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Dan Bickley

Steve Keim, Arizona Cardinals need to continue to be bold in NFL Draft

General manager Steve Keim of the Arizona Cardinals on the field during the first half of the NFL game against the Los Angeles Rams at State Farm Stadium on December 01, 2019 in Glendale, Arizona. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

The Cardinals enter the 2020 NFL Draft in an enviable position. They have the eighth overall pick and no gaping holes to fill. They can focus on the best player available.

But that would be stupid.

Here’s my game plan if I was in charge of the war room:

No trading down for additional picks. That’s the cowardly approach. The Cardinals need more impact players, not an extra roll of the dice later in the draft.

Contrary to most national opinions, they don’t need an offensive lineman. The Cardinals allowed 50 sacks in 2019, and to outsiders, the number looks problematic. Only one team allowed more quarterback sacks in the NFC (Carolina, 58). But at least half of those came when Kyler Murray sacked himself, giving up on plays and yielding self-preservation instincts.

A better number: The Cardinals allowed just 69 quarterback hits, third-best in the conference. Kliff Kingsbury raved about the improvement of Justin Murray. The team awarded D.J. Humphries a new contract. They re-signed Marcus Gilbert. They ran the ball very effectively once Kenyan Drake was acquired from the Dolphins.

It’s strange how an overwhelming percentage of mock drafters predict the Cardinals will take one of the four elite tackles in the draft. It sounds like they really didn’t watch many Cardinals games in 2019. It feels like they’re all inhaling a Steve Keim smokescreen.

That leaves two options. Draft a transcendent wide receiver or a premium defender at No. 8. But not in that order.

Trends will develop immediately on Thursday night. LSU quarterback Joe Burrow and Ohio State defensive end Chase Young should be locks for the first two picks. But an early run on offensive linemen will help the Cardinals. So will an early run on quarterbacks. Either scenario could leave one of three elite defenders on the board when the Cardinals are on the clock: Ohio State cornerback Jeff Okudah, Auburn defensive tackle Derrick Brown or Clemson linebacker Isaiah Simmons.

If any of them are available, the Cardinals should virtually run to the virtual podium and make the selection. End of story. Their defense was simply too porous in 2019, and their free-agent acquisitions are not all going to hit. You can bet on that.

Here’s where things get tricky:

There is a distinct scenario that leaves the Cardinals without access to an impact defensive player. It goes like this:

1. Burrow to the Bengals

2. Young to the Redskins

3. Okudah to the Lions

4. Simmons to the Giants

5. Andrew Thomas to the Dolphins

6. Tua Tagovailoa to the Chargers

7. Brown to the Panthers

This scenario is where the Cardinals must double-down on their offense, remembering the principle that guided them in 2019. Something about fortune favoring the bold, like when they drafted a 5-foot-10 quarterback with No. 1 pick overall.

Drafting an elite wide receiver would give the offense even more weapons. It would cover for the impending retirement of Larry Fitzgerald, which happens by the end of 2021 at the latest. It would allow Kliff Kingsbury to revisit the Air Raid methodology and four wide receiver sets that never got off the ground in his rookie season at the helm. It could give the Cardinals the gold standard offense in the entire conference, the NFC version of the Kansas City Chiefs.

But which wide receiver?

Jerry Jeudy is the best route runner. CeeDee Lamb has incredible body control and catch radius, the closest thing to DeAndre Hopkins. Henry Ruggs III is the fastest of them all, and more than just a track star. He’s been described as the most dogged competitor inside Alabama’s prospect-laden program.

Selecting a wide receiver with the eighth overall pick will feel like a stretch. It might open General manager Steve Keim to more criticism, but so what? Keim has already won the offseason. He should go into this draft swing for the fences, daring and bold.

And if I’m in charge, I’m taking the kid from Oklahoma as a present to Kyler Murray. I’m taking Lamb if no elite defender is left on the board. Because Murray’s comfort level matters a lot going forward. That much became certain over the course of his rookie season. If you don’t think familiarity matters, you haven’t been paying attention to Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski.

Reach Bickley at Listen to Bickley & Marotta weekdays from 10 a.m. – 2 p.m. on 98.7 FM Arizona’s Sports Station.

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Dan Bickley bio
Dan Bickley is the most influential sports media member in Arizona sports history, having spent over 20 years as the award-winning lead sports columnist for The Arizona Republic and and almost two decades as a Valley sports radio talk show host. In spring 2018, Bickley made the decision to leave the newspaper to join the Arizona Sports team as host of the entertaining and informative midday show Bickley and Marotta, as well as bring his opinionated and provocative column exclusively to
Bickley’s journalism career began in his hometown of Chicago, where he was part of a star-studded staff at the Chicago Sun-Times. He chronicled Michael Jordan’s six NBA championships; covered the Olympics in eight different countries and attended 14 Super Bowls; spent three weeks in an Indianapolis courthouse writing about Mike Tyson’s rape trial; and once left his laptop in an Edmonton bar after the Blackhawks reached the Stanley Cup Finals.
He has won multiple awards, written two books, formed a rock band, fathered three children, and once turned down an offer to work at the New York Times.  His passions include sports, music, the alphabet, good beer and great radio. After joining Arizona Sports 98.7 FM, he couldn’t be happier