Previewing What the Cardinals Will Be Looking for at the Scouting Combine
The annual NFL Scouting Combine is next weekend in Indianapolis, and the Arizona Cardinals will be busy looking at plenty of players. The team has only six picks in May's NFL draft, so it has to make each one count.
Head coach Bruce Arians and general manager Steve Keim are going to work through a talent pool of more than 300 prospects who have been invited to Indianapolis. Workout results are going to be important, but interviews will also play a key role in shaping Arizona's desire to draft certain prospects.
A decision about whom to take an extended look at can yield the right results. Start the slideshow below, and see what Arizona needs to focus on.
1. Offensive Linemen
The Cardinals will be seeking help on the offensive line, and the draft is a great place to find it. Right tackle Eric Winston is set to be a free agent. Bradley Sowell is regarded as a depth player at left tackle and not a full-time starter. Sowell was pressed into service after Levi Brown was traded to Pittsburgh midseason.
Guard Daryn Colledge could be a salary-cap casualty with a cap hit of more than $7 million next season. The Cardinals will get Jonathan Cooper back for 2014 after he broke his leg in the 2013 preseason. Cooper was going to be the starting left guard until his injury occurred.
With the potential for multiple holes in the offensive line, this will be the biggest area of focus for the Cardinals at the combine.
2. Tight Ends
Arizona has been ineffective with the tight end in the passing game for the last few years. Players like Jimmy Graham, Vernon Davis and Rob Gronkowski are tearing it up from the position. Arizona has Rob Housler, and he scored his first touchdown of his three-year career this season.
The Cardinals need to find a tight end to help with blocking but also contribute in the passing offense. A tight end who can chip in that way would help to pull the coverage off Larry Fitzgerald. It would also open up the running game as well by drawing a defender away from the box.
Jace Amaro and Eric Ebron are highly regarded tight ends. But would Arizona spend a first-round pick on that position given the holes in the offensive line?
It's a tough question to answer now. Thankfully, the Cardinals have a couple months to decide.
3. The Next Franchise Quarterback
Carson Palmer's contract runs out after this season. Arizona has little proven depth behind him in Drew Stanton and Ryan Lindley. It's worth taking a look at the quarterbacks who could fall to the middle rounds for a potential future franchise signal-caller.
We can't predict who could be available in the third or fourth round. That might be where Arizona pulls the trigger if it decides to go that route.
Palmer is coming off his fourth career 4,000-yard season, so it's not an urgent need for 2014. Uncertainty at the quarterback position in 2015 is something Arizona could try to address at the draft.
It never hurts to look given the big picture at the position.
4. A Place-Kicker
Jay Feely (pictured) is set to be a free agent, and the Cardinals need a kicker. This could be one of those sixth-round picks if the team feels it met other needs with its first five picks.
Kicker is one of those positions where you can potentially sign one player and not have to worry about it for a few years. This becomes especially important if the rules change surrounding extra points. It's such a specialized position that you really can't take anyone and try to cross-train him.
Kickers are seldom drafted, but the need has arisen at this time. Drafting one could save Arizona a few bucks under the salary cap, which can help the long-term financial health of the team.
5. Defensive Line Depth
Arizona has a solid group of starters on the defensive line in Darnell Dockett, Calais Campbell and Dan Williams in the team's 3-4 scheme. Behind them, Arizona has little depth on the roster. This could be a fast-rising priority for the team as Dockett and Campbell are set to count for $20 million against the cap.
The Cardinals also have to contend with Alameda Ta'amu recovering from torn knee ligaments in the season finale against San Francisco. He was the backup nose tackle and made a few key plays this season. Whether he's ready for the start of the 2014 season will play a role in the decision-making process.
The combine should reveal players to target in the middle rounds in this area. The higher priorities of offensive linemen and tight ends could push this need to the third or fourth round.
6. Defensive Backs Who Can Start
The Cardinals are thin in the secondary heading into 2014. Patrick Peterson is a fixture there. Tyrann Mathieu is recovering from a torn ACL, and it's unknown when he will be ready to go in 2014.
Antoine Cason, Yeremiah Bell and Javier Arenas are all set to be free agents. Pro Bowler Justin Bethel is a special teams ace but doesn't get too many snaps in pass coverage.
There are a lot of holes to fill back there, and it would be tough to get them all taken care of in free agency. The other issue to keep in mind is that right now Arizona has six draft picks. The seventh-round pick went to Oakland in the Palmer deal.
The Cardinals have to maximize their returns on those picks in order to have a successful draft.
7. Wonderlic Scores
One of the stories that seems to emerge every year at the combine is how the players did on the Wonderlic test. Last season, Tavon Austin of West Virginia reportedly scored a seven on the test. He was drafted eighth overall in 2013.
The scale is from 0-50.
On the other end of the scale, you find players like Ryan Fitzpatrick who scored a 48 and finished the 12-minute test in only nine minutes.
People can make what they want of the results, but it can influence how a prospect is perceived.