ESPN's Mel Kiper, Jr. released his second NFL mock draft and pinned Stanford's Jonathan Martin to the Arizona Cardinals with the Birds' first-round pick. Kiper's reasoning:
As I've noted before, Arizona hasn't drafted an offensive lineman before the fifth round since 2007 -- and it's about time. Martin may start on the right side, but he has the physical tools to become the blindside tackle here. Questions remain about what the Cardinals will do at quarterback -- my guess for now is they simply stick with Kevin Kolb and hope that investment pays off -- but there's no question they have to be better up front regardless of who is back there. Martin has a lot of athleticism, is a very good run blocker, and should continue to improve his game.
I respectfully disagree—with the pick, not Kiper's analysis.
I know the consensus is that Arizona needs help on the offensive line, and I agree with the masses.
Heck, everyone knows the offense's production starts with the big guys up front. And ProFootballFocus.com ranked Arizona's offensive line 30th in the league—above only the Bears (31st) and Giants (32nd).
So yeah, the Cardinals need to protect the quarterback better; however, they may already have the tools to do so.
This will take some explaining.
Left tackle Levi Brown was easily the weakest link on the Cardinals offensive line. He gave up 11 sacks—but of Brown's 11 sacks given up, 10 of them came in the first 10 weeks of the season. From Week 12 to Week 17, Brown surrendered only a single sack. In that same period, Brown allowed only eight QB pressures. Those numbers spread over the entire season would have Brown ranked as one of the top offensive linemen in the league.
Right tackle Brandon Keith was the other chink in Arizona's offensive armor. He surrendered five sacks and 24 quarterback pressures. However, Keith allowed three of his five sacks and more than half (14) of his 24 quarterback pressures during the first four weeks of the season. Similar to Brown, Keith improved as the season wore on.
If the tackle position is somewhat secure, the Cardinals can wait on drafting an offensive lineman and go after an immediate impact player.
That would be Baylor's Kendall Wright.
NFL Network's Mike Mayock has Wright as a player to watch at the combine. Mayock believes Wright will run in the 4.3's and improve his draft stock from late to mid-first.
That's where we find the Cardinals. At the 13th pick overall, Arizona could reach for a player Mayock likens to DeSean Jackson.
With Wright able to stretch the field and force safeties to cover the entire field, Fitzgerald would find more room to roam free. Not to mention Kevin Kolb—or John Skelton—would get a much-needed second legitimate playmaker at wide receiver.