NFC West Superlatives: Best, Underrated & Breakout Players

Photo: Jonathan Dyer-USA TODAY Sports

Unfortunately, the possibility of a 2020 NFL season seems to be uncertain at this point, but that doesn’t mean we still can’t project forward, look ahead to the future, and most importantly, have a bit of football-related fun.

Second up in our division-by-division series, I analyzed the NFC West and all of its inner-workings, handing out certain “Superlatives” to players and coaches across the division.

Here are the results.

(AFC South Superlatives can be found here.)

(AFC West Superlatives can be found here.)

Most pressure to succeed: Jared Goff, QB, Los Angeles Rams

It seems everyone slanders Jared Goff these days, so let me just start with this: Goff has shown he can be a very good quarterback in the NFL. Of course, the key there is the word can.

Throughout his up and down four-year career, so much of Goff’s game has been reliant on his surroundings, as his play has almost entirely been predicated on what’s going on around him. When he’s got a strong O-line and reliable running, Goff has displayed MVP-level qualities. When pass protection and his weapons falter, however, Goff doesn’t have the requisite traits to lift a franchise by himself. By the very definition, he’s a system QB. That of course, isn’t necessarily a negative, but it just means that high expectations have been unfairly put upon his outstretched shoulders. A mega-contract extension before last season also didn't help in this regard, as it’s also the key factor that’s so much pressure on Goff heading into a make-or-break fifth season. 

Currently armed with a dismal offensive line, the odds of Goff putting forth an exceptional 2020 year aren’t exactly strong, although with underrated stars in his receiving corps like Robert Woods and Cooper Kupp, you never know. Now and again you see the type of immaculate ball placement that made him a first overall pick, but too often Goff just melds into his surroundings. Ultimately, it’s this complacent, seemingly average nature that keeps him from elite level status and the Rams out of perennial contender status.

Could also win:  

  • Most overpaid player
  • Best system QB

Most likely to disappoint: L.J. Collier, EDGE, Seattle Seahawks

The Seahawks made a typical “Seahawks selection” when they shook the football world and took L.J. Collier 29th overall in last year’s draft. To no analyst’s surprise, he was dismal as a rookie, displaying injury-prone tendencies and struggling on the field when healthy. The Seattle regime has made a living off of finding gems in draft “reaches,” but Collier—even after one year—doesn’t look like one of those diamonds in the rough. Now, without Jadeveon Clowney on the roster, Collier is expected to see an expanded role in 2020 and will probably rotate with the likes of Bruce Irvin and Benson Mayowa off the edge. 

Despite only one year in the pros, I wouldn’t hold out much hope of Collier living up to his draft status.

Could also win:  

  • Worst pick in the 2019 NFL Draft
  • Most likely to make you want Jadeveon Clowney back

Best Offensive Player: Russell Wilson, QB, Seattle Seahawks

This one seems pretty obvious. Despite an outdated offense that limits his overall ability, Wilson has found extraordinary ways to lead Seattle to continued success, even with an ineffective ground-and-pound scheme trying to hold him back. Simply put, he’s a franchise QB in every sense of the word.

Could also win:  

  • Most likely to bail his team out of a bad situation
  • Best deep ball

Best Defensive Player: Aaron Donald, IDL, Los Angeles Rams

I feel bad not putting the likes of Chandler Jones, Nick Bosa, or even Fred Warner here, but Donald isn’t only the best defender in the division, he's the best defender in the league.

Putting up historic pass-rush production from the defensive line, Donald has arguably revolutionized the defensive tackle position, proving that shorter, squattier players can be just as effective from the interior. It may seem a bit hyperbolic, but he's a slam dunk Hall of Famer and a generational type presence.

Could also win:  

  • Most likely to demolish you in a fight
  • Most likely to be mistaken for an Avenger

Underrated Star: Robert Woods, WR, Los Angeles Rams

He’s not the biggest, fastest, or strongest, but Woods simply gets the job done. Although Kupp and former teammate Brandin Cooks seemed to flash more for the Rams’ high-powered offense over the past few seasons, it was Woods who was the true catalyst for that unit, exemplifying extreme dependability, nuance, and body control at the position. A consistent presence in every sense of the word, Woods has now racked up back-to-back seasons over 80 catches, 1,100 receiving yards, and 100 rush yards, all while proving to be an elite chain-moving presence. His touchdown numbers aren’t great, mainly due to Goff’s struggles in the red zone, but Woods is simply one of the greatest technicians in the entire league.

The media rarely gives him attention, but just try and appreciate Woods for the nuanced and polished player that he is.

Could also win:  

  • Most likely to make you forget about Brandin Cooks
  • Least appreciated pass-catcher in the NFL

Most likely to Breakout: Kyler Murray, QB, Arizona Cardinals

Vegas is filled with MVP bets on Kyler Murray right now. With his promising rookie tape, the acquisition of DeAndre Hopkins, and Kliff Kingsbury’s beneficial scheme, it’s extremely easy to see why.  

Armed with an elite toolbox of traits, Murray’s off-platform ability, natural athleticism, and overall arm talent are all easy indicators of a potential franchise QB, while his impressive surroundings also indicate a potentially huge jump in production as a sophomore. Both of the last two MVPs were former first-round QBs in their second pro seasons and Murray fits the same criteria. Although I won’t necessarily go as far as to say I expect him to be a superstar yet, I wouldn’t be surprised if Murray solidified himself as a top-12 QB with a solid year and led Arizona to an eight- or nine-win season.

All in all, the current hype is 100% legit and fully warranted heading into 2020.

Could also win:  

  • Best dual-sport athlete
  • Best sleeper MVP candidate

Rookie of the Year: Brandon Aiyuk, WR, San Francisco 49ers

I don’t think Aiyuk is an overly polished player, nor do I think he’ll have a monumental impact as a rookie. However, this division (outside of defenders like Javon Kinlaw and Isaiah Simmons and RB Cam Akers) lacks a true Rookie of the Year threat, which makes Aiyuk the choice in this scenario.

Displaying exceptional athleticism, versatility, and special teams ability while at Arizona State, Aiyuk is the perfect fit in head coach Kyle Shanahan's offense, especially because of his creativity and success as a YAC player. There will be a lot of mouths to feed in the 49ers offense, but top wideout Deebo Samuel is currently hurt and Aiyuk has the highest draft pedigree of anyone on the roster. It may take him some time to get acclimated, but the talent and scheme at his disposal make a productive rookie season a very realistic possibility, hence the selection here.

Could also win:  

  • Most likely to remind you Shanahan is a genius