Earlier this offseason, I posted two articles on Seahawks that could take the next step in 2016, one for offense and one for defense. With the quiet period of the offseason in full swing, it's the perfect time to identify a couple of players to watch out for in 2016 from Seattle's three division rivals. Despite the 49ers and Rams general incompetence, even they have budding blue chip players to go along with their established veterans, while the Cardinals continue to draft well under general manager Steve Keim.
Arizona Cardinals: J.J. Nelson, WR and Markus Golden, LB
Despite being an undersized, fifth round rookie in 2015, Cards receiver J.J. Nelson was a productive member of the offense last season. The speedy 5'10" 156-pound Nelson caught just 11 passes in his rookie year, but showed exactly what he's capable of with each of those receptions, averaging 27.2 yards per catch with two touchdowns. Head coach Bruce Arians unsurprisingly got the most out of Nelson in an already stacked offense last year, and with Larry Fitzgerald entering his age 33 season, Nelson could see a bump in production.
Markus Golden, like Nelson, was a sparsely-used rookie in 2015. While he did manage six starts, the second round pick was used mostly in situational downs following the arrival of Dwight Freeney. Golden made enough of an impression to win the starting job almost outright, with both Freeney and LaMarr Woodley not being re-signed this offseason. With the arrival of Robert Nkemdiche and Chandler Jones, the onus isn't on Golden to be the team's top pass rusher; instead, the second year player can focus on achieving his full potential.
Los Angeles Rams: Rob Havenstein, RT and E.J. Gaines, CB
Starting 13 games in his rookie year, Havenstein was the Rams best offensive lineman on a line loaded with draft capital. The right tackle should benefit from the entire unit taking a step forward this season, but Havenstein will likely be the strongest member once again. With one of the league's best running backs in the backfield, Havenstein can make a real claim as one of the game's premier run blockers in 2016.
Football is a funny game. This time last season, the expectation in St. Louis was for Janoris Jenkins to start on one side of the Rams secondary, with sophomore E.J. Gaines expected to line up on the other. But after Gaines suffered a season-ending foot injury in August, Trumaine Johnson took over the job and earned his stay, eventually being given the franchise tag while Jenkins was free to leave for the Giants in free agency. Healthy once again, it will now be Johnson that Gaines will be trying to earn the starting job opposite of after starting in his place in 2014, then opening the door for in 2015.
San Francisco 49ers: Trent Brown, RT and Arik Armstead, DE
Similar to the rest of their roster, the 49ers offensive line is in disarray. Joe Staley will lock down the left tackle spot once again and first round pick Joshua Garnett will start at one of the guard spots, but beyond that is unclear. Sophomore tackle Trent Brown could make that picture be a bit clearer if he can win the right tackle job. Last year's seventh round pick started the team's final two games of 2015 and his play was mixed. At times, it was exactly what you would expect of a 6'8", 355-pound rookie: Physically dominating but mentally dominated. Brown doesn't exactly paint the picture of a sleek offensive lineman for Chip Kelly's non-stop offense, but at this stage San Francisco just needs as much talent on the field as possible.
Following a relatively disappointing rookie season, Armstead is looking to make a big jump under his former college coach. The long, athletic defensive end didn't start a game last year but did play in all 16 games, recording two sacks and posting 14 tackles. His snaps increased following a late-November injury to Glenn Dorsey and, if all goes well, Armstead should start over Dorsey on one of the league's biggest interior lines.
Any players catch your eye during division games last season that weren't on this list? As always, let us know in the comments!