NFL Draft ’14: Taking a closer look at offseason needs for the Arizona Cardinals
For the second straight year, Seth Cox of TSHQ.co will be providing exclusive NFL Draft coverage for ArizonaSports.com. Seth will focus on the needs for the Arizona Cardinals and the prospects that fit into the Cards’ scheme. He’ll also be providing full Cardinals mock drafts, first round mocks for the rest of the NFL and keep an eye on draft prospects from ASU and Arizona.
There’s not much question in terms of what the Arizona Cardinals needs are heading into the 2014 offseason.
Why? Well, general manager Steve Keim outlined them nicely on Newsmakers Week with Doug and Wolf on Arizona Sports 98.7 FM.
“We want to get longer and more athletic at safety,” Keim explained to the guys, “We want to do some things that offset the tight ends that we have to face every week.”
That obviously isn’t coming from the players on the roster right now.
While the Cardinals, fans and pundits all loved what Tyrann Mathieu did in his rookie season, only about 15% of his snaps came from a true free safety position.
Add to that the fact that Mathieu is the definition of undersized at the position, and you can see why the Cardinals could be looking to get bigger help on the back end — they want need someone who can cover tight ends.
There is plenty of help in that realm in free agency and the first three rounds of the NFL Draft, but the positions of need outlined by Keim didn’t stop there.
Keim continued on with Doug and Wolf, “We want to get physical on both sides of the line, we’ve talked about our never ending challenge of trying to improve our offensive line and that’s something that we’ll focus on this off season.”
The question becomes where do they need to improve on the offensive line?
The easy answer is obviously left tackle, but drafting at 20 won’t lend itself to having a bevy of choices for “franchise” left tackles. Hell, drafting at seven last year was too low, but the numbers and tape tell a story of needed upgrades everywhere.
When graded amongst their peers, only left guard Daryn Colledge finished in the top half, 39th out of 81 using the 25 percent snaps played barrier, and Lyle Sendlein was the next closest, grading out as the 18th-best center out of 35 qualifiers.
The sad part is their combined salary next year is over $11 million, and is nearly $7 million in dead money against the cap.
The Cardinals will have AT LEAST one new starter on the offensive line, as Jonathan Cooper, health willing, will be penciled in at LG, but there are four other spots along the offensive line that you can say need upgraded.
The draft offers interesting names at right tackle, guard and center, but the question remains, is there an answer at the left tackle position in the draft? Well, at least one that will be available when the Cardinals make their selection.
The interesting part becomes the comment about the defensive line, as Calais Campbell has become the second best player at his position in the NFL and Darnell Dockett seemed to find his game in the back half of the season.
Dockett’s issue is his salary doesn’t quite meet with his production any longer, which is understandable for a guy at Dockett’s age that has missed only two games in his career. But there are young, explosive players in the draft that could likely come in and give you the same production as Dockett at a fraction of the price.
At nose tackle, the Cardinals have Dan Williams in a contract year and Alameda Ta’amu coming off an ACL tear, so adding depth and young talent wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world.
The interesting one, and the least surprising with Bruce Arians at head coach, is the desire to add speed at the wide receiver position, as well as a pass rusher.
Arians likely has his eyes on a specific group of players. last year the Cardinals allegedly had those eyes on Marquise Goodwin but he didn’t make it to round four, and that caused the Cardinals to take a chance on Ryan Swope.
That didn’t work, so it’s back to the drawing board to find that speed receiver.
While most, if not all of the fans would raise an eyebrow if the Cardinals went wide receiver in the first round again, there are receivers throughout the draft that will fill the void of a true deep threat on the roster.
Pass rusher is a bit different, and much more understandable.
While the Cardinals drafted Alex Okafor, have Sam Acho and Lorenzo Alexander coming back from injury and have John Abraham coming off an 11.5-sack, Pro Bowl-type year, he is going to be 36 when the season starts. Abraham had all of his sacks in seven games, while producing a half a sack in the last three games of the season.
The 2014 pass rusher class is an intriguing one.
Outside of South Carolina’s Jadeveon Clowney and Buffalo’s Khalil Mack, there isn’t much of a “sure thing”.
UCLA’s Anthony Barr was the hottest name in the draft circles coming into the season, but there wasn’t much growth in his second season at linebacker.
BYU’s Kyle Van Noy, Stanford’s Trent Murphy and Carl Bradford of Arizona State all played 3-4 outside linebacker in college, but there are questions whether their games translate to being able to produce the same kind of pass rushing results that they did in college.
The two names to look at and names that will be bandied about amongst mock drafters, for possible fits at the 20th pick will be Auburn’s Dee Ford and Georgia Tech’s Jeremiah Attaochu.
Ford is the more compact and athletic pass rusher, and displayed that at the Senior Bowl, where he continually beat the offensive tackles like a drum rep after rep, turning heads.
Attaochu was the complete opposite, as he was almost hidden during Senior Bowl week and lined up all over the defensive side of the ball.
Ranking the needs based off what Keim said the Cardinals are looking for:
1. Offensive line – The Cardinals need help across the entire offensive line, and while Jonathan Cooper is coming back, there are still four other positions that could be upgraded as well.
2. Pass rusher – While the Cardinals have a plethora of outside linebackers, they lack a true, consistent pass rushing threat off the edge that will make everyone’s job easier. This draft is full of that type of player.
3. Safety – Free Agency and the draft will give the Cardinals the option to find the long, athletic safety they are looking for.
4. Defensive line – While adding depth and young talent in the later rounds would be ideal, if the Cardinals want to, there will be some very intriguing options on day one and two.
5. Wide receiver – HELLO, SPEED!