A Cardinals pre-draft guide: Departures, additions and needs
Apr 24, 2023, 11:31 AM | Updated: 12:17 pm
(Photo by Chris Coduto/Getty Images)
It’s already been an offseason full of decisions for the Arizona Cardinals, from the front office down to the field.
And with the 2023 NFL Draft on the horizon, the job is far from slowing down anytime soon for new general manager Monti Ossenfort.
But before we get to the nitty gritty of the draft, let’s get a quick refresh on the departures, arrivals and overall needs this team still has ahead of Round 1 in Kansas City:
– DL Zach Allen (Broncos)
– CB Byron Murphy Jr. (Vikings)
– LB Ben Niemann (Titans)
– DL Michael Dogbe (Jaguars)
– LB Kamu Grugier-Hill (Panthers)
– WR Chosen Anderson (Dolphins)
– OL Josh Miles (Falcons)
– DL Trysten Hill (Browns)
– OL Cody Ford (Bengals)
In terms of the toughest free-agency losses the Cardinals have endured this offseason, Allen and Murphy take the cake.
But Allen’s departure hurts Arizona the most.
Really coming into his own in Year 4, Allen recorded 5.5 sacks, 10 tackles for loss, eight passes defensed and 35 total pressures in 13 games played. He had the added bonus of learning from one of the best to ever do it in J.J. Watt.
The Cardinals already entered the offseason knowing they would be down at least one sack machine in newly retired Watt. Now with Allen out of the mix, it’s a complete revamp of the defensive line and no clear avenue when it comes to getting to the quarterback.
Murphy on the other hand provided some stability in the secondary up until this past season when back issues limited him to a career-low nine games played. Before 2022, the cornerback had appeared in at least 15 games in each of his first three NFL seasons.
Losing a homegrown talent like Murphy stings. The Cardinals, however, have two starting-caliber cornerbacks in Marco Wilson and Antonio Hamilton.
Can the same be said for the defensive line?
It’ll be interesting to see just how first-year head coach Jonathan Gannon and new defensive coordinator Nick Rallis fill holes.
– LB Kyzir White
– QB Jeff Driskel
– WR Zach Pascal
– DL L.J. Collier
– OL Hjalte Froholdt
– CB Kris Boyd
– OL Dennis Daley
– DL Kevin Strong
– LB Josh Woods
– DL Carlos Watkins
– CB Rashad Fenton
– S Jovante Moffatt
– OL Elijah Wilkinson
– LB Krys Barnes
– OL Jackson Barton
If we’re talking swimming pool metaphors, the Cardinals are jumping in the shallow end with the least amount of splashes this offseason.
It’s a tough but necessary evil for a roster that needs some overturning following the last regime.
The word “rebuild” carries a negative connotation in sports for a reason.
Still, there are a few signings that could have Cardinals fans excited come game day, one being linebacker Kyzir White.
Coming over from the Philadelphia Eagles where he served under Gannon and Rallis, White already has a strong familiarity with what is expected of him within the defense.
If he puts up the numbers he did last season — 110 tackles, 1.5 sacks, seven passes defensed, three QB hits — the linebacker should be an important piece to the operation.
The addition of White could also benefit MIKE backer Zaven Collins, who took a clear step forward this past season and will work closely with the former Eagle in 2023.
Where do you want to start?
The Cardinals need help at multiple positions, beginning on both sides of the line of scrimmage.
The defensive line has been mangled this offseason thanks to the departures of Watt and Allen, who combined for 18 sacks, 15 passes defensed and 45 QB hits last season. Half of the team’s 36 sacks from a year ago are off the board.
Move out to outside linebacker and the needs continue for Arizona.
After cutting Markus Golden this offseason, the Cardinals currently have Dennis Gardeck, Myjai Sanders, Cam Thomas and Victor Dimukeje as their options at OLB. As rookies, Sanders and Thomas flashed behind three sacks apiece. More experience should help them as they progress, but that could take time.
And despite his impressive 10-game stint in 2020 — seven sacks, 10 QB hits — Gardeck has yet to get back to that type of production as he’s dealt with injury and limited defensive snaps.
On the flip side of the trenches, Arizona is still without a clear-cut answer at center and could use some more depth at guard.
Froholdt could be short-term answer in the middle of the line, but after what we all saw last season with the aging Rodney Hudson is that the Cardinals need a young center that is going to stick around for a while.
As for the guard spots, Arizona has Will Hernandez returning to the right side. As for the left? That’s up for debate, with Dennis Daley, Lecitus Smith and Elijah Wilkinson among those who could compete for prominent roles.
Then we turn to the secondary.
It’s no secret the Cardinals could use another body or two at cornerback following the departure of Murphy. But after Budda Baker’s surprise trade request, safety is another position to keep tabs on.
Arizona has Jalen Thompson locked up and signed Jovante Moffatt this offseason in addition to inking JuJu Hughes and Josh Thomas to future deals. Jalen Thompson is still under contract but finding him a running mate if/when Baker’s request is fulfilled is going to be an important piece to the puzzle.
Another one of those what-ifs within Arizona’s roster comes from the wide receiver room.
As of Monday, the makeup of DeAndre Hopkins, Hollywood Brown, Rondale Moore, Zach Pascal and Greg Dortch is nothing to scoff at.
But if Hopkins is dealt out of the desert — which seems very likely — the Cardinals will undoubtedly be in the market for a No. 1 pass catcher that can keep defenses honest. Easier said than done.