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The Cardinals have been here before, in need of a left tackle, and forced to reach in the draft to get one.
In 2007, the player they took was Levi Brown, unanimously considered the worst starting LT in the NFL for much of his career.
This year, the Cardinals are expected to draft his replacement, and that man appears likely to be Jonathan Martin of Stanford University.
Fortunately for the Cardinals, Martin is a much better prospect than Brown ever was. For one, Martin is very much a known quantity. Martin is part of the most successful Stanford Cardinal team of recent memory, and has spent his college career playing in college football's most pro-style offense.
What's more, he knows what it's like protecting the blindside of a real pocket passer, not a dual threat QB that we've become used to in recent years. Andrew Luck's success is in no small part down to his own prodigious skill, but without his O-Line, anchored by Martin, one has to wonder if he would have been quite so special. Martin has helped ensure that Luck is one of the least sacked QB's in college football, which surely helps his production.
By far Martin's biggest asset is his football IQ. He has an uncanny ability see plays, and inherently know what's coming, adapting almost seamlessly to whatever is needed of him. He has great quickness and agility for an offensive lineman and brings a level of skill and finesse to the game rarely seen from players who usually rely on brute force and power—though he has no shortage of those either.
Martin is an elite run blocker, who is able to create lanes with ease—no bad thing for a Cardinals team who has long hoped to improve this part of its game. Beanie Wells, and the returning Ryan Williams will really benefit from his abilities in the run game, especially his speed which allows him to chip his first block, and locate a second defender. He is very good at sealing the edge, which should also allow LaRod Stephens-Howling to become a larger player on offense.
His pass protection is good, though needs work. His is very good at identifying the pass rush, and getting into good position. His balance and footwork are good, though could use a little polishing. His biggest issue is a slight lack of power which means he struggles against the most aggressive bull rushes, and while he has always managed to hold his own at a college level, will definitely need to improve against the likes of Ray Lewis and the NFL's elite pass-rushers.
However, these are minor defects for a left tackle who will be able to make an impact from day one.
Perhaps the biggest issue with Martin could well be his final draft position.
While Martin currently ranks as the third-highest ranked OT in the draft on most boards, behind Matt Kalil and Riley Reiff, Martin's stock is definitely on the rise. Solid performances in the combine could easily see Martin climb into the top 10, and out of the Cardinals reach. Indeed, I have seen Martin drafted as early as second overall in some mocks, though I believe that those teams in need of an OT will prefer Kalil and Reiff.
Matt Kalil, OT, USC. Matt Kalil is widely considered a top three prospect in the NFL draft, and the best overall offensive lineman in the draft. Kalil is considered—across the board—a better prospect than Martin, but not by such a margin that he is absolutely destined to stay that way. Just as a great performance at the combine could see Martin climb significantly, a poor showing by Kalil could see his stock fall, and if he is still available when the Cardinals come to pick, they would be remiss not to consider him.
Morris Claiborne, CB, LSU. There is no doubt, the Cardinals need a left tackle, but, more importantly, they need one who can make an impact straight away. Outside of Kalil and Martin, the Cardinals may struggle to find one. Riley Reiff is a well coached lineman out of Iowa, the sort who usually make an impact in the NFL, but is more well suited to playing right tackle in the NFL on day one, and will take time to develop into a LT in a pro offense. So, with that in mind, the Cardinals would be wise to consider bolstering another part of their team which is struggling with depth, and seeking out an LT in free agency or trading.
Morris Claiborne may seem like an odd pick after spending a first rounder on former LSU teammate Patrick Peterson last season, but trades, injuries and subpar performance have left the Cardinals vulnerable at CB, and reuniting one of college football's most dominant cornerback tandems, would leave the Cardinals with one of the most fearsome secondaries in the NFL.