With the 2012 NFL Draft some four weeks away, I want to take the opportunity to look over the standing of the Arizona Cardinals.
As noted in a previous article, the Cardinals intend to make their most impactful moves in the draft this offseason. They haven’t done much in free agency, but they addressed their main weakness and biggest free agent defection, signing RG Adam Snyder for the offensive line help and signing CB William Gay to replace CB Richard Marshall, respectively. The Cardinals also did important tasks such as franchising DE Calais Campbell (they need to get moving on a long-term deal now), re-signing WR Early Doucet, K Jay Feely, and LT Levi Brown (after cutting him first), and paying QB Kevin Kolb’s roster bonus (… gulp).
Before getting into what the Cardinals need to focus in on for the 2012 NFL Draft, let’s look at what they did in 2011. The 2011 NFL Draft, as you may recall, was conducted way differently than any draft we’re used to due to the NFL Lockout. The Cardinals used their first round pick, fifth overall, on jumbo-sized CB Patrick Peterson. Peterson struggled early at CB, but ended the season well along with the rest of the defense and will be counted on to start. He also spent the season thrilling the league as a Pro Bowl punt returner, scoring four TDs on special teams.
2nd round pick RB Ryan Williams is a tough story. Williams was drafted to challenge 2009 first-round pick RB Beanie Wells after Wells struggled through an ineffective, injury-marred 2010 season. Instead, Williams tore his patellar tendon in the preseason. Wells stayed healthy and ran well in 2011, but he could use a reliable reserve in 2012. Thinking of Carnell Williams’ loss of explosiveness after multiple patellar injuries make you feel like Ryan Williams is unlikely to look like a special RB in 2012.
3rd round pick TE Rob Housler is an athletic target who came from a small school (Florida Atlantic), entered a crowded position (veterans Jeff King and Todd Heap also joined the Cardinals in 2011), and struggled to find the field for a head coach in Ken Whisenhunt who doesn’t have a history of featuring tight ends in the passing game. Housler isn’t a blocker like King is, but with Heap struggling with injury at this point of his career, look for Housler to take a step as the team’s primary receiving TE in 2012.
4th round pick OLB Sam Acho was a huge pickup for the Cardinals; his and OLB O’Brien Schofield’s emergence was key as the Cardinals were starting ancient former Steelers Joey Porter and Clark Haggans. Acho had to transition from DE, and with seven sacks as a rookie, it is safe to say he has made the transition successfully. The Cardinals could use depth behind Acho and Schofield, but they have two edge rushers starting in Ray Horton’s 3-4 defense.
5th round pick FB Anthony Sherman played in 15 games as a rookie, and though he did nothing special with the ball in his hands, it appears he had a very positive effect on Wells as a lead blocker.
6th round pick ILB Quan Sturdivant didn’t play as a rookie, as ILB Paris Lenon won the starting job and ILB Stewart Bradley was signed. Lenon and Bradley remain on the roster, but Lenon is undersized and overaged, while Bradley did nothing. Sturdivant doesn’t lack for talent, and if he is ready to play this season then Lenon and/or Bradley could lose their roster spot in 2012.
The Cardinals’ other 6th round pick was NT David Carter. Carter had a nice rookie season, earning a role as a backup on the defensive line. Like at OLB, the Cardinals have their starters set on the defensive line (DEs Campbell and Darnell Dockett, NT Dan Williams), but could use another body in addition to the athletic Carter for depth.
The Cardinals’ last draft pick was 7th round WR DeMarco Sampson. Sampson is already 26 years old, having missed two years at San Diego State due to injury. That said, he was the Cardinals’ #5 WR last year and he has a chance to push for more time following the Cardinals’ release of WR Chansi Stuckey. The Cardinals could use a dynamic #2 receiver opposite WR Larry Fitzgerald, but that might be a luxury with WRs Andre Roberts, Early Doucet, and Sampson to go with TE Rob Housler.
The Cardinals’ 2012 NFL Draft comes down to two players: LT Levi Brown and QB Kevin Kolb. The Cardinals have the 13th pick in the first round of the Draft, but they don’t have a pick in the second round due to the Kolb trade that also saw the Cardinals give up on 2008 first round CB Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie. The Cardinals replaced Rodgers-Cromartie with Peterson in 2011; expect the Cardinals to draft the best pass-blocking OT available with the 13th pick to replace poor pass-blocking OT Brown, the fifth pick of the 2007 Draft. The Cardinals gave up a talented player, a key draft choice, and a chance to sign a difference-making (albeit risky) passer for the rights to let Kevin Kolb become a concussion case behind one of the worst pass blocking lines in the NFL. The Cardinals need to invest in Kolb’s success for that price, and that means getting a top pass blocking prospect that in a best-case scenario will push Brown to RT.
Since the Cardinals only have one second-day pick in 2012, it seems unlikely that they will reach for a player at ILB, WR, or RB unless they represent great value. With the Cardinals needing depth in the front seven as well as on the offensive line, look for the Cardinals to target the best defender available in the 3rd round while using the rest of the draft to fill the other holes.
In short, the Cardinals appear to be in position to get some help for what appears to be a budding young roster. I don’t expect them to pull any surprises as they generally draft to fill needs. But their draft will say a lot about the veterans they plan to build around, as well as the young players they are counting on to either get better (QB John Skelton, Andre Roberts, Rob Housler, Dan Williams) or get healthy (Ryan Williams, Greg Toler).