Kiper Jr. finds ‘home run pick’ for Cardinals’ Ossenfort in mock draft

Jan 25, 2023, 9:49 AM
Alabama NCAA college football linebacker Will Anderson Jr. talks with the media after declaring for...

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

(AP Photo/Vasha Hunt)

Non-quarterback-needy teams atop the 2023 NFL Draft might quibble between one another if they’re discussing whether they place defensive tackle Jalen Carter or edge rusher Will Anderson Jr. atop their big boards.

But if the first two draft picks aren’t traded, there’s a solid chance the Arizona Cardinals don’t have to make that decision. The Chicago Bears, with QB Justin Fields already on the roster, will likely lead off the draft by selecting their preferred defensive prospect, and it’s assumed the Houston Texans at No. 2 go with one of the top quarterbacks.

That leaves new Cardinals general manager Monti Ossenfort with one of Georgia’s Carter or Alabama’s Anderson to add instant impact to Arizona’s defense.

ESPN’s Mel Kiper Jr. believes that scenario is just fine as far as the Cardinals are concerned, according to his first mock draft of 2023.

New Arizona general manager Monti Ossenfort gets a premium pick to try to improve this roster, and he could luck into a Pro Bowl edge rusher right off the bat. Anderson was a tackle-for-loss machine in college — he had 54 over the past two seasons — and dominated offensive tackles in both the run and pass game. He was unblockable at times against SEC competition. For the Cardinals, who are losing the retired J.J. Watt, he could play some outside linebacker and move around the defense to create mismatches. This would be a home run pick for Ossenfort & Co.

The big asterisk here is the fact that Arizona does not have a head coach, and thus no defensive coordinator, in place.

Might an opinion of that person swing the pendulum in any direction when considering how the new staff will use either Carter or Anderson?

Anderson’s talent appears like it’ll translate regardless of whether it’s a 3-4 or 4-3 defensive front. Carter’s value to Arizona is not in doubt in either scenario, either, considering they lost J.J. Watt and aside from free agent Zach Allen have little reason not to take an interior lineman.

Kiper gives Carter the edge as the No. 1 pick to the Bears in the mock draft because he sits atop the analyst’s big board. While Kiper considered trade-down scenarios for Chicago, he stuck with the team keeping the top selection with its defense in dire need of a boost.

It has to be D all the way for wherever the Bears make their selection. Carter, an explosive interior pass-rusher and run-stuffer, gets the nod over Alabama edge rusher Will Anderson Jr. on my Big Board. He’s the best player in this draft, a Day 1 starter in the middle of this defense.

Then, Kiper has the Texans going with Ohio State quarterback C.J. Stroud.

His initial mock draft is loaded with quarterbacks going around the two defensive standouts in Carter and Anderson.

He has the Indianapolis Colts drafting Alabama quarterback Bryce Young with the fourth overall pick and then the Seattle Seahawks nabbing Kentucky quarterback Will Levis with the No. 5 pick owed to them by the Denver Broncos.

You would think future scenarios of Kiper’s mock could include trade-ups by those teams into the Cardinals’ slot — something Ossenfort said he’ll be open to considering in reality.

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Kiper Jr. finds ‘home run pick’ for Cardinals’ Ossenfort in mock draft