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Arizona Cardinals look to add more weapons to its attacking defense in 2022 NFL draft

There’s a good reason why the Arizona Cardinals remain undefeated.

Frankly, they don’t have a lot of holes on their roster.

However, one of their top pass rushers will be a free agent at the end of the season, as is the case with Zach Ertz, who the team recently traded for. Arizona’s top running back will also be a free agent at the end of the season.

And the team’s attacking style of defense could always use more lineman, while keeping star quarterback Kyler Murray upright continues to be a focus, too.

Is it a flawless team? No, but another solid draft from Arizona, and the Cardinals could find themselves among the league’s elite for years to come.

Here are five players to watch who would help Arizona remain a powerhouse:

 

Round 1: DL Jordan Davis, Georgia

Bottom of Round 1 for the top defensive lineman? It’s not out of the question.

Defensive tackles with Davis’ size – he’s 6-foot-6, and a school-listed 340-pounds – generally don’t go very high in the draft. The last player with similar size to go in the first round is former Clemson DL Dexter Lawrence, who went to the New York Giants with the No. 17 pick in 2019. That’s because those types of players aren’t counted on to rack up double-digit sacks; rather, their job is to disrupt and garner double-teams. And if they can provide a little pass rush? Even better.

Pro Football Focus recently ranked Davis as one of the top interior defensive linemen. From PFF’s Week 8 All-Prospect Team: “Davis’ dominance isn’t necessarily due to how frequently he wins. Five pressures and only 10 run stops in seven games is hardly much to write home about. Rather, Davis’ dominance comes from the fact that he just doesn’t lose. No one moves the 6-foot-6, 340-pounder off the ball, and he’s only been downgraded seven times all year.”

Round 2: Edge Boye Mafe, Minnesota

The Cardinals’ duo of Chandler Jones (5 sacks) and Markus Golden (6 sacks) have been stellar at this point – but both are on the wrong side of 30. Further complicating matters is the uncertain future of the injured J.J. Watt.

Arizona’s attacking style of defense absolutely needs steady production out of its pass rushers. The problem, though, is that there’s no young, building-block type of OLBs who can step in if needed.

And that could be a big problem next year if the team doesn’t re-sign Jones, who is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season.

That’s where the 6-foot-4, 265 pound Mafe enters the picture. A senior, Mafe has 18 tackles, 7 TFLs and 5 sacks this season, giving him a line of 71-16.5-13 for his career (and counting). From Michael Renner during a recent PFF podcast: “(Mafe’s) not incredible with his hands … he reminds me of Josh Sweat coming out of Florida State, where he’s not only explosive, has ideal size at 6-4, 265, but he can bend. This guy gets to the edge of offensive tackles and gets back to the quarterback, which is a big part of still being able to win at the NFL level, getting under those 6-7 monsters playing offensive tackle, and then being able to still get to the top of the pocket. … I think this guy is pretty comfortably a Day 2 pick at this point and could work his way even higher if he really turns it on.”

Round 3: TE Jahleel Billingsley, Alabama

So, is Billingsley in Nick Saban’s doghouse or not?

The fact that question has to be asked at this point is a big reason why the 6-foot-4, 230-pound junior is still available at this point in the draft. Billingsley entered the season ranked as the top or second-best TE but barely saw the field the first several games. Here’s what Saban told the media during an early-season news conference when asked if Billingsley had done what he needs to do to move back up the depth chart: “Well, that’s up to him. That’s not up to me. He knows what he’s supposed to do at practices, he knows what he’s supposed to do. This is not a democracy. Everybody doesn’t get to do what they want to do. Everybody doesn’t get to do what they feel like doing. You’ve got to buy in and do what you’re supposed to do to be a part of the team and do the things you need to do in practice every day — a sense of urgency, play fast, execute, do your job.”

Billingsley hasn’t exactly lit up the stat sheet since then and has 11 receptions for 186 yards and 2 TDs. It’s possible that he goes undrafted, but at this point, he’s still firmly in the mix for Day 3.

Round 5: G Chasen Hines, LSU

The Cardinals returned everyone but its starting right guard on its offensive line this season, where 2020 third-round pick Josh Jones – a former tackle – now starts.

So it’s unlikely that anyone taken on Day 3 would start there as a rookie. However, Hines would be a solid pick at this point and could fill in adequately if injuries forced him into the lineup. The 6-foot-4, 329-pound senior plays right guard for LSU, while his teammate, Ed Ingram, mans the left side. Ingram is projected to go earlier than Hines.

Here’s what WalterFootball had to say about him: “Hines has been solid this season, but LSU has gotten off to a rocky start, especially in the ground game. Hines could stand to continue to improve his technique as a pass protector.”

Walter Football’s July scouting report on him goes a little deeper: “Hines is a heavy interior blocker who is a large load at the point of attack. He was a bright spot alongside Ed Ingram during the 2020 season, impressing some team evaluators. For the NFL, Hines could have plug-and-play starting potential. Some sources believe Hines could have had second-day potential if he had entered the 2021 NFL Draft. If he builds on his 2020 performance, he could be a riser and one of the top guard prospects.”

Round 6: RB C.J. Verdell, Oregon

The 5-foot-8, 210-pound junior would have been a higher pick had it not been for injuries. Verdell missed the Pack-12 Championship Game and the Fiesta Bowl last season due to injury.

Verdell then surprised some by returning this season, and the move seemed to pay off, as he led the team with 406 rushing yards on 78 carries and 6 TDs. Then disaster struck, as the fifth-year junior suffered a significant leg injury in the second half of the team’s loss to Stanford.

Pro Football Network still lists Verdell as its third-best RB. From PFN: “While there are fears he may be injury-prone or have reached his peak, the latter is why he’s in the top three. His peak puts him among the best RB skill sets in the class. Verdell is a yards-after-contact machine just the same as he is elusive. He’ll manufacture plenty of his own yardage despite playing behind All-World offensive lines for those 1,000-yard seasons. Verdell is remarkably consistent, despite what the 2020 COVID-19-plagued season for Oregon may tell you.”



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