Football Outsiders: CB remains biggest draft need for Arizona Cardinals

Apr 27, 2022, 2:01 PM
Cornerback Andrew Booth Jr. #23 of the Clemson Tigers makes an interception on a pass intended for ...
Cornerback Andrew Booth Jr. #23 of the Clemson Tigers makes an interception on a pass intended for wide receiver Josh Vann #6 of the South Carolina Gamecocks in the second quarter during their game at Williams-Brice Stadium on November 27, 2021 in Columbia, South Carolina. (Photo by Jacob Kupferman/Getty Images)
(Photo by Jacob Kupferman/Getty Images)

Football Outsiders addressed every team’s biggest need, quiet need and a position that is not as pressing ahead of the NFL Draft starting Thursday.

FO listed the biggest necessity for the Cardinals at cornerback with edge rusher as the secondary target.

Arizona’s cornerback room was thin at the end of last season when injuries exposed its lack of depth. Malcolm Butler retired before the year, and the Cardinals never had a No. 1 outside corner.

They took Marco Wilson out of Florida in the fourth round in 2021, and he became a Week 1 starter as a rookie. He and fourth-year slot corner Byron Murphy Jr. remain on the roster along with newly added Jeff Gladney, who comes with legal baggage after an assault indictment derailed his young career.

Free-agent addition Jeff Gladney comes with a bucket of red flags. The former first-round pick was not good as a rookie with the Vikings in 2020, ranking 70th in success rate, then was released the following preseason after being indicted on domestic violence charges. He was found not guilty in March and signed with Arizona shortly thereafter. It’s optimistic to think he will be much of an upgrade at this point.

FO also acknowledged Wilson’s growing pains as a mid-round rookie thrust into playing every snap, as he earned a 39% coverage success rate, which ranked No. 79 out of 81 qualifiers, per Sports Info Solutions.

A couple of names the site listed as intriguing fits are Clemson’s Andrew Booth Jr. and Trent McDuffie of Washington.

Both are projected to land before the Cardinals’ No. 23 pick, but as general manager Steve Keim said last week, media mock drafts don’t always align with what teams are thinking.

Edge rusher is a hole on the roster ripped open by Chandler Jones’ departure in free agency. The franchise’s all-time leader in sacks bolted for the Las Vegas Raiders on a three-year deal worth up to $51 million, leaving Arizona with Markus Golden, Devon Kennard, Dennis Gardeck and Victor Dimukeje as the only outside linebackers on the roster.

Golden found success opposite of Jones last year with 11 sacks and Gardeck collected seven in 2020, but Keim admitted this position is one of need after Jones left.

Markus Golden led the team with 11.0 sacks last season, but he turned 31 in March and has alternated good seasons with bad ones throughout his career. The 33-year-old J.J. Watt had only one sack in seven games in his debut season in Arizona. Devon Kennard, who will also be 31 by the start of the season, steps into Jones’ spot on the outside opposite Golden. In 15 games last year, he had zero sacks.

FO wrote that South Carolina’s Kingsley Enagbare and Nik Bonitto of Oklahoma are names to watch for the Cardinals. NFL Network draft analyst Lance Zierlein projects Enagbare to land in the fourth or fifth round and Bonitto in the second or third.

Enagbare had four sacks and 7.5 tackles for loss with the Gamecocks last year, while Bonitto amassed seven sacks and 15 tackles for loss to earn a second-team All-Big 12 selection.

The one area FO wrote the Cardinals don’t need to address is inside linebacker, a natural pick given Arizona spent consecutive first-round picks on Isaiah Simmons (2020) and Zaven Collins (2021).

The Cardinals let go 2021 starter Jordan Hicks to make way for Collins to step into a greater role in his second season. For depth, they added former Vikings weakside linebacker Nick Vigil.

With Jordan Hicks released in March, the path is clear for Simmons and Collins to dominate the interior of the Cardinals’ defense for years to come. And should some sort of disaster befall one of the two starters, Arizona signed Nick Vigil in free agency. Vigil has started 51 games in his career (mostly for Cincinnati but also including a dozen last year in Minnesota), making him perhaps the best backup at his position in the league, and certainly the most experienced.

The first round begins Thursday at 5 p.m. with the second and third rounds on Friday and the final four rounds on Saturday.

Arizona has eight picks, five of which are in the final two rounds.

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Football Outsiders: CB remains biggest draft need for Arizona Cardinals