Arizona Cardinals Combine Preview: Top Targets, Sleepers and Prospects to Watch
The Arizona Cardinals have plenty of options but only one first-round pick. The question is: Whom will they use it on? It could be anyone.
General manager Steve Keim said this to Vince Marotta of ArizonaSports.com about draft prospects:
There's so many. There is a need at starter positions where we feel like we can upgrade -- there are depth concerns. Just off the top of my head, obviously everybody knows we'd like to upgrade our offensive line, depth at corner, safety, so there are multiple positions. Any time you can find elite pass rushers or speed receivers, you can never look away from that.
That doesn’t give any clarity to the situation. Neither do the early mock drafts.
ArizonaSports.com has a mock draft tracker that shows various analysts from several sites. The consensus selection at the 20th spot in the first round is no consensus at all.
Some say offensive tackle, others say cornerback, and yet others are leaning toward tight end. Some say it will be a quarterback, while others think it could be a linebacker.
The Cardinals have six picks in the 2014 NFL draft. The seventh-round selection belongs to the Oakland Raiders as part of the Carson Palmer trade. Arizona's first-round pick is so significant that it's going to be the focus in this article.
This slideshow will look at Arizona's top targets in the critical first round.
Cyrus Kouandjio, OT, Alabama
Kouandjio is one of the most common names that pop up for the Cardinals to take. The massive left tackle from the University of Alabama has the tools for the position.
He’s quick off the snap. He moves very well in either direction. He can be a very effective pass-blocker and create space in the running game as well. He can keep opposing pass-rushers at bay with his long arms.
The only downside is his speed (5.12 seconds in the 40-yard dash, per CBS Sports), but his athleticism, smarts and size (6’5” and 310 pounds) are going to make teams clamor for him. He made first-team All-SEC and was a Walter Camp first-team All-American in 2013.
His blocking skills are strong enough that he allowed only 1.5 sacks in 286 pass attempts last season. That level of protection would be an upgrade on the Arizona offensive line.
It would be difficult to imagine the Cardinals passing on him if he is available at the 20th pick of the first round.
Zack Martin, OT, Notre Dame
Martin is another potential offensive lineman that Arizona could be looking at to shore things up on the line. He moved up on draft boards after a good performance at the Senior Bowl.
He has quickness, power and technique to frustrate oncoming rushers. His instincts and toughness are what stand out when you look at him. He made a school-record 52 starts at the left tackle position, which says a lot about his consistency and skill level.
The big question about him is whether he fits in a team’s scheme as an offensive tackle or as a guard. That evaluation will be a key to determining if Arizona would consider drafting him in the first round.
Jonathan Cooper, last year’s first-round pick, is expected to be back at full speed for training camp, so the guard position might not be available if the Cardinals pick Martin in the first round.
Taylor Lewan, OT, Michigan
Lewan has the potential to come home again if Arizona takes him in the first round. He played his high school football at Chaparral High School in Scottsdale, Ariz. He didn’t start playing the position until his senior year and has continued to show improvement in his ability, skill and technique during each of his seasons at Michigan.
He has the size (6’7” and 315 pounds) to be effective at the tackle position. He has the raw talent, and with some honing of his technique, he would be a solid fit for the Cardinals. He was named to the All-Big Ten first team for the second year in a row at the left tackle spot and didn’t allow a sack in 2013.
Arizona would do well with any of these three offensive tackles. Let’s take a look at other positions that Arizona might be considering in the first round: tight end and outside linebacker.
Jace Amaro, TE, Texas Tech
If Arizona wants to look at a tight end, Amaro is one to watch. He’s a prospect with good size at 6’5” and 260 pounds, which puts him just a couple of inches shorter than New Orleans tight end Jimmy Graham.
He set the NCAA record for most receiving yards in a season by a tight end with 1,352 yards. He rolled up six games with 100 or more yards, which shows his consistency. He finished last season with 106 receptions including 112 yards on eight catches against Arizona State in the Holiday Bowl. He lines up mainly in the slot and creates mismatches all over the field.
Arizona hasn’t had a productive tight end in many years, so Amaro could change the entire dynamic of the team’s offense. If the Cardinals get a productive tight end, it would open more holes for the running backs because a defender will have to cover Amaro.
It could also ease up coverage downfield for the wide receivers. That would make Larry Fitzgerald and Michael Floyd even more dangerous than they already are.
The Cardinals have Rob Housler as their only tight end under contract. Four other players, led by Jake Ballard and Jim Dray, are set to be free agents next month, so Arizona has a need at the position.
The key question is whether Arizona would be willing to put the seemingly constant issues on the offensive line on the back burner to add this new dimension to the offense.
Anthony Barr, OLB, UCLA
Barr came to UCLA as a running back and was asked to change to a linebacker. It’s safe to say that move worked out very well. He racked up 23.5 sacks in two seasons.
His best fit could be as a stand-up linebacker in a 3-4 scheme. That’s exactly what the Cardinals are looking for. They need a pass-rusher to book-end the aging John Abraham. They should have a force up the middle with Karlos Dansby (assuming he re-signs) and Daryl Washington (pending his April 30 trial) at the inside linebacker spots.
At 6’4” and 248 pounds, Barr has the size that teams covet in a linebacker. His 4.48-second time in the 40-yard dash shows how quick he is, per CBS Sports. He can also draw double-teams on defense, which will free up someone to make a play in the backfield.
It’s possible that the league’s best run defense from a year ago could get even better if the Cardinals pick Barr.
Will the Cardinals overlook the needs on offense and shore up a tough defense with the first-round pick?