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2014 Draft
Position Needs
Updated March 26, 2014
This page will be a work in progress and updated frequently. Come back often and watch it develop.

 

The whole issue of "Position Needs" continues to be overrated - at least so far as the Cardinals are concerned. For one thing, the team's drafting philosophy (at least going back as far as the Dennis Green era) has involved variants of the "best player available" philosophy. More recently, Steve Keim and his people have preached the need to address team-needs earlier, via trades or free agency in order to avoid reaching for players in the draft. Finally, Coach Arians has installed a staff of assistants who are large in numbers and deep in teachers (If he feels he has a need that can't be addressed by bringing in new personnel, he's got a large group of knowledgeable assistants and doesn't have a problem developing the guys he's already got).

Mock drafters and draft pundits love to match team-needs with drafting strategy because it's the simplest road to take, but many teams (including the Cardinals) simply don't draft that way - which means that, not only is it difficult to figure out who the Cardinals will select with each pick; but it will be even more difficult to determine who the 19 teams who pick ahead of them (and have varying drafting philosophies) might draft. (I liken it to throwing darts blindfolded at a moving target).

This uncertainty is magnified by the handful of GM's who love to wheel and deal early in the draft. You might be 100% certain that the two teams ahead of you have no interest in the stud offensive tackle high on your radar screen and that he'll be delivered to you on a silver platter. But this ignores the possibility that some team sitting in the late-twenties loves the kid and plans to leapfrog your team and trade up for the star tackle.

Or it turns out that the prospect screws up his interview. Or there's a question of whether the prospect is "plug & play" or may need a year or two to develop (by no means a lock). Or his college coach texts a member of your scouting staff (a former college roommate) to warn him off the player). Or, on Draft Day, your GM takes a deep breath, decides he addressed his OL-need in free agency and drafts some pass rushing phenom that nobody ever heard of.

Moral: "Don't take mock drafts too seriously because a lot can happen. So rather than prognosticate about who the Cards will definitely draft, I'd rather give you a more general picture of where I think the Cardinals are roster-wise; and (although I'm no mind reader) what Steve Keim and Bruce Arians (& their people) may be thinking looking forward toward May :

Quarterback
Carson Palmer returns as starting QB. While he was by no means perfect last season, you could fairly say that - given the rest of the Cardinal supporting cast - he was good enough for us to win 10 games. At present - going into the draft - it looks like the Cardinal offense will be a little better and the defense (sans Dansby and a SS) may be a tiny bit worse. We could therefore safely assume that - barring injuries - Palmer should have enough gas in the proverbial tank to win 10 games again. Backing up Palmer is Drew Stanton who ("on paper") knows the Arians' system and is supposed to have the physical ability to step in and assume command should Carson be sidelined. But we don't actually know that - we didn't see much of Stanton last year in preseason and are basing that assessment on what BA tells us. (The good news is that what Coach Arians has told us over the past 12 months has by and large come true), so right now, we're kind of riding along on trust. Ryan Lindley is our #3 backup, and BA has expressed confidence in him. To be honest, I've never been huge Lindley fan and have been keeping my fingers crossed. Unknown in all of this is the impact Tom Moore, Arians and the Cardinal offensive coaching staff may have on the development of both Stanton and Lindley. It wouldn't surprise me if BA and SK decided to hedge their bet on Lindley and bring in a promising rookie if they loved him and could get him at the appropriate value-point in the draft, but I wouldn't be devestated if we stayed the course and stayed with Palmer, Stanton and Lindley (In Keim and Arians we trust). Scoping out the QB's in the draft - common sense suggests that Bortles, Manziel and Bridgewater will be off the board at #20 and that the Cards will be unlikely to have any other rookie QB's listed on their Top 20 board (although Carr could sneak in there). The remaining QB's come in a variety of flavors: Carr, and McCarron best fit the current Palmer-Stanton profile of "pocket passer with a big, accurate vertical arm. Or -if BA is nostalgic for the good old days of Big Ben - there's always 230 lb Zach Mettenberger or 250 lb Logan Thomas (who can also beat you with his legs). There are also couple of other smart pocket types (like Garoppolo or Shaw) who could be on the Cardinals' radar. And there's also the remote possibility that Arians & Co. might want to dip their toe in the 21st century and draft a mobile "zone read" QB like Tajh Boyd.

Running Back
The Cardinal running attack improved last season - both during the season and compared to the previous year. There seemed to be fewer running plays blown up in the backfield and more running plays that went for more than 10 yards. But the way we got there was somewhat unexpected - Rashard Mendenhall (who was supposed to be our between-the-tackles feature-back) either played hurt or had to sit out the action much of the time due injuries. (He subsequently has retired). Rookie RB Andre Ellington (who replaced LSH as our passing down RB and perimeter threat) was a pleasant surprise - so much so that BA has indicated that he plans to build an important part of the Cardinal offense around Andre (most notably to exploit his receiving skills). Ryan Williams (a high draft pick coming off an injury and supposed to start) has many of the same attributes as Ellington) but was injured again early and never found his way back into the lineup. Rookie Stepfan Taylor stepped in for Mendehnall as our between-the-tackles/short-yardage dude. While he didn't arrive with the same splash as Ellington (who led the NFL in YPC for much of the season), Taylor got the job done when called on. Cards added 229 pound FA running back Jonathan Dwyer (presumably to replace Mendenhall's inside presence) and brought up 235 RB Robert Hughes from the PS. We're probably covered at RB depthwise, but the secret desire of most coaches and GM's is that the guy who can pound the rock in short yardage sitations is also explosive enough to put the fear of God into any defense. There are a couple of RB's in the draft (Carlos Hyde and Terrance West) whom I have my eye on. Will we draft one? It's hard to say - the RB position is injury-susceptable and it never hurts to have a backup or two - but finding (& not overpaying for) the right RB's can be a risky proposition. Besides, hasn't the NFL become a "passing league?"

Wide Receiver
Media pundits who haven't been paying attention automatically assume that WR is a Cardinal strength. Yes and no - Larry Fitzgerald continues to be a top-echelon wideout (& an equally important team leader and lockerroom influence). Michael Floyd appears to be on the edge of achieving Megatron-type dominance. But, given the trend toward more pass-happy, multi-receiver offensive systems, most NFL teams have to think in terms of stocking more than just two starting receivers. Last season, Andre Roberts was our #3. He had decent speed and made a number of big plays - but not enough. BA sought to put the fear of God into opposing deep secondaries (and take heat off Fitz and Floyd) by adding a burner "who could take the top off a defense." He tried to do this with two rookies (Brittan Golden and Teddy Williams) a couple of times a game but, though they usually delivered they're still relatively young, raw and untested. . The Cards let Roberts escape to free agency but replaced him with explosive WR/KR Ted Ginn (who is known for his blinding speed, is said to have "hands of stone"). The Cards have a bunch of younger receivers capable of stepping up into #4 and #5 roles. Jaron Brown, LaRon Byrd and Dan Buckner are all good hands people over 6-2 in length. Golden and William can be expected to push or back up Ginn in the deep game? This year's draft group of WR's is extremely deep (you could probably get a good one as late as #25). Most NFL teams are looking for big tall beasts, which means they may downgrade a bunch of 5-foot 10 burners who can also turn on a dime. While not a huge priority, at least one of these smaller guys might be worth considering: Cooks, Saunders, Herron, J Huff)

Tight End
A constant buzz heard this draft season is that BA loves two-TE defenses and would love to give Carson Palmer an additional security blanket in the form of a big ol' TE. But not so fast - The pool of quality TE's may not be as deep as we'd like and there are really several flavors of TE to choose from - (1) All purpose TE's who can catch and block, (2) Receiving specialists (who don't block that well but "are trying"), (3) Blocking specialists who can occasionally find an opening in a zone and make one or two clutch passes a game and (4) H-Back types who can replace the role of the FB as a lead blocker or wham block on running plays & catch a little out of the backfield. (It could be said that last year the Cardinals were hampered by a group of TE's who were "jacks of no trades and not very good at one"). The Cards are currently carrying six TE's on their roster: Housler (a receiving specialist), Ballard (a veteran and mainly a blocker but who can also catch a little), Hardy and Brackett (development types I don't know much about), Fells (who weighs 281 pounds - which should give you a clue as to what his specialty is) and FA signee Carlson (a budding star during 7 years with Seattle but hampered by concussion issues). While the Cardinals aren't desperate to draft a TE high, you can't ignore the possibility that BA and SK may have one or two guys they've targeted to leap on if they're available. One thing to consider though - I believe BA when he says that he places a higher priority on blocking then he does receiving in evaluating TE's. Ebron can block and receive. Do we take him at #20? (Hmmm. We may have other fish to fry at #20). Feiderwicz is considered an unsung throw-back/blocking TE - would we snap him up at the right value-spot? Other names to consider - Navjar, Duncan and Niklas. (Note - I don't think we'll go after receiving-only TE's like Jace Amaro since we already have Housler who is a work-in-process).

Offensive Line
The level of a passing attack or running game is frequently a function of the unglorious function of the blocking up front. Going back as far as pre-Buddy Ryan, Cardinal run and pass blocking has never been the team's strong suit. Starting with the 1st round selection of OG Jonathan Cooper this situation appeared about to change, but Cooper's season-ending injury put a crimp in those plans. But time marches on - Perhaps the Cardinals' biggest off-season move was the signing of former Raider LT Jared Veldheer (one of 2 or 3 elite LT's on the FA market). Not that Bradley Sowell didn't hold down the fort well enough for Carson Palmer to remain upright most of the time - but it apparently was felt that Sowell wasn't the long-term answer. Veldheer is the product of a small school (HIllsdale) with 5 years of experience (mostly as a starter) under his belt. Carson Palmer is said to have lobbied for him prior to Jared's signing. Veldheer is said not to shy away from a practice field tussle every once in awhile. If he's all he's cracked up to be (and barring injury) he and Cooper should give the Cardinal OL the formidable left side it hasn't seen in decades. At center, the Cardinals have highly-regarded veteran starter, Lyle Sendlein plus 4 other guys who can play the position - Five-year veteran, Ted Larsen seems to be the leading contender to push or back up Sendlein. Drahelm, Estes and Blake are presumably aboard for depth and development. With Daryn Colledge expected to be released June 1, last year's starting RG Paul Fanaica returns, but the hope is that 2nd year road-grader, Earl Watford will be ready to step up and seize the opportunity. Jonathon Christian provides developmental depth. The right tackle situation is fluid - Last year's starter (& new Pres of the NFLPA) Eric Winston is still on the roster but his roster-situation is iffy. As in the case of Watford, the hope is that, like Watford, last year's early-round draft pick Bobbie Massie (whose run blocking was good enough for him to be employed as a 3rd TE in short-yardage run situations) will be ready to step up to be starting RT. Nate Potter is back - he's shown potential as a LT but apparently wasn't enough of a sure-thing to emerge as an instant starter. While things look promising for the Cardinals OL-wise, nothing's for certain - we haven't seen what Veldheer and Cooper actually will do when the bullets start flying and Watford and Massie also will have to prove they're ready to step up. If everything pans out as expected, the Cards don't have to draft an offensive lineman. But more likely, we'll draft one or even two offensive linemen if BA and SK think they're the the best players available and/or can most help the football club. A few prospects to keep an eye on - OT's Antonio Richardson, Michael Schofield, G-T Zack Martin, OG Xavier Su'a-Filo, CBryan Stork and sleeper OG's Brandon Thomas, Marcus Martin or Dakota Dozier.

Defensive Line
Cards operate primarily out of a 3-4 - which means that all three linemen will be 290+ big guys (with speed rushing off the edge coming from one of our two OLB's). Terminology sometimes gets blurry: (Darnell Dockett is listed as a DT but technically will be be our right bookend paired with Calais Campell sandwiched around NT's Dan Williams and Alameda Ta'amu). Both NT's were stellar as co-starters, but NT is a physically draining position and we may need more depth. Ta'amu was injured late last season and how well he rehabs is a wait & see proposition. Anthony McCloud is a promising (but unproven) young nose tackle. Campbell is arguably the most underrated defensive lineman in the NFL. At 6-8, he presents a formidable pass-blocking force even if he doesn't get to the QB. On the right side, Dockett is feared as a penetrating force. The Cardinal front-three is as formidable as any in the NFL, but it could use more depth over all. Although veteran DE Frostee Rucker provides energy and production as a reserve DE and OLB Matt Shaughnessy is big and tall enough to be backup to Campbell on the left side, we need a Dockett-clone to develop behind him on the right side and can't be sure that Ta'amu will be AOK as our second NT. Kony Ealy, Stephon Tuitt, Will Clarke and Kareem Martin are all big (275+ lb) DE prospects, but the only one weighing over the desired 290 - 300 lbs is Tuitt (who may not be considered a good enough value if there at #20). Perhaps the Cards would consider drafting a backup penetrating DT like Aaron Donald, Timmy Jernigan, Jeffrey Pagan or Anthony Johnson. And, if Ta'amu's injury-status remains fluid, we might find Louis Nix, Ra'Shede Hageman or Daniel McCullers worth considering.

Linebacker
We lost Karlos Dansby (arguably our defense's MVP last season). Partly out of necessary - due to a rash of injuries - we were forced to start former DE Matt Shaughnessy at LOLB and veteran pass rush specialist John Abraham at ROLB. Inside, we started the season with the now-departed Jasper Brinkley and Dansby inside and (after his suspension was up) Daryl Washington played along side Dansby inside. Lo' and behold, our four starting LB's turned out to be as good or better than other NFL teams. Coach Arians has already said that the ILB spot next to DWash will be filled by second year high-round draft pick Kevin Minter (whom BA an Todd Bowles have high hopes for). A quartet of Shaughnessy, Minter, Washington and Abraham ain't all that bad, but Minter still has to prove he can do it and Abraham is one-year older. Fortunately, there's a lot of backup depth (at least in terms of "warm bodies") but most if not all of these guys are either (1) young development types (like Demens, Giordano, Rowe, Tracy) with a lot to prove, (2) promising youngsters (like Acho and Okafor) coming back from injuries or solid if not successful backups (like Alexander or Benard). To sum up, you might best describe the backup Cardinal linebacking situation as "deep" but shaky." If the right prospects are available, it would make logical sense for the Cards to add at least one edge-rushing OLB and one sideline-to-sideline ILB in the draft. (With top prospects like Barr and Mack likely off the board at #20) interesting prospects to ponder: OLB's Shazier, M Smith, Ford, Tripp and ILB's Mosely, Barrow, Williamson or Christian Jones. (Note - One of my favorite players coming out this year is Shayne Skov, but I don't think he has the side-line to side-line range to fit in next to or backing up DWash).

Defensive Back
Big move in the off-season (some rate it as big as signing Veldheer) was the signing of CB Antonio Cromartie. He'll be paired opposite Patrick Peterson and gives the Cards two long (6-1+) press corners who can match up with bigger Seattle, SF and other NFC receivers and make DC Todd Bowles even more creative than he was a year ago. The signing of Cro' enables last year's corner, Jerraud Powers to move inside with Tyrann Mathieu with Justin Bethel and Bryan McCann. (Bethel - who came aboard a few years ago as a safety and ST gunner - is one of my favorite Cardinals, He has all the athletic ability in the world to make the successful transition from safety to corner, but the question remains: "Will he?"). The Safety position is totally different - Yeremiah Bell, though still on the roster, is less than 50-50 to be re-signed. Rashad Johnson returns as a starter. Tony Jefferson (a rookie UDFA pickup last season) was a pleasant surprise and could contend for one of the two starting safety spots. Curtis Taylor and Orhian Johnson are two development backups. The corner position is pretty well stacked, but there are questions: Cromartie played hurt (hip flexor) last season and his production fell off. Will he be the answer at the other corner? Honey Badger is coming back from a horrific double or triple knee-tendon injury. Will he come back at 100%? If so, when? This year's crop of rookie corners is deep and we could try to cherry pick a couple of talented ones late in the draft or as UDFA's. Safety is a bit more problematic - We technically don't have a starter opposite Rashad Johnson and don't know whether Jefferson is ready to make the leap. The Cardinals logically should, therefore, be on the lookout for at least one safety (preferably two - a centerfielder and a thumper or how about a centerfielder who can also thump)? A couple of center fielder names: Clinton-Dix and Pryor. Thumpers? How about Bucannon, Dixon or Loston? 4/1/14 -- Cards added two corners, LeQuan Lewis (Arizona State) and Eddie Whitley (Virginia Tech).

Special Teams
Dave Zastudil and Jay Feely will be back, but I can't help but believe that the Cards were more than a little frustrated about Feely's lapses in consistency late in the season - both in FG accuracy and KO distance. Cards have brought in a second kicker Danny Hrapmann, but we'll just have to see whether he's a legitimate threat to replace Feely or merely camp-fodder. Long snapper, Mike Leach will also be back. The arrival of Ted Ginn Jr. should add home-run potential to our KR game (definitely an upgrade over Arenas). Whether the Cards elect to retain Patrick Peterson as our punt returner or assign those duties elsewhere in the spirit of keeping him injury free (i.e. look what happened the first time Tyrann Mathieu returned a punt) remains to be determined. The Cards coverage teams continue to be among the league's elite (difficult to sustain since most coverage guys come from the ever-changing "bottom part" of the roster) but a core group of standouts - including kick blockers Calais Campbell and Justin Bethel (who also doubles as one of the leagues best gunners) along Mathieu (if & when healthy) - figures to keep Cardinal coverage units a force to be feared and respected. I don't expect the Cardinals to draft a kicker, punter or long snapper, but wouldn't be shocked if we kept Feely on a short leash and cherry-picked another kicker from the pool of available FA's - if the right one was out there.

So that's how I see things from 6-weeks out. No doubt, there will be changes between now and Draft Day (We're already seeing Teddy Bridgewater's and Johnny Manziel's draft ratings go up and down like yo yo's based on good or not-so-good Pro Days). So come back here often - I'll try and keep things updated regularly.

- JGG

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