When the Cardinals approach the podium on May 8, 2014, (yes the draft is in May and round one still on a Thursday), they will do so with apparent needs at multiple positions. You may be saying, "What?" but the needs for the Cardinals for the ’14 season and beyond couldn’t be more clear than they are right now coming into Week 8 of the 2013 season.
With where the Cardinals are projected to draft, 11th if the season ended today, and with some very winnable games on the horizon, the spot the Cardinals will be picking will be up fluctuating throughout the season, and really could land anywhere from top ten again to the low 20’s as a wild card playoff team.
The reality is the Cardinals are going to need help at one of three positions early, and they just happen to be the three most important positions on the field: quarterback, offensive tackle (left or right it seems like) and pass rusher. While pass rusher falls below the first two, if the Cardinals are drafting in the 15+ range, like many believe they can and will, then it makes finding needs one and two harder without moving up. That brings me to a quick aside -- there is zero reason the Cardinals should sell the farm to move up for anyone in the draft, because the reality is as good as I believe Teddy will be, he’s not on the same level as an Andrew Luck/Ben Roethlisberger when it comes to being able to take hits and extend plays from the pocket. If the Cardinals had a decent left tackle in place then maybe you could justify making a move, but moving up from the likely teens to a top three pick for a Teddy, Mariota, Hundley, even a Jake Matthews is setting you back in 2015 and beyond, because you are not one player away, or at least one player in this class away.
When you look at the Arians scheme there are a couple of things you want to look at for fits on offense:
Quarterback: Ability to stand tall in pocket and drive the ball down the field, something Palmer has failed to do consistently, or the ability to move outside the pocket, reestablish your base and drive the ball down the field, something Palmer has never been really adept at.
Offensive tackle: Athleticism, hands, and the ability to maul at the point of attack. Arians combo run scheme of zone and power means you have to be able to blow up the man in front of you on a power iso, like Levi, but also be able to get to the second and third level on a zone stretch to the opposite side and seal the backside, not like Levi.
Athleticism comes into play because as a tackle in Arians scheme you are going to get beat, but you have to be able to recover and push the threat past the quarterback, whether it is inside or outside, allowing the QB to move to a spot to make a throw. While those aren’t the only two great needs, pass rusher is as well, those are the first two that come to mind when you watch the Cardinals play every Sunday.
Starting with the offensive line, one thing is apparent: Bradley Sowell is not the answer. Honestly, I am not even sure I know what the question was, other than his name was different than that 75 guy. The Cardinals, if they fall into the 10-20 range could be in slight trouble because of the ungodly number of teams that need left tackle help. Hell, if the draft were tomorrow the Giants, Rams (via Washington), Steelers, Falcons and Raiders all could go with an offensive tackle in round one. Let’s for funsies say that the Rams and Steelers do, that likely means Jake Matthews (scouting report) and Taylor Lewan, who many believe are the top two offensive tackles in this draft.
That leaves the Cardinals with a couple of interesting prospects to choose from, extensive breakdowns of both will be forthcoming.
The first prospect is Antonio "Tiny" Richardson of Tennessee. Don’t let the nickname fool you -- Richardson is a monster at 6-6 332lbs. Despite his massive frame, he is not in the plodding class a la Levi Brown, but moves with an amazing agility for a man his size. His struggles all stem from the same area, technique.
His hand placement, punch, knee bend, and footwork all need time, but what he has that isn’t coachable is a combination of size, length and athleticism that lend themselves to being a tackle at the NFL level. The other reality is that you aren’t going to get a polished product in the middle of the draft -- you just have to trust that there is enough there to mold into that franchise left tackle. Richardson’s athleticism and feet, along with his nasty disposition, scream Arians left tackle to me. Let’s just hope that the show he’s likely to put on at the combine, if he declares, doesn’t make him unattainable for the Cardinals like it did for Lane Johnson.
Cameron Erving of Florida State isn’t the name of even Tiny Richardson, but his performance in the Noles 51-14 victory over Clemson spoke volumes about the type of prospect he is. Erving shut down the previously dominant Vic Beasley of Clemson, yielding only a handful of QB pressures all evening long, and keeping Jameis Winston clean. Erving’s best asset may have been his time playing defensive tackle, he was a backup at Florida State before being asked to move over to offensive tackle in 2012, as he understands defenders best and most efficient routes to the quarterback and does a good job of walling those off consistently. He is RAW from a technique standpoint, but his athleticism and explosive first step make him a player that could come in and contribute early on a team desperate for help protecting the quarterback.
The 6-5, 320lbs Erving is a deft pass blocker already, but doesn’t always show a physicality that would be expected of a former defender. Erving’s ability in pass pro may end up taking him even further up the draft charts, which could hurt the Cardinals chances of landing someone like him in the first round.
Others to watch: (as I gather more film on them as well) James Hurst, North Carolina Seantrel Henderson, Miami Cyrus Koundjio, Alabama