Aaron Colvin of Oklahoma (bottom) defends a pass in practice.
The Arizona Cardinals need to focus on three key areas for the upcoming NFL draft. Those areas are offensive tackle, outside linebacker and cornerback. The Cardinals don’t have much room under the salary cap, according to Spotrac, so the draft carries extra importance.
The Spotrac data doesn't include the signing of punter Dave Zastudil to a two-year contract earlier this week. Terms of Zastudil's deal were undisclosed.
The offensive tackle is an Arizona need. Right tackle Eric Winston is set to become a free agent. Bradley Sowell filled in at left tackle after Levi Brown was shipped to Pittsburgh but may not be a long-term solution.
Arizona needs additional support at outside linebacker since Pro Bowl linebacker John Abraham is aging. It would also serve to be a great complement to the inside linebackers in Arizona’s 3-4 scheme to get a strong edge-rusher.
The Cardinals have needs at cornerback with Antoine Cason, Javier Arenas and Yeremiah Bell set to be free agents. The team might be looking for a long-term player to start opposite Pro Bowl cornerback Patrick Peterson. A rookie cornerback could be the answer.
We’ll take a look at two or three players at each of these positions and give updates. Start the slideshow below and we’ll jump right in with offensive tackles.
Michael Schofield has drawn praise this week, according to Mike Huguenin on NFL.com. Schofield has gone a little under the radar when more attention was paid to fellow lineman Taylor Lewan this season.
Schofield played his first two years at Michigan as a guard before moving out to right tackle in his junior and senior seasons. He’s drawn praise from Mike Mayock who said,
I thought he stoned everybody in the [1-on-1] drill. Now, he's a right tackle only, in my opinion. They tried him at guard. Right tackle only is not a good thing to be in the NFL unless you're a starter. I think he has the potential to be a starting right tackle.
With positive reviews and a solid week of practice, Schofield’s draft stock will rise. The only question is how high can it rise. Arizona has needs at both tackle positions, and Schofield might fill that need.
Seantrel Henderson has made waves this week in practice. It’s hard not to when you stand 6'7", weigh 331 pounds with nimble feet, fluid hips and low body fat. His on-field performance has been disappointing, according to Andy Staples of Sports Illustrated.
Henderson went to Miami as one of the best offensive tackle prospects in several years, according to Staples. He hasn’t shown much punch trying to stop oncoming pass-rushers in practice. With his size, athleticism and the right kind of coaching, he could be a mid-draft bargain. Henderson has told NFL teams about his marijuana use, according to Huguenin.
His honesty is a plus. Henderson was suspended three times for marijuana use while at Miami. If he can put that behind him, a la Tyrann Mathieu, that would help his value.
It’s difficult to project where Henderson could go, according to Staples. The Cardinals might have to keep their collective ears open during the draft for his name.
Ja'Wuan James has been making positive waves. He is an under-the-radar prospect, according to Gil Brandt of NFL.com. James stands 6'6.125" inches and 315 pounds.
He made 49 career starts at Tennessee at right tackle, which bodes well for his performance and durability. Being in the SEC, he also faced tough competition each week. He would face a similar situation if Arizona drafted him, and he played in the difficult NFC West.
Brandt thinks James could project into the third round of the draft if he continues to have a solid week in Mobile.
We'll shift our focus to the linebacker position on the next slide.
Van Noy (3) tries to tackle a Texas running back.
Kyle Van Noy of Brigham Young University has received a lot of positive press this week. He was another one of Brandt’s under-the-radar guys at the start of the week. Van Noy is certainly pinging on many scouting radars now.
Rob Rang of CBSSports.com wrote that Van Noy is more effective because he does the little things right. Van Noy might not impress with his size and speed, but his subtlety makes him surprisingly effective.
Rang thinks Van Noy is one of the linebackers who is the most ready to make the jump to the NFL level. He could be a nice fit for Arizona at that position to complement Daryl Washington, John Abraham and Karlos Dansby—assuming Dansby re-signs with the team.
Bucky Brooks of NFL.com was also high on Van Noy so the praise is coming in quickly for him.
Jeremiah Attaochu of Georgia Tech was also given praise by Rang. Attaochu was primarily a stand-up linebacker for the Yellow Jackets. This week in Mobile, he’s been lined up at multiple positions, including inside linebacker and a little bit of defensive end.
The knock on him is he occasionally looks out of water on pass coverage. Attaochu makes up for it by excelling in rush defense and blitzing the quarterback. He could be the complementary edge-rusher Arizona is seeking.
His versatility would make him more valuable, and Arizona could look for him if Dansby leaves the team in free agency.
Our focus shifts to the cornerbacks on the next slide.
Everyone quickly learned his name when he ran back the missed field goal in the Iron Bowl to give Auburn an upset of Alabama. Despite the buzz around that play, Chris Davis Jr. can still stand out as a cover cornerback.
James Crepea of USA Today wrote that he had a solid season with 74 tackles and 15 passes defensed. While he measures a little short at 5'9.75", he plays larger than his size. Davis was also quoted as saying he thinks he’s a "four-down player."
He’s pretty good on kick returns too. Arizona might need a kick returner after Javier Arenas is set to be a free agent. The team might not want to have Patrick Peterson return kicks so Davis might get a chance in that role if Arizona picks him.
Aaron Colvin was a player who was going to get a long look by most teams in need of a cornerback. That was the plan until he tore his ACL Tuesday.
His draft stock took a significant hit, and he might be a late-round flier. There’s also a realistic chance he might go undrafted because of it. It would be tough to come back from a torn ACL at this time of the year and be ready for the start of the season.
It’s a tough break for Colvin, but it also leads into the final part of the slideshow.
Several players turned down invitations to the Senior Bowl, citing the risk of injury. The other reason given was players not wanting to risk a poor performance, which could lower their draft stock.
University of Buffalo linebacker Khalil Mack didn’t go to Mobile, citing both of those reasons. Mark Gaughan of The Buffalo News reported this. The article also listed several other healthy scratches.
Texas A&M tackle Jake Matthews, viewed as a sure-fire top-five pick, is the most prominent senior to sit out the game. The other healthy scratches were: cornerbacks Darqueze Dennard of Michigan State, Justin Gilbert of Oklahoma State and Lamarcus Joyner of Florida State; linebackers C.J. Mosley of Alabama and Shane Skov of Stanford; running back Carlos Hyde of Ohio State; and quarterback A.J. McCarron of Alabama.
Most of the players on that list would have made for solid targets for the Cardinals to observe and interview had they accepted the invitation.
It will be interesting to see how those players factor into the NFL draft. Between the seniors and the record-number of eligible underclassmen, this shapes up to be one of the deepest drafts in recent memory.
Time will tell if the Cardinals can make the right picks and help shore up these three key positions.