There are three impact offensive players the Arizona Cardinals could tab in the 1st round of the 2018 NFL Draft.
Top Priority: running the football. Steve Wilks has made it clear that this will be the primary focus on offense.
This year’s 1st round pick could and should be an offensive game changer.
To me, the three most dynamic offensive players who aid and abet the Cardinals’ cause for running the football are:
#1 Choice: QB Lamar Jackson, Louisville.
The presence of Lamar Jackson at QB puts an entire defense on its heels. There is no way any team in the NFL can adequately prepare for Jackson during the practice week. He is the most explosive runner in the draft. Yes, he has much room to grow as a pocket passer, but he has the arm, the passion and the competitiveness to win football games with both his arm and his feet.
Having Jackson at QB in the years ahead would open up the offense in ways we Cardinals’ fans have never seen. When one adds the rushing yards that Jackson would provide to the running game, the Cardinals could be one of the top 5 rushing teams in the NFL for years to come.
If Jackson is off the board at #15---the Cardinals could trade down into the 20s and add another top 100 draft pick, because the two next best choices are ones the Cardinals could likely still draft in the 20s, even though, in my opinion, both are entirely worthy of the #15 pick.
#2 Choice: RB Sony Michel, Georgia.
Mike Mayock likens Michel to the Saints’ Alvin Kamara and I think the comparison is apt---only Michel adds something special to what Kamara can offer and that is his outstanding pass blocking skill. Some will argue that the Saints got Kamara in the top of the 3rd round of last year’s draft at pick #67. Sure, because like Michel, Kamara was part of a RB tandem at Tennessee, so scouts wondered if he should be treated as a bell cow.
The Cardinals’ offense needs another game changing playmaker. Adding Sony Michel not only makes the Cardinals’ running game stronger and more dynamic, it makes the passing game more prolific because it allows David Johnson, the team’s most explosive receiver, to line up wide or in the slot. Meanwhile, having Michel at RB in passing situations improves the team’s pass protection, while giving the Cardinals’ QB an explosive open field runner on quick check down slip passes.
Again, this is a pick that opens up the Cardinals’ offense in ways we have not seen.
Some will continue to argue that you don’t take RBs in the 1st round of the draft. However, ESPN recently did a Re-Drafting of the 2015 draft---and guess what? 3 RBs made the top ten: Todd Gurley, David Johnson and Melvin Gordon.
If there were a Re-Drafting of the 2017 draft, then RB Alvin Kamara would be a slam-dunk 1st round pick. The Saints would not have made the playoffs last without him and his 1,554 yards from scrimmage (728 rushing, 826 receiving and 13 TDs).
You want to run the ball---you need the bulls up front and a tandem of horses in the backfield.
#3 Choice: G Will Hernandez, UTEP.
If Will Hernandez came from a high profile program like Notre Dame or Ohio St. he would be ranked right up there with top 10 pick Quenton Nelson. Hernandez is an alpha bull. You want to run the ball versus any defense, especially against the NFC West rival Rams with Donald, Brockers and Suh, then Hernandez is the answer. Mike Iupati helps the cause, if he can remain healthy this year. But, that is a big if.
The Cardinals currently have no depth at guard. Drafting Hernandez and pairing him with Justin Pugh would enable the Cardinals to boast one of the most prolific guard tandems in the NFL for the next five years.
Should Hernandez start right away? Yes. Iupati could become the swing guard or, if the Cardinals draft another guard later in the draft, at some point this year they could trade Iupati who now has a more palatable base salary of $5M. A suddenly guard needy contender could offer the Cardinals a player or draft pick in return.
Regardless, adding long-term talent and depth to the offensive line is one of the wisest things that Steve Keim and Steve Wilks can continue to do.
Ideally, it would be a coup if the Cardinals could pick QB Lamar Jackson at #15 and then find a way to trade back up to add RB Sony Michel or G Will Hernandez. All three of these players are dynamic, game changing fits for helping the Cardinals turn their running game into a potential juggernaut.