When the Arizona Cardinals step to the podium to use the 20th overall selection in the NFL Draft on May 8, there’s a small chance they’ll take one of the players being mocked to them — especially mocks that have occurred in March.
With the Cardinals needs being fairly obvious, that leaves figuring out the players that could be available not just in round one, but throughout the draft.
Starting with the highest need on the team — as I see it — edge rusher.
Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina
Out of grasp for even one of the better GMs in the NFL in Steve Keim, Clowney may be one of the best NFL prospects to come out on the defensive side of the ball in years.
While the numbers were not there in 2013 (only three sacks), his mere presence on the field in every game caused teams to game plan around him.
Where he’ll go: Top five pick
Khalil Mack, OLB, Buffalo
A favorite of the draft community before the 2013 college season started, Mack burst onto the scene with his dominating performance against the Ohio State Buckeyes in week one of the college season.
A relentless worker with an array of pass rushing moves, the speed to bend the edge and comfort rushing from either side of the line, Mack is the ideal outside linebacker for Todd Bowles’ 3-4 defense, but he’s likely out of reach for the Cardinals..
Where he’ll go: Top ten pick
Dee Ford, OLB, Auburn
The placement of Ford comes down to the fact that some prefer production to upside.
Ford was a dominant player in the SEC for the Auburn Tigers, who lost to Florida State in the BCS Championship Game.
He’s a compact, powerfully-built 3-4 linebacker prospect who has experience rushing the passer against some of the best tackles in college.
Ford is a speed rusher right now, as he doesn’t have the pass rushing moves of a player like Mack, but he wins with good anticipation off the snap and a good first step.
He is a solid, yet unspectacular player against the run, does a good job of holding up at the point of attack, but isn’t always moving players backwards.
Ford’s ability to rush the passer, coupled with his size limitations, will put him in range for the Cardinals to pick him come draft day.
Where He’ll Go: Top 25 pick
Anthony Barr, OLB, UCLA
Barr is a better athlete and offers more upside because of it than guys like Ford and Mack, but he’s just not as good of a football player…right now.
Barr is a physical specimen with a long, lean build and room to add weight. He plays with a relentless, all-out mentality on the field.
He lacks functional game strength right now, meaning he doesn’t play nearly as strong as he is, and he is hesitant at times because of his newness to the defensive side of the ball. Barr, who was recruited to UCLA as an athlete, has only played outside linebacker for two years.
What scouts love about Barr is his upside, explosiveness and his ability to create havoc without completely understanding the ins and outs of the position. What worries scouts about Barr is that he will need to be coached up tremendously to ever reach his full potential and be more than a rush linebacker.
Where He’ll Go: Top 25 pick
Ryan Shazier, OLB, Ohio State
A wiry, explosive and violent player, Shazier has all the makings of a star linebacker at the next level.
While he wasn’t a rush linebacker at Ohio State, when asked to blitz off the edge he showed a natural ability to bend, dip and explode around the corner.
What makes Shazier such a special talent is that he has the room to grow, but also has shown up on the field with huge levels of production.
He is probably the best linebacker in coverage on this list, and plays with an a chip on his shoulder.
His play is overly aggressive at times, he doesn’t always use his eyes well, as he can get beat because of peeking into the backfield and not reading his keys.
Shazier has to learn to break down and tackle in space more consistently, as too often he is looking for a “kill shot” instead of just making the play in front of him.
Where He’ll Go: First rounder
Kony Ealy, DE Missouri
A relentless worker who has shown improvement in each of his seasons at Mizzou, Ealy is an intriguing edge prospect.
Ealy shows exceptional read and react ability, a good first step and uses his hands as well as anyone not named Khalil Mack in this group.
Where he struggles: he doesn’t bend the edge all the time, he wins more as a physical pass rusher than a guy with exceptional edge speed.
My thought on Ealy: I like him more as a guy who adds weight and bounces down to a 3-4 defensive end rather than a stand up outside linebacker.
Kyle Van Noy, OLB, BYU
Van Noy shows a succinct understanding of what he needs to do all the time on the football field. The question is: does he possess the raw athleticism to make those plays?
Van Noy is an excellent pass rusher despite his lack of burst off the edge, uses his hands well and has a variety of pass rushing moves.
However, he doesn’t use enough power in his pass rushing game and doesn’t set the edge consistently in the run game.
Van Noy has the look of a secondary pass rusher, in the Sam Acho mold, who will benefit more playing with a dominant pass rusher and cleaning things up rather than wreaking havoc on NFL offenses.
Where He’ll Go: Early second round
Jeremiah Attaochu, OLB, Georgia Tech
When you watch Attaochu on the edge as a rusher, you see why some people have talked about him as a top-20 draft pick in May.
He is an explosive, powerful athlete off the edge who shows a devastating first step and excellent ability to bend and dip around the edge as a rusher.
He has experience dropping into coverage, and played in a 3-4 scheme at Georgia Tech making his transition to the Arizona Cardinals defense seem perfect.
However, he doesn’t play with natural instincts, and plays too slow too often.
Doesn’t use his natural strength enough, and at times can be physically man handled at the point of attack when he’s trying to read and diagnose a play.
Early second round
Carl Bradford, OLB, Arizona State
Bradford played big at ASU last season, but there is a concern with his size/speed/strength ratio heading into the NFL.
He isn’t overly long, doesn’t use his hands well and is more of a speed rusher, without devastating speed, off the edge.
He is a chase linebacker more than a mix-it-up linebacker, and does an excellent job coming off the edge with relentless pursuit.
He measures more like an inside linebacker at the next level because of his lack of size, but his natural ability to get around the edge will give him an opportunity to rush the passer at the next level.
Other names that could draw consideration on day two:
• Trent Murphy, OLB, Stanford
• Christian Jones, DE, Florida State
• Telvin Smith, OLB, Florida State
• Scott Crichton, DE, Oregon State
• Adrian Hubbard, OLB, Alabama
Names on deck to watch for on day two and three of the draft:
• Jordan Tripp, OLB, Montana
• Devon Kennard, OLB, USC
• Tyler Starr, OLB, South Dakota
• Shaquil Barrett, OLB, Colorado State
We’ll be talking edge rushers on the newest edition of the TSHQ Draft podcast Wednesday evening, so if you have questions about any players let me know in the comments.