The Arizona Cardinals went 10-6 last season, just missing the playoffs in the uber competitive and deep NFC West. However, the Cards ended the season on a very high note, winning seven of their last nine (including one on the road against the Super Bowl Champion Seattle Seahawks). One of the main reasons for their success this past season was due in large part to the starting defense. The starting defense for the Arizona Cardinals ranked seventh in the league and was top of the league in rushing defense. Unfortunately for the Cardinals coming into this season, they may be without four of their starters from a season ago: Karlos Dansby (ILB) departed with free-agency to Cleveland, Darryl Washington (ILB) will likely be suspended for the first four games or so, Tyrann Mathieu (FS) could still be recovering from an ACL and LCL tear and Yeremiah Bell (SS) is still a free-agent considering retirement. Filling these holes on defense will likely be the highest need to address for Arizona coming into the 2014 NFL Draft, but it is not the only one.
Arizona Cardinals Top Needs:
What the Draft Can Bring:
The Arizona Cardinals have only six picks in this year’s draft, but under first-year General Manager Steve Keim, last season proved that they do not need a lot of picks in order to make a big splash. In last year’s draft, the Cardinals picked up safety Tyrann Mathieu in the third round and running back Andre Ellington in the sixth round. Mathieu had a breakout performance and was in contention for the Defensive Rookie of the Year vote before ripping his knee apart. Ellington was relied on more heavily down the stretch and was quintessential to the late season success of the Cards. The versatile running back racked up more than 1,000 total yards a year ago and is sure to improve even more with another season under his belt. That kind of draft knowledge will be huge coming into this year’s draft with limited picks. But with the 20th overall pick in the first round, who will the Cardinals choose?
As previously mentioned, the Arizona Cardinals will be lacking major depth at the linebacker position. With the departure of Dansby, suspension of Washington, and pro-bowl OLB Jon Abraham turning 36 this year, the Cards will have second-year player Kevin Minter to step-in and will also have recently signed veteran Larry Foote, but they could also use this 20th spot to tackle this looming concern. There are a few players that could be available to Arizona at this spot that could make an immediate impact coming into training camp: C.J. Mosley (ALA), Ryan Shazier (OSU), Khalil Mack (BUF) and Anthony Barr (UCLA).
Mack is the number one ranked OLB and is now in talks to possibly become zero-to-hero, potentially going at the number one overall spot to the Houston Texans. Mosley, like Mack, is the top-ranked ILB coming into this year’s draft, but may not be available by the time the Cardinals pick. Shazier- a favorite for the Cards at this spot- is fast and strong, but critics point to his size as a possible problem. Keim, however, does not see this as a problem and pointed out the similar size of San Fran’s stud linebacker Patrick Willis as a comparison. Shazier is listed as OLB, but Arizona feels he is versatile enough to play inside or outside- a quality the Cardinals may not be able to overlook at the 20th spot. Barr is another good choice at this position with size (6’4″ 255lbs) and speed, but is the most likely to stay put as an outside linebacker. Barr is just talented enough to go late in the first round, but it may be hard for the Cardinals to justify it at the 20th spot.
With the possibility of Mathieu starting the season on the physically-unable-to-perform list and Bell contemplating retirement, the Cards are left with Rashad Johnson and Tony Jefferson on the depth chart. At number 20, the Cardinals can address this possible problem by selecting top safeties Ha-Ha Clinton-Dix (ALA) or Calvin Pryor (LOU). However, critics feel as though these two safeties- although ranking as the top-two- should not go in the first round, but may go just because the need for safety on some teams is so apparent. Expect the Cardinals to pass on a safety in the first round and to address it in the second or third rounds with two other good safety options that could be available in Deone Buchanan (WSU) and Terrence Brooks (FSU).
As for the cornerback position, Arizona looks to be stacked with the recent acquisition of veteran Antonio Cromartie. But if a talent such as Michigan State’s CB Darqueze Dennard is available, do not be surprised if the Cards pluck him up as Cromartie is aging and Patrick Peterson is due to make $10 million next season.
Arizona addressed their need for a tackle position this offseason by picking up ex-Raider Left Tackle, Jared Veldheer. However, that still leaves the right side with a question mark. Bobbie Massie and Nate Potter showed signs of improvement at times, but remain inconsistent at the position. The Cardinals will most likely address this position at some point in the draft, but whether or not they will pick one up in the first appears to be a stretch. If the Cardinals do decide to pick up a tackle in the first round, expect it to be either Zack Martin (ND) or Morgan Moses (VA), but those two will likely be picked up before the 20th pick.
The quarterback position appears to be an intriguing one coming into this draft. The Cardinals already have Carson Palmer on the roster, but should a talented QB fall to the number 20 spot in the draft, the war-room for the Cards could be buzzing with possibility. What if Teddy Bridgewater (LOU), Blake Bortles (UCF) or Johnny Manziel (A&M) happened to drop that far? The Cardinals could be in position to do something they have never done before- have an entire year to develop a quarterback. Bortles or Bridgewater could be the perfect fit for the Cardinals should they fall to number 20. They are big, have strong arms and are deceptively quick-footed. Give those two players a year behind the tutelage of veteran Carson Palmer learning the offensive system and the Cards could have a franchise quarterback for years to come. If “Johnny Football” happens to drop there, critics everywhere have pointed out his amazing leadership and game-breaking natural abilities as a “can’t miss” opportunity to have on a team. With the quarterback position being among a lot of teams’ top priority, do not expect either of these three to drop that far, but if they do, it should make for some great water cooler talk the next day. The wildcard pick at this position in the draft to address the quarterback spot could also be Fresno State’s Derek Carr. Carr, like Bortles, has a strong arm and will be able to stretch the field- something of great value to Head Coach Bruce Arians’ offensive system.
Jake Ballard and the free-agent signing of John Carlson are good tight ends to have on the roster moving forward, but the injuries sustained over the past few seasons to both players could leave this position unreliable. Also, Rob Housler has proven to be anything but “sure-handed” this past year and adds to the unreliability at this position. The need for a consistent tight end is huge for the Cardinals, as Coach Arians enjoys using a three tight-end set to establish the run in order to free up receivers down the field like Larry Fitzgerald, Michael Floyd and recently-acquired Ted Ginn Jr. But like the offensive tackle position, the Cardinals will most likely use the later rounds as a way to tackle the problem.
Arizona Cardinals #20 Draft Prediction:
LB Ryan Shazier (OSU)
Commentary by Ryne Vyles, Calling Cards
Guardian Liberty Voice Sports Writer for the Arizona Cardinals
Read Me @ GuardianLV