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NFL Draft boosted Cardinals up ESPN’s power rankings

UCLA's Josh Rosen poses with his Arizona Cardinals team jersey during the first round of the NFL football draft, Thursday, April 26, 2018, in Arlington, Texas. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

On paper, the Arizona Cardinals’ roster didn’t lend much evidence that progress would follow an 8-8 season. They entered the year with the oldest group of 22 starters and oldest 53-man roster by average age in the NFL.

Looking ahead, there wasn’t a lot of reason for optimism.

ESPN’s NFL panel of 80 writers, editors and TV personalities ranked the team 26th in its post-Super Bowl power rankings.

The Cardinals slipped again, all the way to 29th, after a free agency period highlighted by the signing of starting quarterback Sam Bradford, backup Mike Glennon and new starting offensive linemen Justin Pugh and Andre Smith.

But an NFL Draft class including a quarterback and a wide receiver taken in the first two rounds was received quite a bit better by the ESPN group of voters.

Arizona jumped to 23rd in ESPN’s post-draft power rankings.

The Cardinals ranked 25th in scoring in 2017 after finishing in the top six the previous two seasons. They used five of their six picks on offensive players, but none more important than quarterback Josh Rosen at 10th overall. Seeing as Sam Bradford has played 16 games only twice in seven seasons, Rosen will likely get his shot in 2018.

The Cardinals followed the Rosen selection by taking Texas A&M receiver Christian Kirk 47th overall to add to a wide receiver group that will have to answer the bell next to veteran Larry Fitzgerald.

They also selected center Mason Cole out of Michigan in the third round, Fordham running back Chase Edmonds in the fourth and Cincinnati offensive tackle Korey Cunningham in the seventh round.

Between the draft and free agency, it appears Arizona’s offense greatly improved its depth.

General manager Steve Keim, however, is putting stock in the development of a defense that had more key losses than additions this offseason.

The Cardinals cut ties with safety Tyrann Mathieu and defensive end Josh Mauro, and veteran free agents Tyvon Branch, Karlos Dansby and Frostee Rucker remain on the market. Starting cornerback Tramon Williams left to join the Green Bay Packers.

As it stands, linebacker will be a position of strength with Josh Bynes taking on a bigger role after being re-signed. Second-year pro Haason Reddick, Arizona’s 2017 first-round pick, could also take a step forward playing alongside Deone Bucannon, who will be directing the defensive unit.

Defensive tackle Robert Nkemdiche needs to produce after going in the first round of the 2016 draft, and first-year head coach Steve Wilks will be tasked with finding a capable starter at cornerback opposite Patrick Peterson heading into the 2018 season.

The bodies are there on both sides, and it seems the Cardinals will be a little more well-received across the NFL landscape, in large part thanks to winning the draft.

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