It’s going to be tough to figure out who the Cardinals will take on the first day of the draft. The NFL Scouting Combine helped clear up the picture a little bit.
The team still has needs at key positions on the offensive line, at linebacker and at safety. The wide receiver, tight end and quarterback positions are also of need, but they’re not as critical as the ones mentioned before.
This collection of needs has thrown Arizona’s big board into flux. The top 25 prospects who are listed below is the best estimate of what the board looks like. Some of these players will be drafted by the time the Cardinals come up in the first round.
Let’s take our first look at the big board.
All combine stats are from NFL.com.
1. Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina
Clowney stole the show at the combine with his blazing speed. His 4.52-second 40-yard dash time was very impressive, and he displayed the look and feel of a possible first-overall draft pick. Factor in that Arizona will be spending $20 million between Calais Campbell and Darnell Dockett this season, according to Spotrac.com.
Clowney would be the next defensive lineman Arizona could build around. There are concerns with his work ethic, Kyle Odegard wrote on the team's official website.
2. Greg Robinson, OT, Auburn
Robinson surprised people with the athleticism he has for a man of his size (6’5” and 332 pounds). His official time of 4.92 seconds is impressive, and he pumped out 32 reps on the bench press. Arizona needs a left tackle and Robinson should be high on the big board.
3. Taylor Lewan, OT, Michigan
Lewan’s performances in the combine have him in the 10 ten of offensive linemen this year. Lewan probably won’t be there at the 20th pick, but he should be high on the board.
4. Jake Matthews, OT, Texas A&M
Matthews drew plenty of kudos from NFL analysts like Mike Huguenin in his NFL.com article. Matthews has been schooled well in both the run and pass game, according to the article. Matthews spent the last couple of seasons protecting Johnny Manziel and faced tough competition in the SEC.
5. C.J. Mosley, LB, Alabama
Mosley was one of the better combine performers at the linebacker position. He is an inside linebacker, but Arizona needs more help at the outside linebacker position.
The reason why Mosley comes up so high is that there is uncertainty at the position for the Cardinals. Karlos Dansby is a free agent and Daryl Washington's off-field legal issues will continue to play out over the offseason. It's possible that neither of Arizona's inside linebackers will be back with the team next season.
This would be a huge blow to the league's best rushing defense, and Mosley could be able to help plug those holes. His NFL.com profile describes him as having "exceptional instincts" and "outstanding eyes and anticipation vs. the run" among other features that earn high praise.
6. Sammy Watkins, WR, Clemson
Watkins blazed through the combine and was officially clocked at 4.43 seconds in the 40-yard dash, according to Rob Rang on CBSSports.com. Watkins looks to be the top wide receiver in the class of 2014.
Darren Urban of the team's official site wrote that speed receiver is something the Cardinals are looking for. Larry Fitzgerald is due more than $23 million in 2015, according to Spotrac.com. That cap figure could be the motivating factor in finding the speed receiver sooner rather than later. Andre Roberts is set to be a free agent, and a speed receiver would make a nice complementary piece to Fitzgerald and Michael Floyd.
Watkins hauled in 101 receptions for 1,464 yards and 12 touchdowns last season at Clemson. That kind of ability with his speed would be a welcome addition to the Arizona offense.
7. Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Louisville
Bridgewater could be the quarterback the Cardinals would be looking for if they chose to pursue this route. Bridgewater completed 71 percent of his passes last season and is the kind of pocket passer that head coach Bruce Arians seeks in his offensive scheme.
Mary Kay Cabot of the Cleveland Plain Dealer reported that Bridgewater thinks he's the best quarterback in the draft. Bridgewater said he is a self-confessed gym rat. He eats, sleeps and drinks football, according to the article.
Bridgewater could be the successor to Carson Palmer, but the Cardinals would have to make a big move to jump up from the 20th spot to snag him. It also helps that Arians believes Palmer has more years left in him, according to Marc Sessler of NFL.com
8-9. Anthony Barr, OLB, UCLA
Khalil Mack, OLB, Buffalo
Arizona needs help on the outside pass rush, and either of these two players would help out. John Abraham had a solid middle of the season with 10.5 sacks in an eight-game span. Abraham will turn 36 in May and might not be able to produce like that again in 2014.
Dan Parr of NFL.com reported that Mack was just a hair faster than Barr at the combine. Barr gets the nod here because he played against better competition than Mack. Parr also wrote that Mack edged Barr in the combine drills.
Either of these two could be the first outside linebacker taken in the draft. Both of them would be a nice complementary piece on the Arizona defense.
10. Justin Gilbert, CB, Oklahoma State
Gilbert was one of the fastest players at the combine with a 4.37-second time in the 40-yard dash to go with his 35.5-inch vertical leap. He was one of the bigger winners of the day, according to Doug Kyed of NESN.com.
Gilbert makes an interesting option for Arizona should he slip down to the Cardinals at No. 20. The factor that makes this more interesting is the possibility of a Patrick Peterson holdout. Marc Sessler of NFL.com wrote that Peterson hasn't ruled out the possibility of holding out. Peterson has one more season on his current deal, but he seems to want to negotiate an extension now.
If Peterson holds out, the need for a cornerback zooms up the list quickly. Hopefully a resolution comes along sooner than later.
11-15. Ryan Shazier,OLB, Ohio State
Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, S, Alabama
Zack Martin, OT, Notre Dame
Calvin Pryor, S, Louisville
Darqueze Dennard, CB, Michigan State
This group of players in the 11-15 slots would be assets to the Cardinals. There are a pair of safeties in this group in Clinton-Dix and Pryor. Pryor told the Louisville Courier-Journal that he would "compete like his hair was on fire," according to Jonathan Lintner. Clinton-Dix and Pryor posted identical times in the 40-yard dash, according to a Chase Goodbread article on NFL.com, at 4.58 seconds.
Arizona has a need at safety with Tyrann Mathieu recovering from a torn ACL and Yeremiah Bell set to be a free agent. Rashad Johnson would potentially fill one safety slot, but the other one has to be found.
Michael David Smith of Pro Football Talk reported Dennard could be the first cornerback off the board in the draft. Dennard was a three-year starter at Michigan State and was clocked at 4.42 seconds in the 40-yard dash.
16. Marqise Lee, WR, USC
17. Timmy Jernigan, DT, Florida State
18. Ka'Deem Carey, RB, Arizona
19. Blake Bortles, QB, Central Florida
20. Kyle Van Noy, OLB, BYU
This group contains another speedy wide receiver, another outside linebacker and one of the top running back prospects on the draft.
Charles Davis of NFL.com thinks that Lee is one of the most overlooked players in the draft. Being overlooked could leave him available in the latter stages of the first round.
USA Today's Jim Corbett wrote that Bortles stood out with a strong, accurate performance at the combine. He stands 6'5" and 232 pounds and threw for 3,581 yards and 25 touchdowns last season for the Knights at Central Florida. As a drop-back passer, he is a better fit for the system Arians runs.
Carey provides an interesting proposition for Arizona. General manager Steve Keim was quoted in an article on ArizonaSports.com by Adam Green that the Cardinals will platoon the running back position with second-year player Andre Ellington in 2014.
Rashard Mendenhall is hinting at retirement, according to Marc Sessler on NFL.com. The 26-year-old running back is set to be a free agent next month, and it would accelerate Arizona's need for a back to spell Ellington with. Ryan Williams is currently on the roster but was a healthy inactive for all 16 games last season. Arizona needs to make a decision on his future with the team.
Carey ran a slow 4.70-second 40-yard dash that placed him 29th out of 33 backs. That slow time dropped his draft stock, according to an ArizonaSports.com article. Carey might be available in the first round when Arizona comes up, but the other needs are too great to potentially take Carey in the first round.
21. Eric Ebron, TE, North Carolina
22. Jace Amaro, TE, Texas Tech
23. Morgan Moses, OT, Virginia
24. Kony Ealy, DE, Missouri
25. Stephon Tuitt, DE Notre Dame
Finally, we see the widely recognized top tight ends in the draft appear. Ebron and Amaro are better known for their action in the passing attack than they are as blockers. Arians was quoted on Twitter as saying he prefers tight ends who block first and catch passes second. Ebron and Amaro would add a new dimension to the Arizona offense that has been absent for years.
Moses (6'6", 325 pounds) would have to answer questions about his inconsistency, according to Mike Barber of the Richmond Times-Dispatch. He's a left tackle prospect who could be a second-round pick but move up to the end of the first round, according to the article. It all depends on how the rest of the draft goes and if a run on offensive tackles happens. His NFL.com prospect page lists him as being drafted in the middle rounds, but his size and his nearly 36-inch arms make him someone to look at. Moses played both tackle positions at Virginia.
Ealy and Truitt would both be secondary options for depth on the defensive line. Either of them could be a potential replacement for Dockett or Campbell.
Cyrus Kouandjio, OT, Alabama; Antonio Richardson, OT, Tennessee; and Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M
Kouandjio fell off the radar when he failed some physicals at the combine, according to Ian Rapoport on Twitter. His 40-yard dash time of 5.59 seconds didn't help his cause.
Richardson has been bothered with knee issues, according to Goodbread's article that cited NFL Media analyst Charles Davis. The article said Richardson could go from near the top of the draft to falling to a later round and possibly not being drafted.
Manziel, the Heisman Trophy winner, doesn't fit the system in Arizona. Arians likes his pocket passers and Manziel's scrambling antics wouldn't fit with the Cardinals.
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