CARDINALS CORNER

Cardinals nab OL Paris Johnson in Brugler’s 1st mock draft for 2023

Nov 30, 2022, 8:00 PM
Paris Johnson Jr. #77 of the Ohio State Buckeyes in action against the Northwestern Wildcats during...
Paris Johnson Jr. #77 of the Ohio State Buckeyes in action against the Northwestern Wildcats during the first half at Ryan Field on November 05, 2022 in Evanston, Illinois. (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)
(Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)

You know the NFL season is starting to wind down — at least for the teams on the outside looking in on the playoff picture — when the mock drafts start creeping back into the news cycle.

The Athletic’s Dane Brugler graced us with his first mock of the year on Wednesday and has the Cardinals taking Ohio State offensive tackle Paris Johnson with the No. 7 pick.

The Cardinals’ offensive tackles have been inconsistent this season, especially with D.J. Humphries hurt. Paris Johnson Jr. is an impressive mover for his size. Even when he misfires with his punch, he can recover and win because of his natural gifts. Johnson is still learning, but his mistakes are fixable and mostly due to inexperience, not lack of ability.

There’s no denying the Cardinals need depth along their offensive line. Through 12 weeks, only one opening-day starter in right tackle Kelvin Beachum remains in the trenches due to injuries at the other four positions.

OL help remains a top priority, but tackle might be the least of the Cardinals’ worries at this point in time.

While Beachum is set to become an unrestricted free agent next season, Arizona still has starting left tackle D.J. Humphries and backup Josh Jones under contract.

After the failed experiment of Jones working out of the guard spot last season, Cardinals head coach Kliff Kingsbury believes the lineman is holding his own at left tackle in place of the injured Humphries, who is done for the season with a back issue.

“He’s been waiting for an opportunity,” the head coach said. “I know at times he’s been frustrated because we have had Beach and D.J. playing at a high level but he stepped in and played well.

“That’s encouraging for us moving forward, and being able to play right, left and be that swing guy is a huge bonus for us.”

Johnson started 13 games at right guard for the Buckeyes in 2021 before moving outside, so he has swing ability, as well.

Two points of emphasis should be for the Cardinals this draft is at guard and center. There’s also a need for more pass-rushing help on the other side of the line.

Starting left guard Justin Pugh played just five games before a knee injury ended his season. It’s unclear if Pugh will return for an 11th NFL season. Starting center Rodney Hudson has been a shell of himself this year, too, suiting up for just four contests in his 12th NFL season due to a knee issue.

Both appear closer to retirement than returning, with the pair already contemplating hanging it up this past offseason before opting to come back.

The other side of the interior hasn’t fared much better. Joining the team this offseason on a one-year deal, Will Hernandez finds himself on the IR with a pectoral injury.

Even if Hernandez and/or Hudson return this year, Arizona has to have some sort of contingency plan for next season.

One of which could be getting rookie Lecitus Smith more involved moving forward.

In limited action, Smith has led the team’s rookies this season, filling in at guard. Fellow lineman Marquis Hayes could also be an option, though, the rookie hasn’t played an NFL snap after being placed on the IR with a knee injury to start the season.

Before heading to the IR, Cardinals players and coaches were complimentary of Hayes and the nastiness he brought to the defense.

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