Arizona needs better pass protection, and there's a Day 2 draft fix
The 2016 Arizona Cardinals had serious issues in pass protection, and much of those problems can be traced back to the right guard position. Injuries and poor production ravaged the position, as five different players saw time at right guard and collectively yielded six sacks, 12 hits, and 39 pressures on the season.
Evan Mathis was brought in as the starter and was the most effective, as he gave up six total pressures in four games (no sacks) before bowing out (and eventually retiring) due to an ankle injury in Week 5. Earl Watford started the bulk of the remaining games at the position (10 total starts at right guard before kicking out to tackle in Week 15), and gave up six sacks, three hits, and 22 hurries. Watford is also no longer on Arizona’s roster, as he was signed by the Jaguars in free agency.
Cole Toner, a fifth-round selection from last season, played just 10 total snaps last year, but is expected at this stage to take over the position full-time. While the Cardinals could expose him to a “baptism by fire,” there is a viable option in this year’s draft who has been nothing short of spectacular in pass protection at the position throughout his college career.
Dan Feeney was an immovable rock in pass protection in each of the past three seasons for the Indiana Hoosiers. While his senior season didn’t go according to plan due to an injury that kept him out of four games (and other injuries on the offensive line that forced him to kick out to right tackle for the final five), he gave up just one pressure during his four starts at right guard.
In 2015 he started all 13 games at right guard and gave up just six total pressures — again, none of them sacks. In fact, the only sack he gave up over the past three seasons at the position came in Week 12 of the 2014 season against Rutgers. Combining his three seasons together, he gave up just the one sack, three hits, and 11 hurries in 1,151 pass-blocking snaps at right guard.
Feeney may not be the perfect fit in Arizona’s man-heavy run scheme, and there is concern about his history with concussions. With this being said, the Cardinals know QB Carson Palmer is in the twilight of his career, and there is no heir-apparent to him currently in place. Much of the roster is set up to make another deep playoff push, but in order to do that, the pass-blocking efficiency of the right guard position must improve significantly.
Feeney is at the very worst a strong short-term option, and could be one of the missing links that helps the Cardinals’ offense get back to 2015 form. He is likely to be a Day 2 pick, and should be in play for Arizona unless the club truly believes Toner can step in and play at a similarly high level this season.