Each offseason, NFL teams undergo a self-assessment. They identify the areas in which they are strong and weak, and for the most part, they plan their free-agent and draft strategies accordingly. 

Filling needs, shoring up weaknesses, and accentuating strengths are all on the agenda, for everyone. But the coaches and players tabbed to fill those needs, shore up those weaknesses, and/or accentuate those strengths carry varying degrees of intrigue. 

That’s why we’re here. Over the next several weeks, we are going to identify the most intriguing newcomer on every team in the NFL. For some teams it might be a coach. For others it might be a rookie or a free-agent signing or something else entirely. 

We began with the NFC East and the AFC East, then moved on with the NFC North and AFC North. Last week with we went through the NFC South and AFC South, and this week we’ll finish up with the NFC West (below) and AFC West (Thursday). 

Arizona Cardinals

Let’s be real: It’s DeAndre Hopkins. The Cardinals had the second most efficient run game in the NFL last year, per Football Outsiders’ DVOA, and they essentially did it with smoke and mirrors and spread formations. Their passing game lagged behind, because they didn’t really have anyone who could threaten defenses on the perimeter. Christian Kirk and Larry Fitzgerald are both natural slot guys, and the Cards were stuck using the likes of Damiere Byrd and Trent Sherfield on the outside for much of the year. They moved Kirk to the perimeter just to try to get something that threatened defenses outside the numbers. They won’t need to do that this year, with Hopkins around.

I’m just as intrigued by the potential of Isaiah Simmons on defense. The most versatile player in the draft, Simmons lined up as a box safety on 36 percent of his snaps, a slot corner on 32 percent, a free safety on 16 percent, a defensive lineman on 14 percent, and a perimeter corner on 2 percent, according to Pro Football Focus. That is just ridiculous. Arizona can use him any way it wants, and I am excited to see defensive coordinator Vance Joseph give it a try. 

Los Angeles Rams

For the Rams, the most interesting newcomer is not a player or a coach or any other specific person. It’s just the way they’re going to deploy their personnel. For the past few years, Sean McVay’s bunch has operated almost exclusively out of 11 personnel, and has almost always had the same players on the field. It was the most extreme in 2017 and 2018 before loosening up a bit last year, but this season, things should get much different. 

Brandin Cooks is gone. So is Todd Gurley. The Rams now have trust in not just Gerald Everett, but Tyler Higbee, who broke out down the stretch of last season. They drafted Van Jefferson and they still have Josh Reynolds, and both of those guys could mix in with Robert Woods and Cooper Kupp. In the backfield, they have three different options they could lean on at different times (Darrell Henderson, Malcolm Brown, and rookie Cam Akers), which would be a far different look for them than when Gurley was playing damn near every snap.

San Francisco 49ers 

We were going to split this section between three players, but two of them are now injured. Wide receiver/tight end hybrid Jalen Hurd, who sat out all of last season with an injury, was placed on injured reserve last week. Rookie wideout Brandon Aiyuk left Sunday’s practice with an apparent hamstring injury. We don’t know the severity at this time, but a hamstring injury this close to the beginning of the regular season isn’t encouraging. 

So, we will instead focus on Trent Williams. Left tackle Joe Staley retired, so the Niners just went and traded for another perennial Pro Bowl type. Williams sat out all of last season amid a dispute with the Washington franchise, but every time he has been on the field, he has been a dominant player. He should fit extremely well in Kyle Shanahan’s system, clearing the way in the run game and keeping Jimmy Garoppolo well protected. 

Seattle Seahawks

Last offseason, the Seahawks let one of the best safeties in the NFL (Earl Thomas) leave in free agency. This offseason, the Seahawks traded a starting safety and several draft picks for one of the best safeties in the league (Jamal Adams). It’ll be fascinating to see how Adams’ versatile game fits into Seattle’s more rigid defensive scheme, as his former defensive coordinator, Gregg Williams, alluded to following the trade. Still, he is a fantastic player who is arguably the best box safety in the NFL, and he’s also excellent in coverage. He might also be the best pass rusher on the team right now, which is not a great sign but is still a nice bonus when you’re talking about a safety. 

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