Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports

Longtime veterans are no strangers to the NFL's biggest stages. Just ask Tom Brady, who won his latest Super Bowl at 43; or Aaron Rodgers, who at 37 is fresh off of two straight NFC Championship Game appearances. But football is very much a young man's game, too. That's why we're identifying players on their rookie contracts who are key to the success of their respective teams in 2021. Right here, we're focusing specifically on the NFC West, where the Cardinals, 49ers, Rams and Seahawks will go head to head.

Here are which youngsters matter most to each of the NFC West foes:

Arizona Cardinals: QB Kyler Murray

Player experience: Third season
How acquired: 2019 draft (No. 1 overall)

Kyler Murray Getty Images

How could it be anyone else? Young receivers like Christian Kirk, Andy Isabella and Rondale Moore could all have critical roles, especially if A.J. Green can't return to form. And big defensive names like Zaven Collins, Isaiah Simmons and Byron Murphy will be under pressure to produce. But no one holds the keys to the Cardinals' season more than Murray. He could stand to get more help from coach Kliff Kingsbury, but he's also got plenty of his own questions to answer: Can he cut down on forced throws? Can he keep himself healthy on the ground? Can he finally guide Arizona to a winning record? Murray showed improvement in 2020 and has top 10 traits -- a perpetual tough out because of his athleticism -- but will be tasked with stacking victories in a tough division this year.

San Francisco 49ers: DE Nick Bosa

Player experience: Third season
How acquired: 2019 draft (No. 2 overall)

Nick Bosa USATSI

You could make a really strong case for QB Trey Lance here. This year's first-round pick will have a chance to unseat Jimmy Garoppolo as the Week 1 starter, and if he takes over at any point as a rookie (more likely than not), he'll instantly become the face of the franchise (and its future). But if we assume Garoppolo gets the nod and performs respectably, as he's proven he can do when healthy, no one will boost the club's chances of another deep run more than Bosa. After missing most of 2020, the bulldozing pass rusher should be charged up and ready to remind people why he won Defensive Rookie of the Year honors when San Francisco last advanced to the Super Bowl. Few things are as crucial to a defense as pressuring the QB, and he does it exceedingly well.

Los Angeles Rams: OG Austin Corbett

Player experience: Fourth season
How acquired: 2019 trade (from Browns)

Getty Images

You can swap out Corbett for any of L.A.'s other young offensive linemen -- David Edwards, Brian Allen, etc. -- and the application is the same: Priority No. 1 is keeping new QB Matthew Stafford comfortable. With left tackle Andrew Whitworth nearing 40 and coming off an injury-shortened 2020, Los Angeles needs the rest of its line to stand tall if Sean McVay is planning on a fourth playoff appearance in five years. The skill positions couldn't be juicier, with Cam Akers, Darrell Henderson, Robert Woods, Cooper Kupp, DeSean Jackson and Tutu Atwell all at Stafford's disposal. Corbett, however, who's fresh off a third-year step up, is among the blockers who are just as key to Stafford's transition.

Seattle Seahawks: WR DK Metcalf

Player experience: Third season
How acquired: 2019 draft (No. 64 overall)

NFL: NFC Wild Card Round-Los Angeles Rams at Seattle Seahawks

The Seahawks have more questions at key defensive spots, especially pass rusher and cornerback, than on the offensive side of the ball, where Russell Wilson's presence alone guarantees them a chance. Maybe, you could argue, Jamal Adams matters more for a "D" devoid of many playmakers. But Metcalf is a top 10 talent out wide, giving Seattle a productive and physically imposing No. 1. We would say he's the thunder to Tyler Lockett's lightning, but that would ignore the fact Metcalf is often both. Again, could Russ survive without him? Sure. And yet the Seahawks look a lot more like a Super Bowl contender when the big man is out there owning jump balls, scaring corners and giving Wilson the confidence to loft it up when it matters most.