The Arizona Cardinals received high-praise from multiple NFL analysts for their selection of Ole Miss defensive tackle Robert Nkemdiche in the first-round Thursday night. After amassing only 36 sacks in 2015, tied for No. 20 in the league, drafting Nkemdiche should help that area.
Other areas the Cardinals will look to address in the draft will be depth in the secondary, outside linebacker and center.
Arizona does not currently have a second-round pick and won’t select a player until No. 92 in the third-round. UCLA outside linebacker Myles Jack, arguably the most talented player in the draft, will likely be taken before the Cardinals select again. Jack’s stock dropped considerably with the issues surrounding his recovering torn meniscus.
The Cardinals could look at safeties T.J. Green out of Clemson and Vonn Bell from Ohio State. According to SB Nation’s Spencer York, Green is a tremendous athlete and can play multiple positions. However, York mentions that Green will be a project for whichever team drafts him, but concludes the Cardinals should take a flier on him.
T.J. Green is a raw athlete that can be molded into a force of nature. Because of his athleticism, particularly his speed, teams have been able to overlook some of his more glaring faults and some mock drafts have Green rising all the way into the back end of the first round. He has so many visits scheduled with teams that he had to turn some down because his schedule was so full. For a player that was originally thought to be a late round pick at best, that rise is insane.
Green has been mocked to the Cardinals in a mock draft or two and I think that the Cardinals would be a great fit for him. He would be able to play with some young defensive backs (Peterson, Mathieu) that are at the top of their game. Green wouldn’t be forced to start right away so he could develop under the wing of some of the game’s young defensive stars.
Bell was NFL analyst Mike Mayock’s No. 2 safety heading into the draft, behind West Virginia’s Karl Joseph. With Joseph being taken by the Oakland Raiders at pick No. 14, Bell now becomes the best available safety. The Cardinals will most likely have to trade into the second round in order to have a shot at drafting the former Ohio State player, but it could be worth it.
NFL.com draft analysis highlighted Bell’s ability to cover man-to-man and great instincts and reaction time. Bell was a major contributor in Ohio State’s championship season in 2014, generating 92 tackles and six interceptions. The knock on the 21-year-old is that his speed isn’t anything special, and Bell told reporters at the NFL combine that he was lazy playing against the run in college.
Another interesting prospect is USC’s Su’a Cravens. Cravens played linebacker during his time at USC and is coming into the draft listed as an outside linebacker, but could transition to the safety position. The Cardinals are familiar with converting player positions, doing the opposite with Deone Bucannon.
A former NFL general manager told NFL.com that Cravens is “fun to watch because he processes quickly like an NFL linebacker and then just fires into the play.” The USC product won the USA Today National High School Defensive Player of the Year in 2012, as well as earning third team AP All-American and first-team All-Pac-12 in 2014 and 2015.
While Cravens may be fun to watch, he is susceptible in trying to do too much on a play instead of committing the smart tackle. However, Cravens could be a safety/linebacker hybrid similar to Bucannon, essentially killing to birds with one stone in terms of addressing team needs for the Cardinals.
Plays with a unique lens that includes his time at the safety position as a freshman. Teams focusing on putting a ‘tweener’ label on him could be making a huge mistake considering his competitive nature and toughness. Cravens was highly disruptive and productive in each of his three seasons as a starter thanks to his tools/traits to act on his instincts. Cravens will help on special teams immediately and could become an early starter for a 4-3 defense looking for a play-making weak-side linebacker.
The biggest need for the Cardinals heading into next season is to continue to protect quarterback Carson Palmer. Last year’s starting center, Lyle Sendlein, is still a free agent, and recent reports suggest that the 32-year-old may be retiring. That leaves A.Q. Shipley as the only center on the team.
Arizona might look hard at center Evan Boehm out of Missouri. Boehm was one of the top offensive linemen recruits coming out of high school, and started 52 straight games for Missouri in his collegiate career. Boehm generates unique power from center and is able to adjust quickly to A-gap blitzes. An NFC west executive told NFL.com that Boehm is ‘tough as nails’ and possesses leadership at the center position.
Although Boehm has the ability to read blitzes quickly to adjust, his body structure hold him back. He doesn’t have very much arm length at 31 5/8 inches, so while he may possess upper body power at the point of attack, establishing that early position against a defensive lineman might be difficult.
Four-year starter with outstanding power at the point of attack with an ability to create running lanes through sheer brute force. Boehm’s squatty frame may cause some evaluators to hesitate, but offensive line coaches will fall in love with his instincts, power, leadership and durability. Boehm has a chance to be an early starter for a team looking for power and leadership in the middle of their line.
The Cardinals won’t pick until No. 92 of the third-round Friday night in Chicago, and have five total picks remaining in the draft.