Arizona Cardinals Needs: Pre-Draft
The Arizona Cardinals remained relatively quiet for the initial stage of the offseason. That is, until general manager, Steve Keim, made possibly the biggest splash of the free agency period by acquiring Pro Bowl pass-rusher, Chandler Jones, from the New England Patriots. An edge-rusher was a potential consideration with the 29th pick, but with Jones locking down one side of the ball, that’s likely no longer a top priority. The next day, Arizona was able to solidify Carson Palmer’s protection by signing Evan Mathis. The former Eagle should secure the right guard position, which was a weak point in the Cardinals’ protective front last year. After these big moves, what should the Cardinals look to improve through the draft?
As stated in the first installment of the Cardinals’ team needs series, the Cardinals surprisingly need to improve at this position. While this secondary does feature two of the league’s best playmakers and overall cornerbacks, Keim should look to lock up a franchise player to start opposite Patrick Peterson. With Peterson on one side and Tyrann Matheiu holding down the slot, the last thing this potentially elite secondary needs is a glaring weakness on the other side.
With such a strong crop of cornerbacks at top of this year’s draft class, there’s no better time to fill that spot. A top option could be Clemson’s Mackensie Alexander, who has been the subject of numerous ‘slide’ discussions. Once considered the best cornerback prospect in the draft, the Cardinals would be elated to see one of the leaders of Clemson’s elite defense still on the board. Other options here could include William Jackson III or Ohio State’s Eli Apple.
Signing Mathis was a crucial move for this organization – but they shouldn’t stop there. This line is still weak at center and right tackle, and if Carson Palmer is to remain effective as he approaches the twilight of his career, he’ll need to stay upright.
If the Cards elect to address this need in the first round, Alabama’s Ryan Kelly would be a strong option at center. As the leader of the Crimson Tide’s NFL-ready offensive line, he could step in Day 1 as the vocal leader of Palmer’s protective front. If Arizona waits to improve this position, a group of SEC tackles, Shon Coleman (Auburn), Jerald Hawkins (LSU) and John Theus (Georgia) could potentially be available when the Cardinals are back on-the-clock in the third round.
In the fourth round of last year’s NFL Draft, the Cardinals selected Rodney Gunter. The former Delaware State Hornet played in all 16 games for the Cards, but is more of a hybrid defensive lineman than a true nose tackle. With a pair of active pass-rushers and rangy linebackers, this is the last spot on the front seven that the Cardinals need to address.
Luckily for the Cardinals, there are a pair of uber-talented defensive tackles that may just fall to the end of the first round. Sheldon Rankins wouldn’t even have to change out of his Louisville Cardinals jersey to suit up for the Arizona Cardinals. The other, Robert Nkemdiche, is the dark horse. Considered one of the most talented players in the draft, the defensive tackle out of Ole Miss has seen his stock fall to the end of the first round due to off-the-field issues. If Keim and the rest of the front office decide he won’t be too much of a headache, this could be a huge pickup.
Chris Lehman is a Pro Foootball SPOT Analyst, covering Fantasy Football, The NFC South and NFC West. Follow him on Twitter @ChrisBreezy91 , on Google+, and have your questions answered via email at CLehman91@gmail.com