3 draft needs for the Arizona Cardinals
Many observers felt the 2016 Arizona Cardinals were Super Bowl contenders entering the year, but their season ended up a disappointment as they failed to make the playoffs. The Cardinals are still returning a very good team highlighted by a talented young running back and offensive focal piece David Johnson. However, the window for the Cardinals to try and win a Super Bowl with Carson Palmer and Larry Fitzgerald on the roster is likely down to just one or possibly two more seasons. The Cardinals need to balance trying to win now with also building for the future. Here’s how they can use the draft to address their biggest needs.
The Cardinals are going to need to identify a long-term situation at quarterback. They were fortunate enough to be able to trade for Palmer a few years ago, and he has performed well the past few seasons. Drew Stanton has proven to be a capable backup but his starting performances have not been as solid as the Cardinals have hoped. Palmer is already thinking about winding his career down so the Cardinals have a prime opportunity to find a young QB of the future now and let him sit, learn, and develop behind Palmer for a year.
Early-round target: Patrick Mahomes, QB, Texas Tech
Bruce Arians covets quarterbacks with size, mobility and arm strength. Mahomes has the arm strength necessary to not only push the ball downfield in Arians’s offense but to also take the six deep shots per game Arians wants to utilize. In 2016 Mahomes threw 15 touchdown passes on deep passes (targeted 20 or more yards downfield). In an ideal situation, Mahomes could continue to work on taking drops from under center and cleaning up some other issues while learning from Palmer and Arians for a year or two.
Mid- or late-round target: Davis Webb, QB, Cal
If the Cardinals don’t target a quarterback with the No. 13 pick, they could look to draft Webb in later rounds. Webb is a big prospect at 6-foot-5 and 230 pounds with a very strong arm who has unfortunately been stuck on college depth charts behind Mahomes and Jared Goff. Webb is known as a hard worker and avid football student who spends a lot of time picking his coaches’ brains. He had an inconsistent year last year as a starter for Cal as he began the year on a torrid pace but then his performances dropped following a thumb injury midseason. While Webb has the arm to throw deep he needs to work on his deep accuracy to be successful with the Cardinals as he was only accurate on 38.6 percent of his deep passes in 2016.
The Cardinals are a team that heavily relies on man coverage for their defense, or as Arians jokingly calls it, “cat coverage” because players call out which player they are covering to each other as in, “I got that cat.” The reason the Cardinals employ man coverage so much is because they like to blitz and send an extra rusher or rushers and then play man coverage behind it. Patrick Peterson can travel with a team’s No. 1 receiver and Tyrann Mathieu is one of the better slot defenders in the league. The other outside corner position is where the Cardinals could use some help.
Early-round target: Tre’Davious White, CB, LSU
The Cardinals have had good luck with LSU defensive backs and look to add one more to their starting lineup. White is a gifted cover corner who excels in man coverage. White has shown the ability to not only play outside cornerback but in the slot as well. Opposing quarterbacks only had 60.6 QB rating when throwing into White’s coverage in 2016 and his 12 pass breakups tied him for No. 3 in FBS. The Cardinals wouldn’t be looking for White to play in the slot but rather on an island opposite of Patrick Peterson and likely covering the opposition’s No. 2 wide receiver.
Mid- or late-round target: Sidney Jones, CB, Washington
Jones is one of the premier man-coverage cornerbacks in the draft class. Teams only threw at Jones 48 times in 2016 and his 7 coverage snaps per reception ranked No. 17 in the draft class. If healthy Jones would have been in heavy consideration for the Cardinals to take at 13th. Unfortunately, for Jones his pro day Achilles injury will likely push him down until at least the second day of the draft. When Jones recovers from his injury he would have a legitimate chance to start opposite of Peterson for years to come in Arizona.
The Cardinals have been lacking a deep inside linebacker group since the 2014 suspension of Daryl Washington. Safety Deone Bucannon was moved into Washington’s old spot and free agent Karlos Dansby now returns to the desert to take over Kevin Minter’s inside linebacker spot from last year. At some point, Dansby’s fountain of youth will dry up and the Cardinals will need a young and athletic linebacker to play in the middle next to Bucannon. The team and the scheme value speed and athleticism at the position more so than a take-on run-stuffer so watch for the team to target fast players who can blitz and can cover tight ends in the Cardinals’ nickel defense.
Early-round target: Haason Reddick
Reddick is one of the more versatile defenders in this year’s draft. Reddick fits the athletic profile the Cardinals covet at the ILB position. Although he has historically been an edge player, Reddick also has the ability to be a rangy off the ball linebacker with the athleticism to cover tight ends. He is one of the better edge-rushers in the draft class with 10 sacks, 4 hits, and 29 hurries on only 248 pass-rush snaps in 2016 and the Cardinals would ask him to blitz A gaps from their inside linebacker spot. Adding Reddick’s pass-rush ability on the field at the same time as Chandler Jones and Markus Golden would be a nightmare for opposing offensive lines to pick up.
Mid- or late-round target: Duke Riley, LB, LSU
Riley is one of the more athletic linebackers in this draft class and fits the profile the Cardinals are looking for at the position although he’s not quite big or as explosive as Reddick. While not displaying a ton of pass-rushing prowess at LSU Riley should be able to be effective in the Cardinals LB blitzes. Riley should be able to cover tight ends as he hasn’t allowed a touchdown in coverage in the last three years and opposing quarterbacks only had a 65.8 QB rating when throwing into Riley’s coverage in 2016.