If there’s a time to tank: Week 18 to dictate if Cardinals can land franchise front-7 player

Jan 5, 2023, 12:25 PM
Alabama NCAA college football linebacker Will Anderson Jr. declares for the NFL draft, Monday, Jan....

Alabama NCAA college football linebacker Will Anderson Jr. declares for the NFL draft, Monday, Jan. 2, 2023, in Tuscaloosa, Ala. (AP Photo/Vasha Hunt)

(AP Photo/Vasha Hunt)

The Arizona Cardinals have a chance to secure the face of their defensive front on Sunday.

All they have to do is lose to the San Francisco 49ers.

That’s simplifying things a bit. There are five teams that could finish with the same win total as Arizona (4-12), and two of them do not own their top picks in the 2023 NFL Draft.

Among the potential teams who will or can draft ahead of the Cardinals in the order are the Houston Texans, Chicago Bears, Seattle Seahawks (Broncos’ pick), Indianapolis Colts and Detroit Lions (Rams’ pick). Only Chicago with Justin Fields has a young franchise quarterback in place.

Arizona’s hope would be that any team or teams ahead of them very much like a quarterback on the board (Here are the reverse standings and potential for top-five movement in the draft this week).

Alabama’s Bryce Young, Ohio State’s C.J. Stroud and even Kentucky’s Will Levis could be top-five picks.

For the Cardinals with Kyler Murray under contract for the long term, Week 18’s results will be pivotal to the team’s future talent aggregation, even without a clear understanding of whether general manager Steve Keim or head coach Kliff Kingsbury will be back next year.

The prize could be a franchise interior defensive lineman or edge rusher.

Alabama outside linebacker Will Anderson Jr. and Georgia defensive tackle Jalen Carter are widely regarded as the top non-quarterback prospects on the big board. The Draft Network, Pro Football Focus, ESPN, CBS and The Athletic all list them as top-three players, including QBs.

Currently slotted to draft fourth heading into the final week of the regular season, the Cardinals obviously will dictate their draft slot partially based on the result of playing a 49ers team Sunday that has postseason seeding to lock in. Anderson and Carter could be in their sights even if they stick at fourth.

It’s also worth mentioning that consensus top-10 prospects in Texas Tech edge Tyree Wilson, Clemson DT Bryan Bresee and Clemson pass-rusher Myles Murphy could be darkhorse candidates to make a move up the boards.

That trio, plus Anderson and Carter, give enough reason for Arizona to hope for some luck in terms of the draft order.

But it’s time to introduce you to the cream of the crop, Anderson and Carter.

Edge Will Anderson Jr. has the toolbox to be a star

The 6-foot-4, 243-pound outside linebacker piled up 201 pressures in three college seasons.

Any concerns begin with wondering how he will evolve after relying on elite athleticism that led him to success in every season with the Crimson Tide. That’s a problem for another day.

Anderson followed a 17.5-sack, 31 tackle-for-loss season in 2021 with a 10-sack, 17-TFL campaign this year.

He has the maneuverability to complement his get-off and aggressive attacking. There’s a lot to work with when it comes to his technical abilities.

Sure, there are holes that need patching up. According to PFF, Anderson missed 36 tackles on 187 attempts at stopping ball carriers, with a 27.5% miss rate this past season.

The tape also shows that Alabama heavily utilized stunts and twists to loop Anderson from the edge to face off against interior offensive lineman with bad angles or communication helping matters. Those plays led to a lot of his sack production.

He’ll have to learn how to win one-on-one matchups with NFL tackles more consistently on the outside. But again, the tools are all there.

The Cardinals adding him to a core that includes veteran Markus Golden and current rookies Cameron Thomas and Myjai Sanders would give defensive coordinator Vance Joseph a lot to work with. That is, if Joseph and Kingsbury’s staff remain in place next season.

DT Jalen Carter would be a plug-and-play mainstay inside

You can notice that the above highlight reel begins with Carter lifting LSU quarterback and former Sun Devil Jayden Daniels up with one arm on a sack.

Carter posted 30 tackles, three sacks, three pass deflections and two forced fumbles this year heading into the national championship game. His 33 quarterback pressures from an interior defensive position are impressive.

At 6-foot-3 and 300 pounds, he moved around the interior of Georgia’s defensive line but would give Arizona versatility like how it shifted around J.J. Watt this season.

Watt lined up in the B-gap (157), over a tackle (348) and outside the tackles (257), according to PFF.

Carter lined up mostly in the B-gap (233 snaps), but did see action over the tackle (79) with 20 outside-of-the-tackle snaps.

Despite dealing with a midseason injury, Carter graded in the 90s in both pass-rush and run-defense grades and by win rates in those categories, per PFF.

With Watt’s retirement and defensive end Zach Allen’s pending free agency, Carter would be an easy pick if he fell to Arizona.

Reloading with Allen re-signed and Carter drafted would put the D-line room in a promising spot heading into next season.

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If there’s a time to tank: Week 18 to dictate if Cardinals can land franchise front-7 player