Arizona Cardinals: Why drafting an outside linebacker is biggest need

If the Arizona Cardinals were to draft by need alone, then pick 20 could be any number of things, chief among them a safety, tight end, linebacker, quarterback or right tackle. Not that any of those positions are a glaring weakness – but when a team has as many areas they can improve in as the Cardinals do, it is the same as having no needs, meaning they won’t be limited to selecting a specific position, instead opting for the best player available.

But what makes a player the best available? A term we can apply to that is value. Usually when talking of “value” and the draft, you hear experts use terms such as “reach” or “steal” to refer to players. The best GM’s get more “steals” than they do “reaches”, because it’s simply value. You want to make the most of your draft picks, and that involves getting players that are rated higher than what you get them at, instead of taking guys who would still be available later on.

It’s not always that simple, I understand. If you have the 30th pick, a guy valued at 59 may not be there when you pick again at 62. However, I am of the belief that most GM’s put value over need when evaluating draft talent, especially in the later rounds. The Cardinals may be in prime position to fully benefit from such a strategy, when “need” is a very fluid term.

First, safety. But as Bleacher Report’s Tyson Langland points out, the solution at the position may come from in-house. Tony Jefferson, undrafted out of Oklahoma last season, was a significant role player for the Cardinals behind Yeremiah Bell. He played in all 16 games for the Cardinals and was a force stopping the run, with some struggles when it comes to coverage. With Bell no longer with the team, a lot will be dependent on Jefferson’s progress and whether or not the Cards brass think he can develop into a better all-around safety.

Personally, I think his presence on the roster is enough for the Cards to shy away from safety round one, instead targeting a guy like Arizona State’s Alden Darby or Washington State’s Deone Buchanon in the later rounds. But if HaHa Clinton-Dix from Alabama or Calvin Pryor from Louisvile are available, don’t be surprised if the Cardinals pull the trigger on a guy who makes their team better.

Washington's Austin Sefarian-Jenkins

Washington’s Austin Sefarian-Jenkins

Tight end is also a position of need, with only Jon Carlson and Rob Housler on the roster right now. The two of them can probably hold down the position just fine, but aren’t incredibly impactful players. So, maybe the Cards draft some impact.

The only problem? Eric Ebron may be the only tight end prospect who fits the bill at 20, and it is very likely he will be off the board by then. I like Austin Sefarian-Jenkins a lot in Arians’ system, but taking him at 20 isn’t a good value for him considering he may be there in round two. According to’s draft prospect rankings, Sefarian-Jenkins is the 51st best prospect in the 2014 draft. In a perfect world, he would fall to the Cardinals at 52. It’s almost too perfect.

As far as quarterback is concerned, it is no secret that Arizona is looking for Carson Palmer’s replacement. Due to the depth of this quarterback draft class, I believe the Cardinals will stay away from quarterback in the first round. There is, however, an extenuating circumstance. Rumors are circulating that Louisville quarterback Teddy Bridgewater may fall to the Cardinals at 20. If that is the case, I like him as a value pick to be groomed as Palmer’s successor. If not, a guy like Aaron Murray, Zach Mettenberger or Tom Savage will almost certainly be there day two.

It is true that the Cardinals need a right tackle, but in terms of value, I don’t like addressing that need in the first round, especially with the solution potentially being in house or in the later round. Bobby Massie has enough experience to garner some faith from the coaching staff, so I think his backup gets drafted rather than his replacement. That can be taken care of in the later rounds.

That brings us to linebacker. I don’t specify inside or outside, because I think both have reason to be evaluated come draft day.

First, let’s look at inside linebacker. Back at safety, I posited that Tony Jefferson is ready to step in and be the starting safety. I don’t feel Kevin Minter is in that same position. He’s got the talent, but may need some competition to push him. Alabama’s CJ Mosley could be that guy, and could very well be the best player on the board at 20. Paired with Daryl Washington, Mosley’s read-and-react style would mesh very well with Washington’s hit-anything-that-moves style. Again, it depends how the coaching views the young Minter.

As far as outside linebacker is concerned, I personally think this is priority number one for the Cardinals in the draft. John Abraham’s 12 sack season was great, but he is getting older and will almost certainly not return after this upcoming season. Without him, the outside linebacker spot is nothing to get excited about. Sam Acho showed promise in his early career, but is hardly the gamebreaker the Cardinals need rushing the quarterback, and Matt Shaughnessy would probably be at his best coming off the bench. Enter UCLA’s Anthony Barr, Auburn’s Dee Ford or OSU’s Ryan Shazier, all who could realistically be available when the Cards’ name is called. Any of them would be an excellent pick at 20 in my opinion, with me leaning a little towards Dee Ford as a pure pass rusher.

As you can probably tell, I’m unsure of who exactly the Cardinals “should” draft. I think outside linebacker is the route they’ll end up taking, because I think circumstances will be best for the Cardinals to get good value with an OLB at 20. As far as what I would like to see happen, I have included a flowchart.

If Teddy Bridgewater falls to the Cardinals, he may drive Arizona GM Steve Keim and company to make a tough decision.

If Teddy Bridgewater falls to the Cardinals, he may drive Arizona GM Steve Keim and company to make a tough decision.

  1. Eric Ebron, if he’s there.
  2. If not, take Teddy Bridgewater.
  3. If not, take best available of Anthony Barr or Dee Ford.
  4. If not, take Calvin Pryor or HaHa Clinton-Dix
  5. If not, take best available of CJ Mosley, Ryan Shazier.
  6. If not, take best available prospect (any position).



Whoever the Cardinals end up taking, I have faith in Steve Keim and company to pick a guy who makes the team better. Any number of guys at any number of positions accomplish that task I feel, and it will be interesting to see what direction the Cardinals go when they are on the clock. What do you think? Comment below!



  • Snapa

    Interesting that you believe in Jefferson UDFA but not 2nd rounder Minter.
    Getting to playoffs means drafting an impact player. Ebron is a project. Bridgewater, Barr and Jonny Football are projects. There is much evidence that rookie safety when drafted in the first round have impact. Reid and Vaccaro for example . I hope for Pryor to be there. Of any of the projects Barr has the biggest upside. Jefferson is a bak up. Minter is a starter. But might be out of the mix on many 3rd down packages.

    • Juneac

      The argument could be made that everyone is a project in the NFL draft — it’s up to the coaching staff to make them impact players.

      Jefferson has the talent to be starter: he was projected to be a third round-type talent in last year’s draft. He did good in limited playing time, and I don’t believe in drafting a guy who is a marginal upgrade or a sidegrade to someone already on the roster.

      That being said, Pryor is an upgrade, Clinton-Dix is an upgrade. If they are there, and they are truly the best player available, I take them in a heartbeat.

  • JosEPh

    What! AZ will not take Bridgewater at 20, And they have 3 TEs on the roster not 2. They will also pass on Ebron. Safety or LB will most likely be the pick with D-line also in the mix.

    • Juneac

      For Bridgewater, if the value makes sense, and he’s the best player on the board, why not?

      Forgot about Ballard. But even then, Ebron has a chance to be the next Jimmy Graham. Housler, Carlson nor Ballard aren’t that guy, I’m afraid.

      I agree that safety and linebacker are the most likely. But I believe that drafting for value is better than drafting for need, and there’s a good chance someone falls and makes the decision difficult. If Clowney were there, you’d pick him up, right? Just because someone’s a safety doesn’t make him better.