in the running game. That’s what makes him the best tight end in the division.
T: Joe Staley, San Francisco 49ers & Russell Okung, Seattle Seahawks
These two are among the most athletic tackles in the league. Staley has been the leader of top-tier offensive line while Okung has come into his own over the past couple of seasons. They have the talent to be perennial Pro Bowlers and their quick feet paired with the ability of their quarterbacks is a nightmare match up for any defense.
G: Mike Iupati & Alex Boone, San Francisco 49ers
These teammates are a huge reason the 49ers have had the strongest rushing attack for the second consecutive year. Iupati is coming off his first all-pro selection while Boone, an undrafted free agent and originally a tackle, has made the move to guard look like a seamless transition. Last season the 49ers had an average of 5.1 yards per carry and it was due in large part to the holes and running lanes created by these guys.
C: Max Unger, Seattle Seahawks
Unger has been the Seahawks starting center for four straight years. He almost instantly had a connection with Russell Wilson and had a his best season yet in 2012. Last year he played in all 16 games and earned an all pro selection.
DE: Justin Smith, San Francisco 49ers & Chris Clemons, Seattle Seahawks
Twenty-three years of NFL experience between them but both have experienced their best seasons only recently. Smith has shown the ability to take over a game at any point because of his unbelievable motor. When he went down last season with an injury, teammate Aldon Smith’s sack rate dropped drastically and the absence of “the Cowboy” was a huge reason for it. In Clemons’ first three seasons with the Seahawks, he has totaled 33.5 sacks which puts him in a class with DeMarcus Ware and Jared Allen for three-year totals. He is currently recovering from an ACL injury but when healthy you can pencil him in for double digit sacks.
DT: Brandon Mebane, Seattle Seahawks & Ray McDonald, San Francisco 49ers
These monsters in the middle are responsible for their defenses placement in the top ten in rushing yards allowed. McDonald recorded 2.5 sacks last year and clogged up the middle for the 49ers . Mebane was sixth on the team with 56 tackles and had three sacks of his own.
It’s hard to argue against putting the entire 49er linebacking corps on this list. They are the best group of linebackers in the NFC West and it’s not even close.
Navarro Bowman and Patrick Willis are tackling machines, combining for 268 tackles last season. Willis is the leader of the best defense in the NFL and Bowman has become one of the best coverage linebackers in the league.
On the outside is Aldon Smith who has 33.5 sacks in his first two seasons including 19.5 sacks last year. He commands double teams on every down which provides opportunities for the rest of his teammates to make plays.
Ahmad Brooks has played all 16 games in consecutive seasons for the first time in his career and was selected to the all-pro second team last year after recording 6.5 sacks. Together, the 49er linebackers demonstrate excellent speed on the edges, don’t miss any tackles in the open field and provide good coverage in the secondary.
CB: Richard Sherman, Seattle Seahawks & Patrick Peterson, Arizona Cardinals
Sherman is one of the more physical conerbacks and he isn’t afraid to let you know about it. His mouth gets almost as much attention as his play but he backed it up last year racking up eight interceptions. Peterson is proving that he can be more than just return man, picking off a career-high seven passes last year. He is quickly becoming a shutdown corner and eliminating half of the football field for opposing quarterbacks.
S: Earl Thomas & Kam Chancellor, Seattle Seahawks
Thomas and Chancellor are the last line of defense for perhaps the best secondary in the league. Thomas had 66 tackles and three picks, returning one of those for a touchdown. Chancellor, a 4th-year man out of Virginia Tech, was second on the team with 101 tackles. These two, as a unit, may be the best back end in not only the NFC West, but the entire NFL.
P: Andy Lee, San Francisco 49ers
Lee finished the season making the Pro Bowl for a third consecutive year and the all pro team by netting a league high 43.2 yards per punt. He holds the franchise record for most punting yards currently with 33,069.
K: Phil Dawson, San Francisco 49ers
The longtime Brown comes to a new division and immediately becomes it’s best kicker. Dawson converted 29 of 31 kicks including a perfect 7-7 from 50 yards or more.
KR/ PR: Patrick Peterson, Arizona Cardinals
He’s not just a freak athlete at the corner position, he can return any kick for six. We’ve seen Peterson do some crazy things on returns, making him the best in the division at not just corner, but return specialist as well.