Trades up top in Kiper’s latest mock don’t change what Cardinals do

Feb 28, 2023, 8:57 AM
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 draft order in the first version of Mel Kiper Jr.’s 2023 NFL mock draft had the teams hold where they currently sit.

With defensive tackle Jalen Carter and quarterback C.J. Stroud off the board first and second, the ESPN draft expert had the Arizona Cardinals selecting Alabama pass-rusher Will Anderson Jr. with their No. 3 pick.

The second iteration of Kiper’s mock draft hasn’t changed that despite two — yes, two — trades ahead of the Cardinals’ selection.

Anderson, who had 27.5 sacks and 54 tackles for loss over the past two seasons, is an elite edge player who would help new coach Jonathan Gannon’s defense on Day 1. The former Eagles defensive coordinator is known for his ability to scheme up pressure looks, and he would have a blast moving Anderson around the line of scrimmage. Anderson is a complete defender, the type of guy to build a defense around.

The Cardinals ranked 31st in points allowed per game last season (26.4), so Anderson isn’t the only player this unit needs. If I were Arizona general manager Monti Ossenfort, I’d also bring back free agent tackle Zach Allen so Anderson could have some help next to him. Again, though, this is a great way to start for the new regime.

This time around, Kiper has the Chicago Bears trading down from the top spot so the Houston Texans can move from second to first, then Chicago making another trade with the currently fourth-picking Indianapolis Colts, who effectively leap-frog Arizona to draft second.

That has two quarterbacks — Alabama’s Bryce Young and Ohio State’s Stroud — coming off the board and giving the Cardinals their choice of Anderson or Carter.

Perhaps Kiper’s suggestion that the Cardinals should bring back Allen makes Anderson the more supplemental pick.

ESPN’s draft analyst still lists Carter as the top prospect in the draft in his updated big board. He slid ahead of Anderson in December and holds as the top prospect following a strong finish to the season.

Still, Anderson has a strong case to be right with him, according to Kiper.

He is a dominant and complete edge rusher who might have been the No. 1 pick last April if he had been eligible for the draft. Anderson doesn’t take plays off, is versatile and plays the run well. He’s explosive off the line of scrimmage. Nick Saban & Co. used him as a stand-up outside linebacker, as a down defensive end and even at tackle, where he can blow up guards and centers at the snap.

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Trades up top in Kiper’s latest mock don’t change what Cardinals do