ARIZONA CARDINALS

Kiper has Cardinals taking Clemson QB Deshaun Watson in latest mock

Mar 22, 2017, 11:23 AM | Updated: 4:35 pm
Clemson's Deshaun Watson celebrates a last second touchdown pass to Hunter Renfrow during the secon...
Clemson's Deshaun Watson celebrates a last second touchdown pass to Hunter Renfrow during the second half of the NCAA college football playoff championship game against Alabama Tuesday, Jan. 10, 2017, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)
(AP Photo/John Bazemore)

While Arizona Cardinals quarterback Carson Palmer is returning for at least one more season, the fact remains that he is 37 years old, and both head coach Bruce Arians and general manager Steve Keim have said that the team is looking for a potential replacement.

ESPN football analysis Mel Kiper Jr. predicts the Cardinals will find one, as he has them taking Clemson University quarterback Deshaun Watson with the 13th pick of the first round in his newest mock draft.

Arizona needs a quarterback of the future, and this is a sneaky spot to grab one — if he’s still around. Carson Palmer, 37, showed his age last season, and backup Drew Stanton hasn’t proved he’s a starting-caliber QB. So now Bruce Arians, who’s a brilliant offensive mind, would get Palmer’s heir apparent in Watson, who flashes top-five-pick talent at times but was inconsistent in 2016. At 6-2, 221, Watson has the arm strength, toughness and athleticism to play for a long time. He could back up Palmer in the short term while he adjusts gradually to the NFL. Keep an eye on the secondary here, too; the Cardinals lost their two starting safeties plus a corner in free agency.

Watson declared for the draft after capturing the National Championship with a 35-31 comeback victory over the University of Alabama to cap off his third year at Clemson.

In 2016, he completed 67 percent of his passes for 4,593 yards and 41 touchdowns but also threw an ACC-high 17 interceptions. The dual-threat quarterback also accumulated 629 yards and nine touchdowns on the ground, but his yards per carry dropped from 5.3 from his breakout sophomore season to 3.8 last year.

He finished second in the 2016 Heisman voting behind Louisville quarterback Lamar Jackson.

Watson initially thrust himself onto the national scene as a sophomore, finishing third in the Heisman voting after completing 67.8 percent of his passes and throwing for 4,109 yards, 35 touchdowns and 13 interceptions. He added 1,105 yards and 12 touchdowns with his legs.

Watson’s 116 total touchdowns and 157.5 passing efficiency rating both rank second in ACC history, behind only Clemson’s Tajh Boyd and Florida State’s Jameis Winston, respectively.

He also performed well at the NFL Scouting Combine, coming in the top-five for quarterback prospects in the 40-yard dash, vertical jump, broad jump and three cone drill.

Kiper’s mock draft is one of five of the 154 mock drafts tracked by Arizona Sports that has the Cardinals choosing Watson with their first-round selection. Watson is the second quarterback off the board in Kiper’s mock, after the Cleveland Browns take North Carolina’s Mitchell Trubisky one pick before Arizona.

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Kiper has Cardinals taking Clemson QB Deshaun Watson in latest mock