Arizona Cardinals may turn to draft to address questions surrounding veterans
Arizona’s draft plans largely depend on what the Cardinals decide to do with some of its most prominent veteran players.
The issues start on defense.
Do the Cardinals try to bring back unrestricted free agent Chandler Jones? The 10-year veteran had 10.5 sacks this season, good for second on the team. A two-time First-Team All-Pro selection with 106.5 career sacks will be 32 in about a month. Reports say Jones could be seeking a short-term, $15 million-per-year deal.
Another big decision looms large on defense: Is future Hall of Fame defensive lineman J.J. Watt a part of their future?
The 11-year-veteran didn’t put up huge numbers for Arizona, but his presence was nonetheless felt. The Cardinals’ defense allowed 201 passing yards per game and allowed a QB rating of 84.5 with Watts. However, after suffering a serious shoulder injury against Houston in Week 7 that kept him out of the next 10 games, Arizona’s defense allowed a 99.1 QB passer rating while giving up 18 TD passes. Watts is a three-time Defensive Player of the Year award winner who will soon turn 33.
Then on offense, the Cardinals’ need to find a true compliment to DeAndre Hopkins.
Start with another UFA, A.J. Green. The two-time All-Pro will be 34 next season but is coming off a solid year. His 54 receptions were tied for third on the team, and his 848 yards were second. But when Hopkins went down in a Week 14 loss to the Los Angeles Rams, Green had 12 receptions for 194 yards and no touchdowns in the final five games. That includes a zero-catch performance in the playoffs against the Rams, a game in which Green will be known for this play:
Nick Scott just hit AJ Green back to Cincinnati https://t.co/ebQdH53JCd
— PS Football U (@psufootballu) January 18, 2022
Therefore, if the Cardinals take a receiver in the first three rounds – something they’ve done in four of the past five drafts – then it could mean the end of Green’s tenure in Arizona.
Another potential loss for the Cardinals: 2019 second-round receiver Andy Isabella (Massachusetts), who played just eight games this past season and was a DNP-coaches decision for many of them. The team could try to trade him, but Arizona is unlikely to get anything more than a late Day 3 pick for Isabella.
However, two candidates emerged as the potential “Robin” to Hopkins’ “Batman” in 2018 second-round pick Christian Kirk (Texas A&M) and rookie second-rounder Rondale Moore (Purdue). Kirk led the team in receptions (77) and yards (982), all career-highs, while Moore finished in a tie for third on the team with 54 receptions, and his 435 yards receiving were fifth.
However, like Green, Kirk is also an unrestricted free agent.
The Rams struggled when Hopkins tore his MCL, going 1-4 the rest of the way, including the humiliating 34-11 loss to the Rams in the first round of the playoffs. Hopkins finished the season with career-lows in receptions (42) and yards (572) but is expected to be fully recovered by the time training camp starts.
To be clear, Hopkins is an iron man who had only missed two games in eight seasons prior to this season. However, the nine-year veteran will be 30 by the time next season starts and is coming off his first extended time missed due to injury.
Will he be 100 percent by next season? Unless something else happens in the offseason, Hopkins should be fully healthy.
However, the team needs to show that it can weather the storm better without him – and they might not have Kirk to help them.
Keep an eye on these draft targets, as all three would address those aforementioned issues surrounding Arizona’s veterans:
The 6-foot-3, 225-pound junior has often been compared to another former Cardinal, former All-Pro receiver David Boston. The two are similar in size, too, as Boston was 6-foot-2, 228-pounds. Like Boston, Burks is an alpha who commands attention and, despite playing through various injuries most of the season, still finished with 66 receptions for 1,104 yards and 11 TDs. He also rushed the ball 14 times for 112 yards and another TD. Receiver isn’t a big need for Arizona, but Burks would give the team a no-doubt WR-1B should Hopkins ever miss time again.
— Bobby Belt (@BobbyBeltTX) January 21, 2022
The 6-foot-4, 312-pound junior is the latest in a long line of Alabama defensive linemen who are pro-ready. Mathis finished with 53 tackles, 10.5 TFLs, 9 sacks and 2 PDs this season. He could start at NT in the Cardinals’ 3-4 defense or serve as Watts’ understudy at defensive end. Either way, history says Mathis will be a solid player. Alabama has had 10 defensive linemen drafted in the first- or second-round since Saban took over in 2007. Out of that total, only one would be considered a true “bust,” while the rest have enjoyed good-to-great careers.
Thought Alabama DT Phidarian Mathis had himself a strong game vs UGA
I love watching 320lbs with effort/pursuit + range! But these reps where he's stout at POA and playing with outstanding leverage/technique will excited NFL DL coaches
— Ben Fennell (@BenFennell_NFL) January 12, 2022
Round 3: Edge Tre’ Williams, Arkansas
The 6-foot-5, 250-pound junior could be used all over Arizona’s defense. He played end in Arkansas’ 3-3-5 defense, so his likely landing spot is along the line as a 5-tech, but he could also see playing time at outside linebacker, especially if Jones leaves in free agency. The former Missouri transfer finished his lone season in Arkansas with 28 tackles, 6.5 TFLs and 6 sacks. Williams was almost single-handily responsible for causing top-prospect Kenyon Green of Texas A&M to play three different positions along the offensive line in that game. One item of note that will be vetted out during interviews with teams: Williams opted out of the team’s bowl game after a recent arrest on a DWI charge. Williams declared for the draft about 15 hours later.
Missouri transfer Tre Williams was a star against Texas A&M. Closed out the game with this pressure (also drew the hold). Just explodes off the ball and gets under Kenyon Green. pic.twitter.com/galyu4NXIx
— Bobby Football (@Rob__Paul) September 27, 2021