The Arizona Cardinals showed that they're not far removed from a winning season. In 2011, the Cardinals came this close to having a playoff berth. Several of Arizona's games were decided by a single play in the final minutes of the game.
With a dominant defensive attack orchestrated by defensive coordinator Ray Horton, the Cardinals need but a few pieces to dominate the NFC West and be a legitimate playoff contender.
The Arizona front office will have to lock up Calais Campbell and then set their sights on making the most of the 2012 draft.
Last year, the Cardinals brass did a fine job with their draft selections—Patrick Peterson (1st), Sam Acho (4th) and David Carter (6th) were all solid contributors during their rookie campaigns, while running back Ryan Williams (2nd) showed promise before succumbing to injury.
Similar success can be expected from the organization in April.
Follow along as I transform your chair into a front row seat at Radio City Music Hall; the date is April 26—the Cardinals are on the clock.
The Arizona Cardinals will have a plethora of talented options at the 13th spot of the 2012 NFL draft. The Cardinals will have to decide whether to go with a second wide receiver to fill the gaping hole opposite Larry Fitzgerald, or put a stop-gap to the leaky offensive line that plagued the 2011 season.
The market for free agent wide receivers will be heavily saturated this year; there's no need to reach for a wideout in the early rounds of the draft. Arizona should have Robert Meachem or Mario Manningham on their roster sometime in mid-March (free agency begins March 13 at 4:00 p.m. ET).
Common targets for the Cardinals in early NFL mock drafts have Jonathan Martin or Riley Reiff landing on Arizona's roster the first day of the draft—Matt Kalil will be wearing a St. Louis Rams hat after the second pick of the draft.
It's obvious the Cardinals need to address their offensive line. But they also need to consider that they don't have a second round pick in the 2012 draft (sent to the Eagles with the Kevin Kolb trade). To remedy this crippling circumstance, Arizona will need to trade down and acquire a second round pick.
A likely suitor for the Cardinals will be the Cleveland Browns. The Browns have the fourth overall selection this year and will likely take quarterback Robert Griffin III.
The Browns also have the No. 22 pick (from Atlanta) in the first round. The Browns could trade up to the No. 13 spot and take Kendall Wright, RG III's most talented weapon at Baylor. Pairing the duo in the pros would assure consistency and timing between the two.
At the No. 22 spot, the Cardinals will be able to acquire Mike Adams of The Ohio State University. Adams is the prototypical left tackle at 6'6" 320lbs. with long arms. He's a tall, athletic lineman that could step in right away and help the Cardinals passing attack.
The drop-off of talent between Stanford's Jonathan Martin and Adams is insignificant, and Arizona will be able to pick up a second round selection in the process.
By trading down with the Browns, the Cardinals will be able to pick No. 36 overall. Otherwise, the Cardinals would have to wait until pick 76 before they were able to draft another player.
Option 1: Strong Safety
And assuming the Cardinals land a top free agent wide receiver, Arizona will look to shore up the safety spot that was inundated with injuries. Adrian Wilson played with a partially torn right bicep and Kerry Rhodes suffered from a broken left foot much of the season that appeared to be re-aggravated in the Cardinals' Dec. 24 game against the Bengals.
With Wilson aging (32), Arizona will need to provide a talented replacement. Strong safety Mark Barron of the Alabama Crimson Tide is that option.
If Barron falls to the second round, he will be a steal for the Cardinals at the No. 36 pick. Barron is being viewed as the top-ranked safety in the 2012 draft.
Option 2: Wide Receiver
In the event the Cardinals don't secure the services of a legit No. 2 wide receiver in free agency, then they will have to turn to a rookie for help.
At the No. 36 position, the Cardinals can fill the Grand Canyon-sized hole they have at the No. 2 wide receiver position by selecting LSU's Rueben Randle.
The talented wide receiver will be an immediate upgrade over Andre Roberts and Early Doucet. At 6'4" Randle is a taller target than Roberts (5'11") and Doucet (6'0").
Randle has a rare combination of size and speed that will draw defenders away from Larry Fitzgerald.
Arizona's offensive tackles Levi Brown and Brandon Keith accounted for a total of 16 of the Cardinals' 31 sacks and a combined 64 quarterback pressures. The tackle position was Arizona's Achilles' heel in 2011.
Auburn's Brandon Mosley will be a solid third round pick with tremendous upside.
Mosley is 6'5" 305lbs. and played right tackle at Auburn so he's familiar with the right side.
Arizona's offensive line is in dismal shape and the Cardinals have the chance to solidify the tackle position by selecting two offensive linemen with their first three picks.
Rookie outside linebacker Sam Acho solidified his position with an outstanding inaugural season. Pittsburgh's Brandon Lindsey may do the same for the Cardinals in 2012.
Clark Haggans manned the other side of the linebacker corps opposite Acho. And having turned 35 years old last week, Haggans' position will need to be addressed.
While Haggans may have another season left in the tank, Lindsey will provide rotational help to keep Haggans fresh and allow the rookie to learn the position.
Adrian Wilson will turn 33 during the 2012 season and backup strong safety Hamza Abdullah has shown little to impress. Abdullah will also be 29 years old and playing in his 9th season in the NFL in 2012.
Strong safety Sean Cattouse out of California will inject youth into the position for Arizona.
And at 6'3" 218lbs., Cattouse won't force the Cards to take a hit at a big, physical safety. The Cardinals have gotten used to Wilson essentially providing them with an extra linebacker on the field.
Inside linebacker is another position plagued by an aging vet for the Cardinals.
Paris Lenon has played all 32 games for Arizona since arriving in the desert. But at age 34, the Cardinals need to bring youth to the position.
Inside linebacker Jerry Franklin from Arkansas can fill the inevitable void.
Daryl Washington locked down one of the inside linebacker positions by his stellar play during the 2011 season. Washington will need a cohort to play alongside him. Colossal free agent bust Stewart Bradley hasn't shown any promise to be that guy.
At 6'1" 245lbs. with 4.5 speed, Franklin will fit pleasantly into defensive coordinator Ray Horton's attack. Franklin will provide a thumper at linebacker to stop the NFC West's power running backs, while Horton uses Washington to hound quarterbacks.
The defensive end position for the Cardinals is rock solid. Arizona picking up a defensive end like Derek Wolfe from the University of Cincinnati would be a pick to give the team depth at the position.
Calais Campbell and Darnell Dockett are an impressive duo and will provide the Cardinals with highlights for the next several years.
Arizona would be wise, though, to select a young defensive end like Wolfe whom they can groom. Wolfe would be able to learn from two of the better ends in the league, making his transition into the NFL seamless.