Everyone knows the Arizona Cardinals have a few key needs in the first three rounds of the NFL draft. Two different ESPN NFL Draft analysts have pinpointed those needs as quarterback, linebacker and offensive tackle in that order. While they agree on the positions, Todd McShay and Mel Kiper don't see eye-to-eye on which players they should pick.
In their newest mock drafts on ESPN.com both analysts projected every selection in the first three rounds of the draft. In the first round both have the Cardinals selecting Missouri signal caller Blaine Gabbert with the fifth overall pick. Although they both agree on the player, they have differing opinions on why.
* Blaine Gabbert, QB, Missouri With Miller off the board, Gabbert is a no-brainer here. The Cardinals might have a trying season in 2011 with a rookie quarterback at the helm but the team cannot believe that Max Hall or John Skelton is the long-term answer at the position. Gabbert might not be the first quarterback off the board but I believe his combination of intangibles, mental makeup and accuracy will make him the best quarterback from the 2011 class when all is said and done.
* Blaine Gabbert, QB, Missouri I could also see Arizona getting creative and looking for a veteran arm such as Kolb, but Gabbert is the quarterback in the draft most likely to help a team soonest, and if he's available here, it might be tough for Arizona to pass on him. He offers elite size, accuracy, athleticism and the smarts to pick things up quickly at the NFL level. This is a pick I could see going in several directions, but if Arizona isn't confident they can get a suitable veteran fix in at quarterback, Gabbert is a good choice.
In rounds two and three Kiper projects the Cardinals taking Arizona linebacker Brooks Reed and Alabama offensive tackle James Carpenter while McShay went with linebacker Akeem Ayers from UCLA and offensive tackle Marcus Gilbert from Florida.
If you think the NFL draft is a crap shoot, mock drafts are even more so. Kiper and McShay may be on to something with Gabbert at No.5 -- mostly because there are only four picks to project prior to it and quarterback is a glaring need -- but the likelihood that either has the Cards pick in the second and third rounds right is very unlikely.
The thing fans can take away from these projections is that the Cardinals are likely to look at selecting a player at those three positions early in the draft. Not that you needed an analyst to tell you they have to upgrade at the quarterback, linebacker and offensive tackle positions from what they had last year.