Even though the Senior Bowl and the NFL Scouting Combine haven’t happened yet, I’m under the impression that most NFL draft boards are already set. Sure, some names might move up and down between now and the draft, but a player’s tape often speaks for itself.
With that being said, here is my projection for the Arizona Cardinals 2014 draft. There are so many moving parts in the NFL Draft that I’m by no means predicting what I think will happen, but rather what I think would be a best-case scenario for the Cardinals.
Round 1, Pick 20 OT Morgan Moses, Virginia
While Arizona may entertain the possibility of taking either an outside linebacker or a quarterback, the biggest position of need for the Cardinals is clearly offensive tackle. While Keim is definitely a “best-player-available” kind of GM, if the position isn’t addressed in the draft, Arizona will have much of the same issues as it has the past couple seasons. With an offense that took so many steps forward throughout the season, stunting the growth is absolutely out of the question.
This year’s draft is particularly deep at tackle, and several impact players could fall to Arizona at the position. One guy I’m very fond of is Morgan Moses from Virginia. Much like Jonathan Cooper in last year’s draft, Moses is an ACC lineman that is very quick on his feet, and opens up several possibilities in the run game as well as the pass game. In my opinion, he is one of the higher ceiling tackle prospects, and even if Arizona signs a guy to play left tackle, Moses is a guy who could do wonders at the right, where he played most of his college career.
Round 2 (52nd overall) OLB Jeremiah Attaochu, Georgia Tech
With Sam Acho and Lorenzo Alexander battling injuries and Pro-Bowler John Abraham getting up there in years, the linebacker position, while deep for Arizona is in the biggest need of a game-changing talent.
Enter Jeremiah Attaochu. One thing that sticks out about Attaochu to me is his versatility. In 2013, Arizona benefited greatly from a guy like Matt Shaughnessy off the bench, who saw time at both defensive end and outside linebacker. Attaochu promises to be of the same grain, although his frame is more prototypical of a pass rusher. He’s more than just a one trick pony though, with good lateral quickness and closing speed in the run game. His one big knock is a drastic lack of discipline (both in temper and on fakes), but with veterans like Calais Campbell and John Abraham in the clubhouse, maybe that can be kept in check. But even then, isn’t being mean a good trait in a linebacker?
Round 3 (84th overall) QB Tajh Boyd, Clemson
Carson Palmer is the starter for 2014, as his play late in the season was a large part of the Cardinals’ 10-6 finish. Bruce Arians has been very vocal about not drafting a quarterback, but that is just as likely a smokescreen as anything. As a franchise, not thinking about the future has hurt the Cardinals in the past, as the quarterback position has been in flux ever since Kurt Warner’s retirement. Consider the lesson learned.
While most mock drafts I’ve read tie LSU’s Zach Mettenberger to the Arizona Cardinals (usually in the second round), I think it’s more likely Arizona holds out a round or two to get their guy in the third round. Tajh Boyd is a guy who can make all the throws, take some hits and use his feet as a means of making things happen. His collegiate tape is as solid as any of the early-round quarterbacks I feel, and I think he can benefit from a year behind Palmer and compete for the starter job in 2015.
Round 4 (116th overall) – TE Arthur Lynch, Georgia
With only Rob Housler under contract for the 2014 season, Arizona at the very least needs some bodies on the roster to take snaps at tight end. Even Housler has been inconsistent, despite showing flashes of brilliance as a reliable pass-catcher. Bruce Arians has displayed an affinity for two-tight end sets in his offensive scheme, so I expect for the Cardinals to draft at least one tight end.
I gushed in my offseason preview about Arthur Lynch, so in my mock draft, it only makes sense that I have him becoming a Cardinal. In his career at Georgia, he was Mr. Reliable, whether it was blocking or catching Aaron Murray passes. A team captain, what you see is what you get with Lynch, and he would be well worth a draft pick and a roster spot.
Round 5 (148th overall) – RB Marion Grice, Arizona State
Rashard Mendenhall’s season with the Arizona Cardinals was unimpressive as a whole, yet the former Steeler still managed to lead the team in rushing yards and rushing touchdowns. Due to Andre Ellington’s role increasing as the season progressed, Mendenhall becomes expendable, and Arizona will more than likely explore other options to replace his production.
The Arizona Cardinals have several options to choose from, as there are a couple of decent basher-type backs who could compete with Stepfan Taylor and Ryan Williams for a roster spot. I like Marion Grice from Arizona State in particular. At six-foot, 210 pounds, Grice has the frame to withstand between-the-tackle punishment and displays above average hands and pass protection skills. While those are skills that Ellington also brings to the table, Grice’s versatility could supplement Ellington well, whether Ellington is promoted to the feature back spot or Arizona elects to employ a running back ensemble. Tyler Gaffney of Stanford and Andre Williams of Boston College are other similar options.
Round 6 (180th overall) – WR Jeremy Gallon, Michigan
With Andre Roberts more than likely leaving in free agency, Arizona is in desperate need of a slot receiver. While Brittan Golden and Teddy Williams have shown flashes, they were not consistent threats to draw coverage away from Larry Fitzgerald and Michael Floyd. Even though Bruce Arians favors two tight end sets, a third reliable receiver would open up the field when Arizona needs it.
Jeremy Gallon, at five-foot eight, is a big-time receiver who will almost certainly fall due to his diminutive stature and age (he turns 24 before the draft). Being short is something that Steve Keim has demonstrated doesn’t bother him, drafting Tyrann Mathieu last season. Given the success of that move, I think that Arizona pulls the trigger on Gallon, who will compete for the third receiver spot.
The Arizona Cardinals do not have a seventh round pick due to the Carson Palmer trade with Oakland last season.