Cardinals GM says 2021 NFL Draft has ‘really deep’ WR class
DeAndre Hopkins is back, A.J. Green is added and Christian Kirk remains a starting-caliber piece who arguably has yet to hit his ceiling.
With that, do the Arizona Cardinals want even more elite wideout talent to optimize quarterback Kyler Murray in his third NFL season, regardless of whether veteran Larry Fitzgerald returns for his 18th?
General manager Steve Keim unsurprisingly didn’t wade into whether he feels his team is feeling so greedy that a top-tier receiver could be a target in the NFL Draft that kicks off on Thursday. The Cardinals hold the No. 16 pick, and that might be out of range to pick one of the top three prospects without trading up.
Keim did, however, at least admit he’s a fan of the 2021 class of receivers.
“I think it’s a really deep receiver class and they all have different traits. Especially those guys at the top, they’re all different sizes, they have different skillsets, whether they can play X or Z or do some things for you in the return game,” the GM said Thursday.
“To me, I think there’s probably five or six guys who could potential go in the first round. We’ve already seen there could be as many as three go in the top 15 picks. They’re exciting to watch.”
LSU Tigers product Ja’Marr Chase has consistently been posed as the top prospect. He’s the most physically imposing of the top group of receivers, standing 6-foot and over 200 pounds.
He sat out 2020 but caught 20 touchdowns and a total of 1,780 receiving yards two years ago (eight scores were plays of at least 50 yards).
“Chase at LSU reminds me a little bit of Andre Johnson when he came out of Miami — probably showing my age here — but he was a guy who had all the traits: size, speed, explosiveness, run after the catch (ability),” Keim said.
Which player is the second-rated receiver in the class isn’t as unanimous.
It’s likely between Alabama’s Jaylen Waddle and DeVonta Smith, the latter of whom won the Heisman Trophy.
Smith is a slender, explosive wideout. Waddle is a more compact player with more potential to play inside, where in Arizona he could in theory complement Hopkins and Green on the outside.
“People question Smith’s size, weighing in at 170 pounds,” Keim said. “Again, dating myself, I played in a high school All-Star game with a guy who weighed 174 pounds coming out of Syracuse who you might have heard of named Marvin Harrison, who was a pretty good player. Those guys have similar body types.
“Waddle reminds me a little bit of Steve Smith when he came out of Utah. Squatty, explosive, has the ability to return, can be dynamic on that part of the game on fourth downs.”
If the Cardinals don’t see one of those top-three receivers fall to them — or if the team just goes another route — Keim can later on add to a receiver group where third-year pros Andy Isabella and KeeSean Johnson have yet to break out.
Arizona’s GM checked off Minnesota’s Rashod Bateman — Keim liked his route-running and body control — and Florida’s Kadarius Toney as other potential wideouts who are off the board on Day 1 of the draft.
Should the depth of the receiver class matter for the Cardinals, perhaps their second-round pick at 49th overall could also be utilized to get greedy in upgrading the offensive weaponry.
Slot receivers such as Ole Miss’ Elijah Moore, Louisville’s Tutu Atwell and Purdue’s Rondale Moore are all projected in the next grouping of top prospects.