CARDINALS CORNER

Cardinals trade down, address plenty of needs in Matt Miller’s 7-round mock draft

Mar 30, 2024, 6:45 AM | Updated: 7:41 am

Talk of the Arizona Cardinals trading out of the No. 4 overall pick continues to swirl as the NFL Draft approaches.

Denver Broncos head coach Sean Payton only added fuel to the fire at the owners’ meeting on Monday, saying it’s good to be Cardinals general manager Monti Ossenfort this time of year given the interest around the league.

Coincidentally, Payton and the Broncos are exactly who ESPN analyst Matt Miller has moving up for Arizona’s top pick following a run of quarterbacks to kick off his latest seven-round mock draft published Wednesday.

And let’s just say, it’s going to cost Denver some major draft capital to come up and nab Michigan quarterback J.J. McCarthy.

I think it would take something in the realm of pick No. 12, a 2025 first-rounder and a 2026 first-rounder. The deal is molded like the deal the 49ers made in 2021 to move up for Trey Lance, and yes, it’s an expensive trade package. But if Broncos coach Sean Payton lands his quarterback, no one will care much about the cost to move up to get him. The Cardinals, meanwhile, would have multiple first-rounders in 2024, 2025 and 2026.

On one side, that would mean additional draft capital for general manager Monti Ossenfort to work with entering Year 2 on the job.

On the other, Arizona trading out of their top pick would mean an end to the thought of adding Marvin Harrison Jr., who instead heads to the Los Angeles Chargers at No. 5 overall.

Miller, however, takes the Cardinals’ need for a No. 1 wide receiver into account at No. 12 overall, sending LSU’s Brian Thomas to the desert.

After trading back from No. 4, the Cardinals can still land someone who can become a WR1 and be a top-flight downfield target for quarterback Kyler Murray. Thomas led the nation in receiving touchdowns last season (17) and fills a hole with Marquise Brown off to Kansas City in free agency. Thomas’ vertical speed and catch radius would be great for the Cards, who currently have Michael Wilson and Greg Dortch slotted into the two starting receiver spots.

In addition to his 17 touchdowns, Thomas reeled in 68 receptions and 1,177 receiving yards across 13 games last year. At 6-foot-5 and 198 pounds, the wideout would provide Murray and the offense with a big target.

Here’s how the rest of Miller’s mock draft pans out when it comes to the Cardinals:

– No. 27: Graham Barton, IOL (Duke)
– No. 35: Jer’Zhan Newton, DT (Illinois)
– No. 66: Bralen Trice, DE (Washington)
– No. 71: Max Melton, CB (Rutgers)
– No. 90: Jermaine Burton, WR (Alabama)
– No. 104: Mekhi Wingo, DT (LSU)
– No. 138: Ray Davis, RB (Kentucky)
– No. 162: Cedric Gray, LB (North Carolina)
– No. 186: Drake Nugent, C (Michigan)
– No. 226: Javion Cohen, OG (Miami)

Miller didn’t stop at Thomas when it comes to revamping Arizona’s offense in the first round, with the analyst sending Duke interior offensive lineman Graham Barton to the desert at No. 27.

Barton started five games at center in his freshman season before moving to left tackle for the final three years of his college career. The Cardinals would love that versatility and potential inside. Barton allowed three sacks over his final two seasons and has the talent to replace Hjalte Froholdt (currently projected to start) in his rookie season.

Miller’s focus then turns to the defense, using Arizona’s next three picks at multiple positions of need, beginning with the defensive line Illinois defensive tackle Jer’Zhan Newton at No. 35.

The analyst believes Newton, who registered 7.5 sacks and 8.5 tackles for loss last season, is the kind of player the defensive line rotation can run through thanks to “his stunning first-step quickness and nonstop motor.”

As for Nos. 66 and 71, Miller has Washington pass rusher and Arizona native Bralen Trice and Rutgers cornerback Max Melton joining defensive coordinator Nick Rallis and Co.

Trice gives the Cardinals another option at pass rusher and is coming off 16 sacks in the past two seasons combined.

Melton meanwhile is coming off three interceptions, a sack and six passes defensed in 2023. He also posted a 4.39-second 40-yard dash at the NFL Draft Combine. Miller views him as “an ideal nickel for the Cards.”

Rounding out Arizona’s trio of third-round picks is Alabama wide receiver Jermaine Burton at No. 90.

I’ll say it again: Wide receivers and corners are the priorities in this draft for Arizona. Burton is a possession receiver with 4.45 speed and 23 career receiving touchdowns.

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