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Thanks to an influx of talent, NFC West quarterbacks are no longer a punch line

Thanks to an influx of talent, NFC West quarterbacks are no longer a punch line

Seahawks Russell Wilson tries to keep Rams defensive tackle Aaron Donald at bay in the 2nd quarter.

(Steve Dykes / Getty Images)

In the last decade, 38 quarterbacks have started for the four NFC West teams: the Rams, Arizona Cardinals, San Francisco 49ers and Seattle Seahawks.

Most of those players were more “can’t” than Canton, guys like John Skelton, Max Hall, Seneca Wallace, Tarvaris Jackson, Jamie Martin, Keith Null, J.T. O’Sullivan, Troy Smith, Charlie Whitehurst ...

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Even Kurt Warner and Carson Palmer were nowhere near the apex of their careers when they came to the Cardinals, although both eventually put up big numbers there.

The NFC West wasn’t the Last Chance Saloon, it was the Only Chance Saloon.

The division looks so much different now, as each team has the quarterback it targeted, a player in his 20s with boundless potential. With Tom Brady, Drew Brees and Philip Rivers nearing the sunset of their careers, and Aaron Rodgers not far behind, NFC West quarterbacks could command a much larger share of the spotlight in years to come.

With the Rams’ Jared Goff, Seattle’s Russell Wilson, San Francisco’s Jimmy Garoppolo and Arizona’s Josh Rosen — when he ultimately takes over for Sam Bradford — this is a marquee quarterback division.

“They’re all really young and top-notch guys,” said former Cardinals coach Bruce Arians, now a CBS game analyst. “You’d think they’ll all be there for a long time and just be as competitive as hell against each other.”

Wilson is already an elite quarterback, having taken the Seahawks to two Super Bowls (winning one) and thriving even in the absence of a running game. He accounted for 86% of his team’s offensive yards last season and tied a career high with 34 touchdown passes.

Wilson led the NFL with a 134.1 passer rating in the fourth quarter last season and had 19 touchdown passes in that period, shattering the single-season NFL record of Eli Manning (15).

“Russ is Russ,” 49ers general manager John Lynch said of Wilson. “He’s probably what you’d call right now the elder statesman. He’s been doing it a long time. They’ve had some shakeup, but what they do have is Russell and guys like [receiver] Doug Baldwin, so don’t fall for that one. I think they’ll be Seattle. You kind of know what you’re getting up there with Russell.”

The 49ers are gaga for Garoppolo, signing the former Brady backup to a five-year contract extension worth $137.5 million.

Counting his two starts with New England, Garoppolo is 7-0 as an NFL starter. In winning five in a row at the end of last season for the 49ers — the finale coming against the second-string of the playoff-bound Rams — Garoppolo became one of five quarterbacks since 1970 to win each of his first seven starts.

Not everyone is convinced, however, that means the 49ers are going to be an ultra-competitive team this season.

“I don’t think people are over-hyping Garoppolo, but I think they’re over-hyping the 49ers,” Arians said. “I don’t think that team is that ready yet, especially defensively in the back end. They’re just average. So I don’t know if he can carry them.

“But I like [Garoppolo]. You have to, with what he’s done.”

Arians called Garoppolo’s performance “amazing” in New England’s 23-21 victory at the Cardinals in a 2016 opener, when Brady was serving his Deflategate suspension.

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The rapid emergence of Garoppolo and Goff — coupled with the unexpected U-turns of the 49ers and Rams — have quickly rekindled a storied West Coast rivalry.

Goff, the No. 1 overall pick in 2016 who languished during his rookie year in the Jeff Fisher regime, hit his stride last season in the offensive system of Sean McVay, the NFL’s coach of the year.

Although Todd Gurley was the centerpiece of the Rams offense, Goff unquestionably had his moments. He passed for at least 300 yards and three touchdowns with no interceptions in Weeks 9 and 10, becoming the first player in franchise history to do that in consecutive games.

“The first year with Jeff, the guy could never play, he was awful,” Arians said of Goff. “Then he got with a really good offensive coach, and Gurley’s healthy. When Gurley’s healthy, you can play quarterback pretty well. Sean McVay’s probably the best thing that ever happened to [Goff]. Sean’s just going to stay on the cutting edge of everything and make him improve.”

That said, Arians thinks the Rams were making a mistake by not playing Goff in the preseason games this summer.

“I’m not really sold about him not playing in the preseason,” he said. “It’s not like he’s been to eight Pro Bowls.”

Goff has been to one in his second year, though, and that’s one more than Bradford, who was taken No. 1 overall six years before him. Although he’s the starter ahead of Rosen in Arizona, Bradford has made it through all 16 games only twice in seven seasons.

The rocket-armed Rosen, a former UCLA standout, is the player to watch in Arizona. The Cardinals are expecting him to flourish in Mike McCoy’s offense.

The rookie says what’s on his mind too, immediately proclaiming when he was drafted 10th that there were “nine mistakes” taken ahead of him.

He later walked that back, saying only the teams that took quarterbacks before him were wrong: Cleveland [Baker Mayfield], the New York Jets [Sam Darnold], and Buffalo [Josh Allen].

“I have a feeling he’s going to have fewer bumps in the road because he already plays like an NFL quarterback,” former Cardinals quarterback Palmer said of Rosen.

“He already throws the ball with anticipation. He already throws NFL-style reads, works through progressions in that way. I just don’t think you’ll see as many bad games from him.”

As for the NFC West, once a forgettable division for quarterbacks, it’s going to be difficult to ignore.

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