2021 NFL Draft prospects to know for the Cardinals: Wide receiver
The Arizona Cardinals passing game took a step forward in Year 2 of the Kliff Kingsbury era.
Much of that can be attributed to the acquisition of All-Pro wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins.
In his first season in Cardinal red, Hopkins reeled in 115 receptions for 1,407 yards and six touchdowns, proving to be a perfect fit alongside a budding NFL quarterback in Kyler Murray.
Unfortunately, the rest of Arizona’s wide receivers did not experience the same success as Hopkins.
Looking at the rest of the Cardinals pass catchers, Christian Kirk landed well behind Hopkins in catches (48) and yards (621) but was still the team’s No. 2 option in 2020.
Yes, the Cardinals did sign A.J. Green this offseason, but with tight end Dan Arnold off to Carolina, Larry Fitzgerald’s future still up in the air and Andy Isabella and KeeSean Johnson still trying to find their NFL footing, the Cardinals could definitely use another pass-catching option.
With that in mind, here’s a look at some of the prospects the Cardinals could consider come draft night, whether they stay at No. 16, move up or slide down:
DeVonta Smith, Alabama
Smith is considered one of the best wide receivers in this year’s draft. If he falls to No. 16, it’ll be a steal for Arizona.
He capped off a impressive college career at Alabama with 117 receptions for 1,856 yards and 23 touchdowns in 2020, leading all FBS pass catchers.
The Draft Network’s Jordan Reid writes:
A polished route-runner, he has a well-developed understanding of how to create separation and he also contains a diverse release package when facing challenges at the line of scrimmage. An added incentive to his game, Smith also has value on special teams, as he’s proven to be a dangerous punt returner.
Smith had eight games with at least 130 yards and two touchdowns in 2020, highlighted by three outings of more than 200 yards and three scores.
He also showed off his return abilities after teammate Jaylen Waddle went down with an ankle injury (more on that later). Smith returned 11 punts for 237 yards and a touchdown, while adding another 52 yards on four kick returns.
The concern on Smith is how his slender build will translate to the NFL. He enters the draft standing 6-foot and weighing 166 pounds.
Jaylen Waddle, Alabama
Hey, look! Another Alabama wide receiver who would be a solid addition to Arizona’s offense.
While he didn’t put up the same type of numbers as Smith, Waddle showed he has the ability to play at the next level, especially as a slot receiver.
In six games last season as a junior, Waddle caught 28 balls for 591 yards and four touchdowns. His 21.1 yards per catch was a career best for the wide receiver, who missed the majority of the season due to a dislocated ankle he suffered returning a kick.
NFL Network’s Lance Zierlein compares the wideout to Kansas City’s Tyreek Hill.
Thrilling, game-breaking talent who will come into the league as one of the fastest receivers to ever play the game. … Waddle’s adept at working all three levels, so it will be tough for defenses to predict how offenses will utilize him, as he has the potential to post a higher catch volume in the right offense. Waddle can instantly upgrade a team’s scoring potential, whether it’s with the deep ball, the catch-and-run or as a return man.
Even with the injury, the 5-foot-9, 180-pound WR is still considered one of the top receiving options in the draft, especially with his added ability as a return man.
Waddle tallied 733 yards and two touchdowns on 38 punt returns in three seasons at Alabama. He also returned nine kicks for 214 yards and a score.
Despite the injury, he is expected to be fully healthy for when rookies report to minicamp, per NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport.
Elijah Moore, Ole Miss
While either Alabama wideouts would give the Cardinals an upgrade in the receiving room, if Arizona were to trade down in the first round, Moore could be a prime candidate.
The Draft Network’s Drae Harris writes:
Elijah Moore has aligned outside and in the slot. He is a dynamic athlete with excellent agility and quickness. In the passing game, he is still a little raw as a route-runner but is a threat to score whenever he touches the ball. He demonstrates the toughness to catch the ball in traffic. He won’t give you much as a stalk blocker in the run game. He is always a big-play threat due to his excellent run after catch potential.
Moore would slide in as the team’s slot receiver and could handle returning duties if needed.
As a junior in 2020, the 5-foot-9, 178-pound WR recorded 86 receptions for 1,193 yards and eight touchdowns, all career highs. Moore averaged 13.9 yards per reception and added 505 yards after the catch (fifth among FBS wideouts).
Moore certainly helped his stock during Ole Miss’ pro day last month, which was highlighted by an impressive 4.35-second 40-yard dash.
Kadarius Toney, Florida
Much like Moore, Toney is considered a late first-round round, early second-round pick.
Toney was just 16 yards shy of the 1,000-yard mark in 2020, recording 984 receiving yards and 10 touchdowns on 70 receptions. He also chipped in 161 rushing yards and a score on 19 carries, while also serving as a punt and kick returner.
Toney is an electric slot receiver who’s continued to improve every season in Gainesville. He is much more satisfying than his size indicates because he’s electric with or without the ball in his grasp. His ceiling as a route-runner is a bit limited, but he was highly effective with the package that he was asked to run. Toney’s presence is always felt whether or not he has the ball, as he makes defenses account for him even if he’s strictly a motion player.
While he doesn’t have quite the same numbers as the other wide receivers mentioned, the 5-foot-11, 189-pounder provides a little more size.
Kyle Pitts, Florida (TE)
Pitts would be a home run pick for the Cardinals. With Arnold gone, the Cardinals are in need of an athletic pass-catching tight end for Murray to work with.
The biggest problem? It’s gonna take a whole lot for the Cardinals to move up to draft Pitts, making this selection very unlikely for Arizona.
While the player comparison for the purposes of this scouting report is Darren Waller, Pitts may have the traits and talent to create mismatches similar to those created by Calvin Johnson and Tyreek Hill. His rare blend of size, athleticism and ball skills are reminiscent of Megatron’s.
In eight games last season with Florida, the 6-foot-6, 245-pound TE set career marks in receiving yards (770) and touchdowns (12) on 43 receptions.
Only Toney had more catches (70) and receiving yards (984) than Pitts on the Gators in 2020.
How unlikely is Pitts to even have a chance at getting drafted by Arizona? ESPN’s Todd McShay has Pitts landing with the Atlanta Falcons at No. 4 overall in Wednesday’s mock draft with Mel Kiper Jr.