2011 NFL Mock Draft: Predicting the Arizona Cardinals
Cardinal fans. Let's be honest. Arizona does not have the best record when it comes to the NFL draft.
Yet, it has been very clear that the Cardinals are in desperate need of improvement all over the field.
Since free agents will be slim pickings in 2011, and with the majority of the preseason being set aside by owners and GM's trying to prevent a lockout, trading will be limited too.
For most teams, the draft will be the primary source of much needed talent on the field. For the Cardinals, it couldn't be more important to get it right.
Who the Cardinals target, of course, is greatly affected by how early they pick. Assuming that they do not pick first overall, which though possible, appears unlikely at this point, who will the Cardinals pick in 2011?
While predicting the draft this early is pure speculation, join me as we take a look at how the Cardinals draft could shape up.
First Round: Ryan Mallett, QB, Prince Amukamara, CB or AJ Green, WR
Without a doubt, the Cardinals biggest need is at the quarterback position.
The best QB in the draft, Andrew Luck, is all but guaranteed to go off the board first overall, which means that Ryan Mallett, Jake Locker or Cam Newton will likely be the Cardinals only options.
Mallett is the right shape and size to succeed for the Cardinals, and many consider him a natural fit. However, his stock has risen so high recently that more than a few pundits now predict that the Bills may take him before Arizona gets the chance.
If that is the case, the Cardinals should not reach for either Locker or Newton.
While Locker was at one point tipped as the second best quarterback in the draft, following a poor 2010 college season, his stock has slid to the point where he is not considered a viable starter in the NFL for 2011.
Newton has clearly had a fantastic season, and many talking heads are now considering him a top-five pick. But like Locker, he does not look ready to take the reigns of an NFL team, yet.
A lot of Cardinals fans will disagree, but if Luck and Mallett are off the board, then the Cardinals should pick Prince Amukamara or AJ Green.
Why? After Luck and Mallet, they are the two most NFL ready players in the draft, while Locker or Newton will likely develop into fantastic QBs, they will only do so after a few seasons under the tutelage of a veteran quarterback, something the Cardinals do not have.
Amukamara is a corner with rare skill. He would provide excellent support for DRC in a position that has been more than a little lackluster this season.
AJ Green is also a player with tremendous talent, perhaps the most exciting receiver to come out of the draft since Larry Fitzgerald himself. While he appears to be the player least ready to take the field week one, he doesn't need to be.
Arizona have a fine group of young receivers, including Fitzgerald, Steve Breaston and Early Doucet as well as second year player Andre Roberts. Green would slot in at third receiver, but has the skill to become a second receiver by the end of the season.
Of course, not drafting a QB in the first round will mean trading for one. However, I believe McNabb is still not a good fit in Washington and can be convinced to join the Cardinals for not much more than a late round pick.
Second Round: DeMarcus Love, OT, Arkansas.
Whether starting Luck, Mallett or a veteran, one thing is certain, the Cardinals pass protection needs to improve.
DeMarcus Love is one of the top five tackles in the draft, and has a good enough build to immediately slot into the Cards first team.
Love is a big, physical tackle who can play at both left and right tackle spot.
Levi Brown, who has been playing on the left, should move back to the right tackle spot, and Love would be able to relieve Brandon Keith and Jeremy Bridges, neither of whom should have a job starting on any NFL team.
As a bonus, if Arizona does sign Mallett, Love has added value, as he has protected Mallett at Arkansas, and the two already have a good rapport. Mallett is a pocket-passer, so if Mallett is the signal caller in Arizona in 2011, the offensive line needs to improve.
Third Round: Will Hill, FS, Florida
As previously discussed, the Cardinals secondary has not been good in 2010.
Will Hill has been a standout safety for the Florida Gators, and has been predicted to go off the board as early as the middle of the second round.
I don't think he will go that early, and should still be available by the Cardinals third round pick.
Many draft analysts and scouts have recently swapped Arizona's third round pick from Hill to a corner like Curtis Brown or Rashad Carmichael, because Adrian Wilson and Kerry Rhodes have been some of the few bright spots on the Cardinals defense.
However, the basic rule of drafting remains to take the best player available, regardless of position, and Hill is, in my mind, a better player than either Brown or Carmichael.
While I wouldn't disapprove of picking up a corner here, and suspect the Cardinals probably will, I feel Hill will likely be the best player available and therefore should be the one that the Cards select.
Fourth Round: Davon House, CB, New Mexico State
Still focusing on their secondary, the Cardinals now need to improve at corner back.
Most people expect that House may be snapped up during the third round—some predicting him going as soon as the second—but my gut feeling about House is that he should go some time early in the fourth round. In need of someone to help Greg Toller, the Cardinals could well be his preferred landing spot.
Of course, if the Cardinals take a corner in the third round they may be tempted to take a safety like Colin Jones or even take a chance on risk/reward project, like ILB Brian Rolle, cousin of former Cardinal Antrel Rolle.
Fifth Round: Greg McElroy, QB, Alabama
Traditionally, if the Cardinals do well anywhere, it's in the fifth round. Which is why I think the Cards should go out on a limb and select the best available QB.
Personally, I like Greg McElroy of the Crimson Tide. He is a game manager, for sure. No part of his game particularly stands out, but if Mallett turns out to be another draft dud—let's not forget Matt Leinart—then McElroy has some potential.
He is a conservative QB, who is known for being cerebral, both on and off the field.
He has got used to making the best use of his fantastic offensive weapons and could feel at home with the Cardinals, who are a pass-centric team with a run-oriented coach. He could help transform the Cardinals into the sort of team Arizona coach Ken Whisenhunt desperately wants them to be.
Sixth Round: Titus Young- Boise State
Because the Cardinals traded their seventh round pick to the Jets, this will be the Cardinals last pick in 2011, barring any further trades.
With their final pick, the Cardinals should target a talented young receiver like Titus Young.
Young is predicted to go as high as the fifth round, but a small slide in his draft stock could see the Cardinals secure a bargain early in the sixth.
Young is a quick receiver with good hands. His route running is questionable, but he more than makes up for it in tenacity.
Why, you ask, would the Cardinals need another receiver? As much as I like Breaston and Doucet, both players have proven to be a little fragile at times, and the Cardinals really benefit from depth at this position.