The Arizona Cardinals need a tackle, right... or left?

Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports

What do the Cardinals need to do in order to take the next step as a team?

When the Arizona Cardinals step to the podium on May 8, 2014 for their first pick in the 2014 NFL Draft there are certain names a lot of fans don’t want to hear called.

Last year fans were against the possibilities of guys like DJ Fluker, Star Lotulelei and Kenny Vaccarro being picked at seventh overall because the Cardinals had to get Eric Fisher or Lane Johnson.

As the draft crept closer the idea of Fisher and Johnson at seven became less and less likely, so we as fans began to talk ourselves into a guard, and there was no doubt that Chance Warmack was the once in a generation type prospect that would nail down the left guard position for a decade in Cardinal red.

Around the beginning of April there became whispers of certain teams having a top-10 grade on Jonathan Cooper, this lead to numerous sites changing their overall rankings for OG’s, this is always an interesting conundrum because you are getting the right information, allegedly, so all the "work" that has gone on to breakdown players is now moot because you’ve gotten a tip that there is at least one team with a definitive top-10 grade on a prospect?

Anyway, the week of the draft Mike Jurecki reported he had heard the Cardinals were the team that liked Cooper that much, so all of a sudden Cardinals fans changed their tunes on Warmack "Da Franchise" and believed in the elite feet of Cooper.

Cooper was the selection, he was injured, Warmack was decent, Larry Warford ended up being perhaps the steal of the draft, and now we sit in February again talking offensive line upgrades for the Arizona Cardinals.

Jess Root wrote a great look at the "Decline of Eric Winston" that highlighted how he has dropped into the lower tiers of tackledom after a strong five year run as one of the better right tackles in the NFL.

It wasn’t that his sack numbers changed, he’s a consistent 7-8 sacks allowed guy, it was that he all of a sudden was allowing pressure on a consistent basis.

In his final nine games, once the scheme had changed from the Arians vertical attack to a more well-rounded, quick hitting passing game, Winston allowed no more than three quarterback disruptions a game in those games, outside of being pretty much handled by JJ Watt allowing six disruptions.

The additional problem was Winston was getting ZERO push in the run game, all year, a consistently bad production.

Fans have beaten the drum of a left tackle needs to be the key to the off season, whether in free agency or the draft, and it needs to be addressed NOW.

The Cardinals need not just a new left tackle, but a new right tackle, and this draft is ripe with those players and their availability at 20.

DJ Fluker, picked at 11 by the Chargers, had a nice season as a right tackle in the NFL, and helped pave the way for a resurgent Chargers offense.

In that time he played, and failed miserably, as a left tackle, he graded out as a -11.4 as a left tackle and a +7 as a right tackle, meaning his overall grade of -4.4 is very misleading.

His +7 right tackle grade put him in the same company as guys like Anthony Davis of San Francisco and Mitchell Schwartz of Cleveland, two of the better right tackles in the game, in only 13 games played at RT (playoffs included).

All of that is too say, fans were ADAMANT that the Cardinals couldn’t draft Fluker at seven because he was a right tackle and you can’t draft a right tackle that high, there’s better players available, blah, blah, blah, meanwhile the generational guard Warmack, a guy that even I had rated extremely high, finished with a robust -5.6 grade from Pro Football Focus.

My friend Steve Palazzolo of Pro Football Focus wrote a great article after Fisher, Joeckel and Johnson went off the boards in the first four picks he was writing about pressure and where it comes from, here was his conclusion:

Today’s passing NFL makes it a necessity to have two competent pass protectors on the edge and when scouting players, if a tackle is deemed to not be good enough to play left tackle, well you’re better off just putting him at guard rather than exploiting him at right tackle.

The problem becomes is Fluker the exception or the rule?

Fluker posted a Bradley Sowell like -12.7 in his four games as a left tackle in pass protection according to PFF.

In his games at right tackle he posted a +6 pass protection rating… that’s a MASSIVE differential in effectiveness from one side to the next.

That leads us all the way back to pick 20:

When I say a guy like Cyrus reminds me of DJ Fluker or Levi Brown, that isn’t a bad thing, that just means stick him at RT, let him physically dominate in the run game, be less of a liability in the passing game, and if you see his feet are good enough, swing him over to left tackle in a year or two, but if they are not, who cares you upgraded a weak position.

Look at the Cardinals offensive line, what position can you say without a doubt doesn’t need an upgrade from 2013?

None.

The Cardinals will have a new left guard in 2014 with Jonathan Cooper, so we already know one upgrade, they may have a new right guard in Earl Watford or Daryn Colledge to boot, it would be an upset if Paul Fanaika continues to patrol right guard.

The reality that they could have the same tackles in 2014 as 2013 is actually there, but would anyone really be mad if they found a replacement for Winston instead of Sowell… or both?

There are probably 15 players that would be available at 20 that I would prefer the Cardinals draft rather than Cyrus or Taylor Lewan, a Jon Runyan clone, but the fact is either of those players offer a cheaper, upgraded right tackle, with left tackle upside.

That’s what the draft is right? Drafting a superior player to replace the interim.

If the Cardinals choose to take a tackle at 20, you can almost bet they won’t be the "highest rated player" on a lot of internet boards, but guess what, the Cardinals will have them rated that highly, and in the end, that’s what matters.

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