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CBS Sports: Cardinals one of five teams that need to nail 2017 draft

Arizona Cardinals team president Michael Bidwill, left, walks off the field with head coach Bruce Arians, middle, and general manager Steve Keim, right, after an NFL football game against the San Francisco 49ers Sunday, Sept. 27, 2015, in Glendale, Ariz. The Cardinals defeated the 49ers 47-7. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

Cardinals general manager Steve Keim, when talking to reporters last week about the NFL Draft, called it “the lifeblood of every organization.”

He then praised his coaches and scouts for the work they’ve put in preparing the team for the three-day event, in which the Cardinals currently hold eight picks over seven rounds.

“This year, in particular, we challenged not only our coaches but our scouts in particular to go deeper,” the GM added. “To get more detail and more background information.

“This year, it has been astounding how many reports have been written. Over 5,000 college scouting reports. We have attended over 303 colleges across, not only the United States, but across Canada as well. When you look at it from top to bottom, we came away with 823 grades that are considered draftable with guys that are considered legitimate NFL prospects.”

Now, most executives would likely say similar things about their preparation, with the idea being that they have left no stone unturned in hopes of creating a slight advantage when searching for talent.

That is of course every team’s goal, and the ones who are successful tend to see the wins pile up because of it.

Heading into the 2017 draft, the Cardinals are in an interesting spot.

Picking 13th overall in the first round, they won just seven games last season but still see themselves as postseason contenders. The roster isn’t particularly flawed, though given the disappointment that was 2016, it’s fair to question whether or not they still have what it takes to make a Super Bowl run.

Put it all together and it makes sense that CBS Sports’ Joel Corry, in a piece presenting five teams that “need to nail the 2017 NFL Draft,” put the Cardinals on the list along with the Cleveland Browns, Dallas Cowboys, Indianapolis Colts and Oakland Raiders.

Of the Cardinals, Corry writes the team has needs are cornerback, safety, defensive line, quarterback and wide receiver.

The Cardinals missed the playoffs last season for the first time since Bruce Arians became head coach in 2014. Arizona was bracing for losses in free agency as a conscious decision was made to prioritize edge rusher Chandler Jones over defensive lineman Calais Campbell, who got a four-year, $60 million deal from the Jaguars. Safety Tony Jefferson priced himself out of Arizona with a breakout season in 2016. Safety D.J. Swearinger (Redskins) and cornerback Marcus Cooper (Bears) also exited in free agency.

Cooper, who was acquired at the final preseason roster cut downs from the Chiefs, might be an underappreciated departure. Brandon Williams, a 2016 third-round pick, quickly lost his starting job because of early-season struggles. Justin Bethel hasn’t been able to make the transition from special teams ace to regular defensive contributor.

With 2017 expected to be Carson Palmer’s last season, the Cardinals will probably try to find their quarterback of the future in the draft. Using the 13th overall pick on a quarterback may be a reach considering Arizona’s other needs. Since wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald will likely follow Palmer out the door, another weapon in the passing game must also be found.

Corry is a bit off when he says the Cardinals missed the postseason for the first time since Arians became coach in 2014, because he took over in 2013, in which the team finished 10-6 but missed the playoffs. They did play past Week 17 the next two seasons, however, making the playoffs as a Wild Card team in 2014 and as the NFC West champion in 2015.

But the rest of what he writes would seem to be on point.

The Cardinals lost quite a bit in free agency, with the biggest hits coming on the defensive side of the ball. They added veteran Antoine Bethea to help offset the losses of Jefferson and Swearinger, but thus far have professed belief in in-house candidates to replace Campbell and Cooper, respectively.

With that in mind, it would make sense for the Cardinals to focus their draft attention on defense, selecting players who will be able to help them this upcoming season.

But then there is quarterback.

Both Keim and Cardinals coach Bruce Arians have talked about the desire to find a young franchise quarterback, with Arians saying he sees five or six starting-caliber quarterbacks in this year’s draft class. But the idea that any of them could be worth the 13th pick, especially when the Cardinals have some other positions to fill, may be a stretch.

The truth is, the Cardinals — while not necessarily in the best position — are in a place where a good draft haul would go a long way, both for their chances this season as well as the next few.

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