Arizona Cardinals’ 2022 NFL Draft priorities: Cornerback

Apr 25, 2022, 5:00 PM

Kaiir Elam #5 of the Florida Gators reacts after intercepting a pass against the Virginia Cavaliers...

Kaiir Elam #5 of the Florida Gators reacts after intercepting a pass against the Virginia Cavaliers during the second half of the Capital One Orange Bowl at Hard Rock Stadium on December 30, 2019 in Miami, Florida. (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)

(Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)

When it comes to the Arizona Cardinals’ needs this NFL Draft season, cornerback, pass rusher and wide receiver reign supreme.

But which of the trio is the most important to the team’s success in 2022?

Before Thursday’s festivities get underway, here’s a deeper look at each of the three positions general manager Steve Keim pinpointed during his pre-draft media availability last week.

Kicking off the three-part series is none other than cornerback:

Returning players:

– Byron Murphy Jr.
– Marco Wilson
– Breon Borders
– Jace Whittaker
– Nate Brooks

Departures/Free agents:

– Robert Alford
– Antonio Hamilton

New faces:

– Jeff Gladney

Outside of Murphy, who enters his fourth season as a starter, the current state of Arizona’s cornerbacks room is largely unproven. With Antonio Hamilton and Robert Alford free agents, Borders and Whittaker return to the mix after combining for three games played last season. Nate Brooks and Jeff Gladney, the latter of which dealt with off-the-field legal issues, didn’t record a snap in 2021. Wilson is coming off his first NFL season after being thrust into a starting role following Malcolm Butler’s sudden retirement.

Wilson was primarily used as the team’s outside cornerback last season, recording 48 tackles, four passes defensed and two forced fumbles over 14 games played (13 starts). Per Pro Football Focus, Wilson posted a coverage grade of 47.8 as a rookie. Despite the numbers, getting nearly a full season of experience in 2021 should bode well this upcoming year for the former Florida Gator.

Murphy on the other hand split time between the slot and on the outside as the team’s No. 1 cornerback option last season. It was another year of improvement for Murphy, who set career marks in interceptions (four) and passes defensed (12) over across 16 starts. He also returned an interception for a touchdown and added a forced fumble.

He also posted his best PFF coverage grade last year with a 64.3, up from 63.3 in 2021 and 48.5 in 2019.

Adding another capable defender in the cornerbacks room is an important piece to the Cardinals’ puzzle, especially after watching outside linebacker Chandler Jones head to Las Vegas this offseason. If opposing offenses are going to have less resistance up front, Arizona must shore up the backend.

Prospects to keep an eye on:

– Trent McDuffie (Washington)
– Andrew Booth (Clemson)
– Kaiir Elam (Florida)

McDuffie is likely a top-15 pick but depending on how the first round shakes out could fall to the 20s. McDuffie would not only provide another starting-caliber option in the cornerbacks room but would also join fellow Washington alums Murphy and safety Budda Baker in the secondary.

ESPN analyst Todd McShay, who projected McDuffie to go to the Philadelphia Eagles at No. 15 in his latest mock draft, believes the former Husky is the best tackling cornerback in the entire class and also possesses the ability to limit big plays and stay on receivers.

As a sophomore for the Huskies last season (11 games), McDuffie recorded 35 tackles, four of which were for losses, a sack and six passes defensed on his way to a 89.3 coverage grade from PFF.

Booth and Elam are two prospects that are more likely to be there at No. 23 or later.

Booth has been projected to go in the first round, while Elam could go anywhere from late in the first round to the middle of the second.

Booth (78.6) posted a better coverage grade and than Elam (58.1) and had more interceptions with three to Elam’s one last year.

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