The Arizona Cardinals have begun a new era after another disappointing season for the franchise. In 2013, there has been plenty of turnover occurring within the roster and the coaching staff. Former Colts and Steelers offensive coordinator Bruce Arians is now the new head sheriff in town, and Kevin Kolb was released by the team after two disappointing seasons.
Now, the task of rebuilding this team has become much more difficult as the NFC West continued to improve this offseason. The San Francisco 49ers added veterans in Anquan Boldin and Phil Dawson, cementing themselves as the early favorite to win the division next year. The Seattle Seahawks have been extremely active in free agency trading for Percy Harvin and signing Cliff Avil, while the St. Louis Rams upgraded their offensive line by adding Jake Long and tight end Jared Cook to the mix.
With the seventh overall pick in the draft, the Cardinals will have a few realistic options to consider. While the offensive line is a major concern, the quarterback situation is questionable despite signing Drew Stanton a few weeks ago.
What directions will the Cardinals head in during the upcoming draft? Here are some of the distinct possibilities.
1. Offensive Guard
When looking at the likely options for the Cardinals at the seventh overall pick, they will have an opportunity to significantly improve their offensive line by drafting one of the marquee guards in this class.
Jonathan Cooper, a standout for the UNC Tarheels, has emerged as one of the more valuable draft assets in this year's class. He has proven to be a fantastic pass-protecter who displays impressive athleticism for a lineman at 6'2" 311 pounds. His run-blocking skills are pretty adequate as well, though there are clearly signs for improvement.
One must also recognize the other elite prospect in this draft in Chance Warmack. Warmack has certainly more appeal to the average fan, as he dominated elite defenses when he was at his best. While his pass protection doesn't compare to Cooper, Warmack is a mauling run-blocker that has shown the lateral agility to take out linebackers in open space (see the 2013 National Championship Game).
He also has shown to be more of a durable lineman than Cooper and started 40 games for the Crimson Tide. Nick Saban has shown that his style of football prepares many of his players for future success in the NFL. Warmack may certainly join that list.
2. Offensive Tackle
It has been established that the offensive line is a concern for the Cardinals, no matter who will be playing behind center next season. The left tackle position could use an upgrade, as Bobby Massie is best suited to be on the right side of the offensive line.
In terms of prospects, Luke Joeckel and Eric Fisher have set themselves apart from the rest of the draft class. Both are viewed as elite pass-protectors and run-blockers who can step in right away. The dream scenario for the Cardinals is for one of them to fall to the seventh pick, but I don't believe both will last past the Lions at No. 5.
Thus, former Oklahoma Sooners tackle Lane Johnson comes into play. Johnson displays quality pass-protection skills and above-average run blocking skills. However, he still displays trouble using the proper technique when dealing with athletic pass-rushers. Once a tight end and defensive end, he is still learning to improve his craft.
Overall, Johnson is a solid prospect, but is more likely to be drafted much higher due to the need for offensive lineman.
As the Cardinals continue their search for their future franchise quarterback, the question ultimately becomes whether the answer is in this draft.
Personally, I see no prospect that is worth taking that high in the first round. Geno Smith lacks the accuracy and strong arm strength that makes him a worthwhile selection, and his athleticism does not compare in anyway to Robert Griffin III or Russell Wilson.
He is not meant to be a threat with the read option, and his passing ability is not worthy of Arizona's position in the draft.
The Cardinals appear to have interest in Matt Barkley, but it's tough to see what makes him a potential first-round selection. His regression during his senior year is stunning, especially with the talented receivers of Marquise Lee and Robert Woods at his disposal.
Barkley doesn't display much arm strength, and his inability to be mobile inside the pocket should be concerning for a team that doesn't have a quality offensive line to begin with.
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