Why Mocks are Overrated:
Drafting "to Fill a Need" 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" (BPA) philosophy. More recently, Steve Keim and his people have preached the need to address needs prior to the draft -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 has no problem developing the guys he's already got or creating hybrid positions which better fit their individual skills).
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 no longer draft that way (at least not all the time) - which means that, not only is it difficult to figure out who the Cardinals will select but even more difficult to predict who the other 28 teams ahead of them might draft. (I liken the process to throwing darts blindfolded at a moving dartboard)
This uncertainty is magnified by those who love to wheel and deal early in the draft. Even though the handful of teams ahead of you have no interest in the stud offensive tackle you're hoping will drop down to you, you can never be sure some GM "who drafts later than you, loves the kid" enough to leapfrog ahead of you to grab him.
Or it turns out that a couple of prospects screw up their interviews with one or more teams. Or a couple of other sleepers "ace" theirs. There's also a question of whether a prospect is "plug & play" or may need more time to develop. Or whether your team is in "Win Now" (or conversely, a "Rebuilding") mode. Or his college coach- a former college roomate of your defensive coordinator - sends you a text warning you off the player). Or, on Draft Day, your GM takes a deep breath, decides he addressed the team's OL-need in free agency and rolls the dice on a young, raw QB that nobody ever thought of.
Moral: Don't take mock drafts too seriously because too many different things can happen and "you can't predict the future." Instead, use them to develop "what could happen" scenarios so that you won't have to ""wing it" should the unexpected occur.
Elsewhere in this Draft Issue, we'll develop one (or more) mock drafts, but suggest you take them "with a grain of salt." 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, BA and the Cardinal staff may be thinking looking forward toward Draft Day.
Prediction - The Cards will either draft a S, CB, ILB or WR with the #13 pick in the first round.
Carson Palmer - Extended his contract to a second year. Last year, he showed that - when healthy - he he still has pixie dust. Questions are: "Does he still have it?""How much longer will he have it?" And how many more big hits can his body absorb?"
Carson isn't getting any younger (nor his body less fragile), but the concensus is that he still has plenty left in the proverbial tank. But the clock for finding his eventual replacement continues to tick. We have steady but unspectacular Drew Stanton who can step in for Palmer if need be and not embarrass us. Cards are high on #3 QB Zach Dysert, but he hasn't yet thrown a pass for us and remains untested.
Apparent plan is to stand pat with Palmer as starter and Stanton as his veteran backup while grooming Dysert for the future and look to the draft to bring in a potential QBOF to develop. MB, SK and BA have hosted the top 4-ranked QB's in this draft class (D Watson, Trubisky. Kizer and Mahomes) and could have an interest at #13. But they have been amazingly tight lipped about which, if any, they really like.
Common sense suggests that we'll want to make sure we go into preseason locked into a starter, a backup we can win with and a QBOF we can develop (We can't be certain Dysert is that #3 guy). Let's not forget that here are a few interesting 2nd-echelon QB's available on Day 2 and early-Day 3 of the draft (Webb, Dobbs and Peterman to name 3). If the right one fell to us, we could expect Keim to leap on that puppy.
What a difference a year makes - a year ago - we were trying to figure out who - from a trio of promising RB's - the explosive (but brittle) Andre Ellington, unexpectedly productive FA Chris Johnson (CJ2K), a promising 3rd round rookie David Johnson - would get the most touches. But a rash of injuries shredded what should have been one of the deepest positions on our roster. Fortunately, Johnson picked up where he left off in his rookie year to become a top NFL offensive difference-maker. This year, we enter Draft season with Johnson, Ellington, Kerwynn Wiilliams (an Ellington-clone) and 247 lb thumper Elijaa Penny. Kerwynn Williams.
The Cards are pretty well set at RB (but we said that last year before the injury bug hit us).
Deepest position on our roster until (what again?) injuries gnawed away at most of our wideouts and promising rookie big receiver, , Michael Floyd, left his career in shambles after an off the field incident. AARP candidate, Larry Fitzgerald will be back (and remains a team leader and positive lockerroom influence). John ("Smokey") Brown has emerged as a budding star and is said to be successfully combatting Sickel Cell disorder. Equally speedy JJ Nelson and Brittany Golden provide jet-ski backup depth behind Smokey. Jaron Brown returns from injury to provide quality depth behind Fitz and Floyd. What's missing is the roster-hole created by the departure of Floyd. While we could probably survive with the receivers's we've got, we'd be infinitely better off adding a dominating receiver (who's around 6-3 220 lb and can run 4.53 or faster) .
We could draft a big wideout as early as #13 (Leading candidates - Corey Davis and Mike Williams. John Ross has the 4.2* speed Coach Arians loves, but is morea clone of Smoke/JJ. After round one, a WR who's caught our eye is 6-2 220 lb Ju Ju Smith-Schuster from USC.
BA says he's happy with or current crop of TE's, but this hasn't been considered a Cardinal "position of strength" of late. He likes the way Jermaine Gresham rebounded from a slow start and injury and expects to get better production from Troy Niklas, Ifeanyi Momah and Hakeem Valles.
An outside possibility is that #1 TE prospect, 6-6 OJ Howard would fall to us at #13 and we'd use him to replace Floyd's jump ball guy on offense. Other than that, we don't see much activity at TE.
Best way to describe our OL - "talented but thin." When Carson Palmer had time to throw, he was deadly. But there were times when he wasn't protected cleanly enough and it showed. The Cards will lose RG Evan Mathis (injured anyway last year). AQ Shipley returns at starting center. Rookie Evan Boehm moves over from center to RG. Mike Iupati remains at LG. Major change is at OT where RT DJ Humphries and LT Jared Veldheer will flop positions (with Humphrey starting at LT and Jared moving to the right side.
Back up swingmen figure to be OT-OG's Cole Toler and John Wetzel. Should Shipley falter, Boehm would presumably switch from RG to center, but that would leave us a bit thin,
This draft is considered unspectacular but deep in offensive linemen. Although we don't expect the Cards to draft an offensive linemen early, we'd expect S Keim to grab a promising lineman out of the mix as early as Day 2 (the one prospect that grabs our attention is Indiana lineman Dan Feeney. Another is OY Antonio Garcia of Troy) but there are a bunch of unknown lunch-pail guys available who could fill out our OL roster).
Cards took a big hit when Calais Campbell opted to seek greener pastures). Although SK says that "we planned ahead" for that eventuality, several of our D-linemen have much to prove. Sticking out like the proverbial "sore thumb" is last year's Robert Nkemdiche who didn't deliver as a rookie but is expected to step up this season. Frostee Rucker, Corey Peters, Xavier Williams and Rodney Gunter will be back as will rotational linemen, Ed Stinson, Josh Mauro and Olsen Pierre.
But what's missing is the 6-7 pass-batting of Campbell. Look for the Cards to replace that missing defensive component. The other possibility is that Nkemdiche will develop fast and far enough to deliver on his ridiculous upside (but you never know - As they say: "potential" is what gets coaches fired").
Aside from Campbell, the Cards have solid DL depth that contributed to their being being one of the top defenses in the NFL. But if the right DL prospect was available at the right value-point, Keim might be poised to snap him up. We've been keeping our eyes on 6-6 Tanoah Kpassagnon from Villanova. Others not quite as imposing might be 6-5 Nazair Jones (6-5 Malik McDowell is likely to be grabbed in the first round).
A year ago, we entered the draft with not much of a pass rush. That's all changed. We picked up Chandler Jones in a trade and he's been more than we expected. On the opposite edge, Markus Golden morphed from a dependible run-defense anchor to a sackmeister almost equal to Jones in production. Add to this the run stopping capability of Kevin Minter and the versatility of $LB Bucannon and you were looking at the LB unit of a top defense. We lost Minter to free agency, but re-signed veteran LB (& former veteran) Karlos Dansby. We lost Okafor to free agency, but replaced him with OLB Jarvis Jones (more of a run stopper than sackmeister). There are still a few young 'uns competing for roster spots, but we have no clue as to who the "climbers" and "fallers" will turn out to be.
Conventional Wisdom in Cardinal Fandom is that Dansby isn't getting any younger and that we need an infusion of young talent at ILB. Two possible #13 options might be Reuben Foster and Haasan Reddick. Day 2 possbilities might include Zach Cunningham and Ryan Anderson. Ben Boulware may be a tad short, but he may turn out to be one of those guys who's just "pure football player."
Cards took a major hit when safeties Tony Jefferson and DJ Swearinger both opted to sign elsewhere. That left us with Patrick Peterson at one corner, Tyrann Mathieu and D Buccanon in specialized hybrid roles and major holes at #2 corner and both safeties.
The Cardinal FO filled one safety spot by signing Antoine Bethea but will have to fill other secondary holes thru sheer numbers (The Cards currently have 13 DB's on their roster). There is some talent within those 13 defenders, but how all this all sorts out is for history to decide. (We're rooting for Justin Bethel to mount a major comeback and can't wait to see a healthy Elie Bouka. We're also dying to know how Brandon Williams will benefit from being eased back into a bigger role instead of being thrown to the wolves. But still - only perhaps 4 of those 13 players can be considered "seasoned defenders: - a lot of fingers are being crossed.
Best way to describe this years crop of draftable corners is: "Not spectacular at the top; but extremely deep in solid guys who could eventually start for you. (There could be as many as 20 draftable corners who could be snapped up before the end of Day 2. Cards are definitely in the hunt for talent to fill the hole at #2 corner and provide depth. But they will need to fit player-to-scheme:
Our view is that we should be targeting DB's who are big, physical, fast, aggressive and have good ball skills. Not every CB has these trait-sets. Our impression is that: Tabor is too slow. Humphrey more of a zone-guy. Sidney Jones too slender and not physical enough. Conley not aggressive enough. But there are plenty of others who shoiuld fill the bill - from Lattimore and Q Wilson to Lorenzo Jerome of St Francis.
The Cards also need help at safety, and there are three Top 15 ones in Adams, Hooker and Peppers. Add to this safeties the slightly short Budda Baker and very tall Obi Melifonwu from UConn and we see a 50-50 possibility the Cards will draft a safety fairly high.
Shaky ST play cost us at least 3 games and a shot at the playoffs last season. From the standpoint of screw-ups all areas of Special Teams play were equal opportunity offenders - Missed FG's, a blocked XP try, a couple of bad snaps, poor coverage - all contributed to a failed season - a strong case could be made that, if we straightened out special teams play, we wouldn't have to change anything else on our roster to reach the playoffs.
Butler and Catanzaro are gone. Veteran Phil Dawson (he of the icy veins) will be our kicker. Riche Leone and Matt Wylie will compete to be our punter. Aaron Brewer remains our long snapper. That, along with more coaching attention, should re-set ST play on the straight & narrow,.
Other than adding position players who can block and tackle, I don't expect any moves on ST's.
So that's the deal. Unless a blockbuster deal or two comes down the old pike between now and Draft Day, this is pretty much "it." Stay tuned.