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Don’t assume the Cardinals will pick an OT in 1st round of NFL Draft

L-R: Tristan Wirfs (Photo by Matthew Holst/Getty Images); Jedrick Wills Jr. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images); Mekhi Becton (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

A quick check of our Arizona Sports Mock Draft Tracker revealed eight new 2020 NFL mock drafts posted Thursday.

Every single one of them has the Arizona Cardinals selecting an offensive tackle with the No. 8 pick. But why?

The thought process is simple. It’s assuming the Cardinals will draft based on need.

The Cardinals were sacked 50 times last season, tied for fifth-most in the NFL. While they re-signed left tackle D.J. Humphries and are bringing back right tackles Justin Murray and Marcus Gilbert, do they trust them?

Gilbert has played in only 12 of 48 games over the past three seasons due to injury. Murray only has 12 career starts, all of them coming last season.

There is not a lot of proven talent behind them unless the Cardinals trust in rapid development of 2019 seventh-round pick Joshua Miles or 23-year-old Brett Toth, who has not appeared in an NFL game.

Is it likely Arizona drafts a tackle No. 8 overall? Yes, and I get it.

But it’s no forgone conclusion. Here’s the nuance that general manager Steve Keim and his staff will be healthily debating for the next few weeks.

The DeAndre Hopkins trade shouldn’t end WR consideration

(Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images)

Recent mock drafts cite the Cardinals’ trade for receiver DeAndre Hopkins as a reason for Arizona to forget about taking one of the top receivers: CeeDee Lamb, Jerry Jeudy or Henry Ruggs III.

It’s important to remember that while the Cardinals trended more toward 11-personnel (three receivers, one tight end) and away from 10-personnel (four receivers, no tight ends) as coach Kliff Kingsbury navigated his first season, they were still wildly in favor of four receivers relative to the rest of the NFL.

They lined up with four receivers on 18% of their snaps with talent including Damiere Byrd, Pharoh Cooper and KeeSean Johnson, among others.

Now, trading for Hopkins might change what type of receiver the Cardinals want. Lamb gets comparisons to Hopkins, and it’s a wonder if Arizona would want two physical jump-ball threats on each side of the field. Would they rather have Jeudy’s versatility meshing with Hopkins, Larry Fitzgerald and Christian Kirk or a vertical stretcher like Ruggs bringing something that neither of those three have?

Who is the No. 3 and 4 WR of the future?

(AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)

Here’s where we remind ourselves that Fitzgerald is 36 years old and continues to string together one-year contracts. For the 2021 season, the Cardinals don’t even have a clear-cut third receiver after Hopkins and Kirk.

Johnson, Andy Isabella, Hakeem Butler and Trent Sherfield return and could assume that role if Fitzgerald calls it a career. If Arizona still feels good about one of them panning out, there’s less pressure to take a receiver in the 2019 draft.

While we’re talking about those young players, it’s important to remember the 2020 draft class has first-round receiver talents who could fall to the second or third rounds. Arizona, however, doesn’t have a second-round pick after the Hopkins deal.

It’s hard to say which receivers are left at 72nd overall, 114th overall and so on.

Lots of Kyler Murray’s sacks were on him

(Photo by Jennifer Stewart/Getty Images)

Say it with me: “The Cardinals’ offensive line is not as bad as I think. The Cardinals’ offensive line is not as bad as I think.”

Great.

The Cardinals’ returning offensive line continues to take reputation hits despite what looked like a solid, if not good, 2019 season.

The team set a franchise mark in the running game by averaging just over 5.0 yards per carry, and the sack numbers, while high, are misleading.

Pro Football Focus tagged 23 of Kyler Murray’s 48 sacks taken as mistakes by him. That’s a record by its count.


Here’s how PFF credited sacks on starting offensive linemen:

LT D.J. Humphries: 2
LG/RT Justin Pugh: 4
C A.Q. Shipley: 2
RG J.R. Sweezy: 1
RT Justin Murray: 4
RT Jordan Mills: 1
LG Mason Cole: 1

The depth may be lacking in experience at tackle. The health histories remain. But the Cardinals at present have enough starting-quality bodies.

Is it all that obvious there is one elite OT?

(AP Photo/Michael Conroy)

All this is to say the Cardinals are in a position to draft best player available.

So the question comes down to what happens before the Cardinals pick and how their big board fills out?

It’s possible a plug-and-play defensive player like Isaiah Simmons or Derrick Brown slips in the draft. Brown would slot in as an immediate starter at tackle, while defensive coordinator Vance Joseph would probably be gleeful to carve out a hybrid role for Simmons if he doesn’t immediately become a starting inside linebacker or defensive back.

Even if they’re off the board, Keim will be looking at the tiers of his draft board.

Is the Cardinals’ top offensive tackle even in the same tier of prospects as the top receivers?

Does Keim even have one offensive tackle head-and-shoulders above the rest? What if he’s been drafted already?

Scouts don’t have a consensus on who that is, let alone who’s second. Tristan Wirfs (Iowa), Jedrick Wills (Alabama), Mekhi Becton (Louisville) and Andrew Thomas (Georgia) have been projected first off the board, and even Houston’s Josh Jones is going to Arizona in a few mocks because he’s an elite pass-protector.

In the end, this could simply come down to the straight evaluation of the tackle class, and considering they are evaluated so differently, maybe it’s not as good as people think.


Phillips Law Group

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