If Cardinals trade down, 2023 NFL Draft class offers numerous options
What do the Arizona Cardinals do with the No. 3 pick in the 2023 NFL Draft?
That question continues to circulate as April’s draft rapidly approaches.
Staying at third overall could mean adding a franchise cornerstone like Alabama’s Will Anderson Jr. — if he’s there.
But dealing the third pick would net new Cardinals general manager Monti Ossenfort additional draft capital, which could go a long way given the current state of Arizona’s roster.
As for who might be in the market to move up, just take a look at the numerous quarterback-needy teams behind the Cardinals’ current draft spot. From Nos. 4-19, a total of eight organizations could very well try to swing a deal to nab one of the top signal-calling prospects in the class.
What Arizona does from there is anyone’s guess, with both sides of the line of scrimmage, secondary and receiving corps all needing some work. Taking those areas into account, there are quite a few options that could benefit the Cardinals in their rebuild.
A closer look at some of the prospects to get familiar with from a trading-down standpoint:
– Peter Skoronski, Northwestern
– Paris Johnson, Ohio State
– Broderick Jones, Georgia
Yes, the Cardinals have a need at guard and center, with Will Hernandez and Justin Pugh hitting free agency in addition to Rodney Hudson’s uncertain NFL future.
And while three of the top OL prospects in Skoronski, Johnson and Jones did most of their work on the outside this past season, that doesn’t take them out of the running by any means thanks to the versatility shown in college.
Of those three, Skoronski figures to have the most potential and is being mocked right around the 10th pick while Johnson figures to slide in right behind him.
Despite serving as Northwestern’s starting left tackle the past three seasons, Skoronski has the ability to move throughout the line.
From ESPN’s 2022 preseason evaluation of the lineman:
He does a strong job of latching on and then bringing his feet and hips around on seal blocks. He’s not an overpowering run blocker but almost always gets into great position, stuns with initial contact and has enough technique and lower-body flexibility to get movement with good torque.
And above all else, the dude is a people mover:
Peter Skoronski making defenders disappear…. pic.twitter.com/pDDQAl5uKK
— Cole Cubelic (@colecubelic) August 27, 2022
Johnson on the other hand, started 13 games as a guard in 2021 before moving to tackle this past season. In ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr.’s recent mock draft posted Tuesday, Johnson is projected to go 11th to the Tennessee Titans.
And while Jones had been solely at tackle in his three seasons with Georgia, but could be viewed as a guard option given his size. Jones has been mocked anywhere from No. 15 to No. 31 this offseason and would be a reach within the top 10.
– Christian Gonzalez, Oregon
– Devon Witherspoon, Illinois
– Joey Porter Jr., Penn State
To the secondary we go!
With starters Byron Murphy and Antonio Hamilton impending free agents, Arizona cornerbacks room is rather thin behind Marco Wilson, Christian Matthew and Nate Hairston, who signed a futures deal with the team.
Among the cornerback prospects in the draft class, Gonzalez out of Oregon is one of the most realistic possibilities to consider for Arizona after he recorded four interceptions, seven passes defensed and a sack to go along with 50 tackles.
Projected to go just outside the top 5 in multiple mock drafts, Gonzalez would give Arizona a press corner that can be moved around the secondary if need be. Per PFF, he lined up in the slot (53 snaps), out wide (688) and at safety (two) last season.
And if the Cardinals did come calling, Gonzalez already has a pretty good idea of who to latch onto as he begins his NFL journey.
“It’d be great (working with safety Budda Baker),” Gonzalez told reporters during the 2023 NFL Draft Combine on Thursday. “Him being him, going out there and being able to lead people, that’s one of his great qualities. … Obviously, playing under somebody that’s gone through a lot of things and being able to play at the level he plays from, that would be a great mentor to learn from.”
Gonzalez has only helped his draft stock at the combine, posting a vertical leap of 41.5 inches and a 40-yard dash time of 4.38 seconds to go along with a wingspan of nearly 77 inches.
Witherspoon and Porter are two more names to keep an eye on as both have been mocked within the top 20 in numerous mock drafts, though, either or could be a bit of reach if Arizona gets a top-10 pick in return.
The pair did most of their work along the outside over the course of their college careers.
Defensive line/pass rush
– Tyree Wilson, Texas Tech
– Will McDonald IV, Iowa State
Back to the trenches.
When looking at the defensive line and pass-rushing options the Cardinals have under contract next season, there is room for improvement.
J.J. Watt is well into his retirement after an impressive final season in 2022, Zach Allen is about to hit free agency and should have numerous suitors, while Markus Golden serves as the only known starter on the outside currently rostered for next year.
Reinforcements are definitely needed. Could one of those be Texas Tech edge Tyree Wilson or Iowa State outside linebacker Will McDonald IV?
While they aren’t necessarily in the same tier as Anderson or Georgia’s Jalen Carter, the duo rank right on the edge of the top-10.
Wilson, who told reporters at the combine that he was meeting with Arizona last Wednesday, has been among the names being linked to the Cardinals at No. 3 along with Anderson, Carter and Gonzalez.
“Arizona has a new head coach, new GM and I’d be excited to play for that and start the rebuild of Arizona,” Wilson said.
The edge rusher posted seven sacks, 61 tackles, 14 of which were for losses, to go along with a forced fumble.
Tyree Wilson, DE, Texas Tech pic.twitter.com/mNBKANjdQt
— Peter Schrager (@PSchrags) February 27, 2023
Unfortunately for Arizona, getting a closer look at Wilson on the field will have to wait until his pro day on March 29 as the edge is dealing with a fractured foot.
Recent mock drafts have Wilson going between Nos. 8-12.
McDonald meanwhile turned heads at the combine on Thursday despite reportedly coming down with a 104-degee fever two days prior.
He didn’t let the sickness damper his work, either, posting an 11-foot broad jump and a 36-inch vertical. It shouldn’t come as much of a surprise to many after seeing the pass rusher jump an SUV in the parking lot of State Farm Stadium.
A casual 11'u broad jump and 36"u vertical too.@CycloneFB | @WILL_JUN1OR
📺: #NFLCombine on @nflnetwork
📱: Stream on NFL+ pic.twitter.com/Mls5OdQrSV
— NFL (@NFL) March 2, 2023
McDonald is coming off a productive college career at Iowa State, recording five sacks in 2022 after posting 11.5 and 10.5 the two seasons before that.
In Kiper’s latest mock draft, the Cyclone was projected to go No. 8 overall.
– Zay Flowers, Boston College
– Jordan Addison, USC
– Quentin Johnston, TCU
And lastly, we find ourselves at the wide receiver portion of this exercise.
Those that we know for certain will be back next season include starters Hollywood Brown and Rondale Moore. After those two, though, the murkiness of the receiving corps is evident after A.J. Green’s retirement, the impending free agency of Greg Dortch and Antoine Wesley, plus the potential dealing of undisputed No. 1 option DeAndre Hopkins.
While a move to secure a first-round wideout will largely hinge on what happens with Hopkins, there are three potential targets if Arizona decides to go that route.
Now, drafting a wideout within the first 20 picks is likely a reach. But for our purposes, though, there are a few names to at least consider.
The list starts with Flowers out of Boston College.
While the wideout has the size of a slot receiver — listed at 5-foot-10 and 172 pounds — the wide receiver spent most of his time out wide with the Eagles the past two seasons.
He wrapped up his senior year with 78 receptions for 1,077 yards and 12 touchdowns. He also rushed for 40 yards on 12 carries.
Two more names to keep tabs on are USC’s Addison and TCU’s Johnston.
Addison is coming off a 59-catch, 875-yard and eight-touchdown year with USC in 2022, though, he did deal with an undisclosed lower-body injury. It marked his first season working mostly on the outside after spending his first two college seasons working in the slot for Pittsburgh.
How he performs at the combine could go a long way in letting teams know he’s past the issue.
As for Johnston, the former Horned Frog put up career marks for receptions (60), receiving yards (1,069) and tied his 2021 mark for touchdowns (six).
Coincidentally, the Cardinals already have some tape of Johnston doing his thing in Arizona. In TCU’s semifinal win over Michigan at State Farm Stadium this past December, Johnston racked up six catches for 163 yards and a touchdown living primarily out wide.
Kiper’s recent mock draft has all three wideouts landing in the early-to-mid 20s.