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PFF: Arizona Cardinals should target linebacker in draft

Alabama's Reuben Foster tackles Clemson's Hunter Renfrow (13) during the first half of the NCAA college football playoff championship game Monday, Jan. 11, 2016, in Glendale, Ariz. (AP Photo/Chris Carlson)

When the Arizona Cardinals replaced departed linebacker Kevin Minter with the 35-year-old Karlos Dansby, it was obvious the team was looking for a stopgap at linebacker, not a long-term solution.

Pro Football Focus believes Arizona should look for said solution in the Thursday’s NFL Draft.

Even with Dansby in tow, there are nine teams with a pair of linebackers who graded better than any single Cardinals linebacker last season. In fact, the Cincinnati Bengals’ trio of Vontaze Burfict, Vincent Rey and Minter all ranked higher in 2016.

Deone Bucannon was the highest-graded Cardinal linebacker last season, finishing tied with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ Kwon Alexander with a 77.3 grade, good for 37th among qualified linebackers.

While the safety-turned-linebacker’s 86.1 coverage grade was the seventh-best at his position, his 40.7 run defense grade was 85th of 89 qualified players, and his 48.6 pass rushing grade was 43rd out of 53.

Bucannon finished second on the Cardinals in 2016 with 91 tackles.

Dansby didn’t fare any better last season with the Bengals. His 73.5 overall grade was 46th at his position. He finished with 114 tackles in 2016 and has accounted for 93 or more stops in each of the past 10 seasons.

It should be noted that PFF lists outside linebackers Chandler Jones and Markus Golden as edge defenders, rather than linebackers.

PFF’s top-five graded linebacker prospects in this draft based upon their play in 2016 are Alabama’s Reuben Foster (93.3), Ohio’s Blair Brown (92.4), Ohio State’s Raekwon McMillan (85.2), Vanderbilt’s Zach Cunningham (83.2) and Florida’s Jarrad Davis (78.7).

Foster’s diluted drug test and feud with medical staff at the NFL Combine make it possible he could be available when the Cardinals pick at No. 13 but are also major red flags for any team that drafts him.

Foster and Temple edge defender Hassan Reddick are the only defensive players taken by the Cardinals in more than one mock draft since April 1 in Arizona Sports’ mock draft tracker.

Only two of the seven-round mock drafts from PFF, CBS, and FOX have the Cardinals selecting a linebacker at all. CBS’ R.J. White has them adding Kansas State’s Elijah Lee in the fifth round at No. 179 overall, and FOX’s Dieter Kurtenbach has the team taking Houston’s Steven Taylor in the sixth round with the No. 197 pick.

PFF also recently suggested that Arizona should be in the market for a slot receiver to eventually replace Larry Fitzgerald.

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