Drafting a receiver would help Arizona QB Kyler Murray, but the Cardinals have bigger needs in upcoming draft
Aside from a deep playoff run, there’s a pretty easy way to keep disgruntled quarterback Kyler Murray happy in Arizona: Draft receivers and tight ends.
Just one problem: The defensive line might be the bigger priority.
Outside linebacker Chandler Jones is the Cardinals’ most notable unrestricted free agent, while defensive end J.J. Watt is coming off another injury-plagued year and will be 34 next season.
Arizona has three of the top 90 picks in the upcoming draft, including No. 23 overall in the first round. After that, the Cardinals don’t go back on the clock until the sixth round.
Receiver was a big need before the Murray dramatics, as Arizona could lose three of its top four receivers to free agency in A.J. Green, Christian Kirk and Antoine Wesley. Tight end Zach Ertz – who the team traded sixth-round rookie CB Tay Gowan and a 2022 fifth-round pick to Philadelphia for – will also be an unrestricted free agent.
If the receiving trio signs elsewhere, that would leave the team with DeAndre Hopkins and 2021 second-rounder Rondale Moore, who’s coming off a solid rookie year with 54 receptions for 435 yards and 1 TD, at receiver.
Overall, the upcoming draft is seen as relatively deep in receiver talent, with 15 ranked among the top 100 prospects in the Fanspeak-Jake Rigdon big board. Would Arizona consider using one of its premium picks on a receiver again after taking five WRs between rounds 2 and 4 over the past five drafts?
That seems unlikely – but it doesn’t mean the position won’t be addressed. Nine receivers ran a sub-4.4 40 at the recently completed Combine, while 18 ran a sub-4.5. Therefore, the team might not find a starter if it waits to take a receiver on Day 1 or 2, but the Cardinals should be able to find a speedy one who can at least contribute as a rookie late in the draft.
Instead, the tight end situation becomes the greater need if the team lets Ertz walk in free agency. Ertz had 849 snaps on offense last season between Philadelphia and Arizona, including 618 snaps with the Cardinals. By comparison, Arizona’s other TEs – Darrell Daniels, Maxx Williams and Demetrius Harris – combined for 685 snaps.
All four are unrestricted free agents.
However, none of this year’s tight ends are expected to be taken in the first round. In fact, it’s possible you won’t see the first tight end taken until the third round. Here’s the tricky part: Without a fourth- (or fifth-) round pick, Arizona almost has to take a tight end on Day 2 if it’s hoping to land a rookie starter.
So that leaves the team with defensive line holes to fill and only two more premium picks.
Thus far, little is known about which prospects the Cardinals have met with, as Walter Football only reports two players who interviewed with Arizona during the Combine: WR Treylon Burks of Arkansas and QB Malik Willis of Liberty.
Therefore, you have to read the Arizona “tea leaves” to predict which direction the team will go with its first three picks.
Three players, in particular, stand out more than others.
Two come from Georgia, which shouldn’t be a surprise given the Bulldogs talent this past season. Edge Travon Walker has been mocked as high as the No. 5 pick and comes with elite size and athleticism. Walker, at 6-foot-5, 272-pounds, ran a stunning 4.51 40, third-fastest among pass rushers. He also comes with positional versatility; he could fill in for Jones at OLB or play the 5-tech defensive end for Arizona.
So it would be a pretty big surprise to see Walker still available when Arizona goes on the clock in the first round. However, pass rusher might be the deepest position in the draft – which could push a player like Walker down the draft. And not every draft analyst is as high on Walker after he finished his last season with Georgia with just 33 tackles, 7.5 tackles for loss and 6 sacks.
NFL draft analyst Lance Zierlein, for example, ranks Walker as the ninth-best pass rusher.
The other Georgia lineman who could be a consideration for Arizona is more of a Day 2-prospect, Devonte Wyatt. The 6-foot-3, 304-pound Wyatt was often overshadowed by his Bulldog teammate Jordan Davis during the season, and that held true at the Combine when the 6-foot-6, 342-pound Davis ran a stunning 4.78-40. But Wyatt is generally seen as the better pass rusher of the two. He also had a solid Combine and was one of the top defensive linemen during the Senior Bowl week.
The main knock on Wyatt is his age. He’ll be 24 by the time next season starts, making him one of the older prospects in this draft. Wyatt would likely play behind Watt at the 5-tech position for the Cardinals. He’s currently seen as a late-first, early-second round player but is unlikely to still be available with the No. 55 overall selection, where Arizona picks in the second round.
And finally, one other defensive lineman who would likely earn immediate playing time for the Cardinals is Texas A&M’s DeMarvin Leal, who has seen his stock drop. The 6-foot-4, 283-pound junior didn’t have as dominant of a season as was expected this past season. His average Combine performance didn’t help, either, as Leal ran a 5.0 40 and was inconsistent during field drills.
The main issue with Leal is figuring out what his best fit is at the next level. In a 4-3 defense, for example, Leal likely isn’t fast enough to be a full-time defensive end, but he’s probably not sturdy enough to hold up as a defensive tackle.
That’s why some scouts view Leal’s best position at the next level as a defensive end in a 3-4, where he would serve as Watt’s understudy for at least a year.
So how will Arizona use its premium picks? Click here to see Fanspeak’s latest Cardinals mock draft.
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