ESPN: Cornerback Max Melton fits into Cardinals’ defensive identity

May 18, 2024, 7:07 AM

Rutgers cornerback Max Melton celebrates...

Defensive back Max Melton #16 of the Rutgers Scarlet Knights celebrates his interception against the Northwestern Wildcats during the second quarter of a college football game at SHI Stadium on September 3, 2023 in Piscataway, New Jersey. (Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images)

(Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images)

The Arizona Cardinals continue to receive praise for drafting cornerback Max Melton at No. 43 during the 2024 NFL Draft because of how he matches what the defense wants to do.

The corner will compete to earn a starting job on the Arizona defense with free-agent acquisition Sean Murphy-Bunting expected to man the other.

Matt Bowen of ESPN thinks the Melton choice was one of five perfect draftee-to-team fits in the second round of the April draft.

Why he fits: Melton has the length and top-end speed (4.39) to lock in as a man coverage defender, either in press or off-man. But I also like the fit in Arizona under coach Jonathan Gannon because of Melton’s ability to play with backfield vision as a zone defender. The Cardinals played a mix of split-safety and single-high zone last season on 63.8% of opponent dropbacks, the 11th most in the league. And Melton can stay on top of routes, read through to the quarterback and get a jump on the ball.

As a former defensive back in the NFL himself, Bowen knows Melton will face challenges as a rookie, but he’ll be playing in a defense led by Gannon and defensive coordinator Nick Rallis that is known for putting its defensive backs in positions to succeed.

He added that the eight interceptions Melton amassed in his last three years at Rutgers will help him earn playing time on the opposite side of Murphy-Bunting.

Melton said at last weekend’s rookie minicamp that his “day-by-day goal is to take it day-by-day, literally,” but the expectations are quickly growing beyond usual for second-round rookies.

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