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Johnny’s Cardinal Mock 1.0

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The Cardinals strike gold in the first, even after dealing with Oakland.

NCAA Football: College Football Playoff Semifinal-Oklahoma vs Louisiana State Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

With the NFL Combine just around the corner, I thought it would be a good time to drop my first mock draft of the offseason. I generally like to wait until right before the action gets started in mid-late February, especially when you consider the deadline to declare was back on January 17. Also, some teams have hisotrically made handshake trades well before free agency begins in March.

I utilized the Draft Network Mock Draft Machine (Premium Membership allows for trades) for all seven rounds.

This was what I came up with:

12. CeeDee Lamb, WR, Oklahoma (TRADE with Las Vegas Raiders)

Raiders receive picks 8, 183 and 200

Cardinals receive picks 12, 81 and 91.

In a trade down with the Las Vegas Raiders, the Cardinals still saw Lamb, Jerry Jeudy and Henry Ruggs III all available at pick 12. I opted to go with Lamb given his more physical style of play, as well as his relationship with Arizona Cardinal quarterback Kyler Murray.

The downside to this trade was that several elite level offensive tackle prospects were gone by pick 12.

I’m not married to the trade down approach (predraft), but with the slew of quality receiving options still available at pick 8 (and the top 100 haul the Raiders were offering), this seemed like a fair gamble.

And boy did it pay off.

Drafting Lamb, regardless of where, allows Arizona the chance to secure the elusive outside receiving threat they’ve lacked since Larry Fitzgerald’s peak seasons (with all due respect to Michael Floyd).

The Cardinals witnessed far too many instances during Kyler Murray’s rookie season in which the young signal caller was routinely let down by an underwhelming receiving core.

Lamb instantly changes that and I personally think the young playmaker could sleep walk his way to 1,000 receiving yards as a rookie. He would also take immense pressure off ascending receiver Christian Kirk.

There is a fair amount of DeAndre Hopkins to Lamb’s game, as both can operate like a running back when the ball is in their hands. He lacks elite straight line speed but he more than makes up for it with his body control and ball skills. I personally don’t see separation being an issue at the next level (Anquan Boldin once ran a 4.71).

The addition of Lamb allows both he and Murray to grow together in the desert long term, which will hopefully be followed by a slew of post season success.

40. Zack Baun, EDGE, Wisconsin

There’s no doubt that, even after Chandler Jones’ dominance in 2019, the Cardinals still need additional help at pass rusher. While I think there’s a decent chance Arizona splurges in free agency for help (Markus Golden?), don’t discount a pass rusher in the early rounds.

Baun is somewhat of a one year wonder for Wisconsin, but his on field play combined with off the field character both scream “Steve Keim draft pick”. This young man has an incredibly high football IQ, while productive enough with 19.5 tackles for loss, 12.5 sacks, two forced fumbles and an interception this past season.

He projects as a stereotypical 3-4 outside linebacker at the next level, and should immediately contribute via the run game as a rookie. Like Markus Golden, Baun is a big time effort player and should see that aid his sack total in the NFL. He’ll likely never lead the league in that category, but should see a steady contribution between 8-12 on a yearly basis. I believe his floor is incredibly high, and the Cardinals don’t have enough players currently like that on their roster.

Braun is also athletic enough, at roughly 240 pounds, to not embarrass himself in coverage as the second edge rushing option. It’ll be interesting to see what he runs in Indy.

I will admit that because of limited options when the clock struck 40, I was once again tempted to deal down. I’d have Baun ranked right around prospect #50 but the other options available were too skill player heavy. Also keep in mind that when the Cardinals drafted Markus Golden, he was generally thought of as a mid round player. When it comes to quality pass rushers, you sometimes have to “overdraft”.

Baun has first round tape but with limited production for his career at Wisconsin (along with durability concerns), he’ll likely slide to Day 2. My gut tells me he’ll have a solid combine performance while blowing teams out of the water during interviews.

72. Nick Harris, OC, Washington

Harris still available at pick 72 is a godsend for the Cardinals, as they look for the heir apparent for current starter A.Q. Shipley. Harris’s pro comp is that of Raider standout Rodney Hudson, thanks to his power core and ability to block in space.

The former Washington Husky has over 40 games started at both guard and center, and would immediately compete with Mason Cole as the team’s sixth linemen.

This is the kind of addition that has escaped Arizona in years prior on the offensive line. That being an elite level prospect sliding into their lap on Day 2 that will allow for a long term building block upfront for their young quarterback.

Harris is a tone setter and hails from a university in which Steve Keim has an affinity for selecting early round players (Budda Baker, Byron Murphy).

Harris may very well be my favorite addition throughout this entire simulation, as I was tempted to take him one round prior. This is why so many teams are looking for trade down scenario early in the draft.

For the hope that you can land a player like Harris in the middle rounds.

81. Cam Akers, RB, Florida State

Regardless of what transpires in free agency with both David Johnson and Kenyan Drake, I still think Kliff Kingsbury will target a running back in the mid rounds of the NFL Draft.

Akers isn’t the perfect fit for what Kingsbury likes to do, as he was an average pass catcher at Florida State (with limited reps). Where he did excel, however, was in between the tackles in tune of nearly 1400 total yards and 18 touchdowns in 2019. Aker’s has exceptional vision, feet and competitive toughness.

The dude is a grinder and should be fine to operate out of the shotgun full time.

Remember to never confuse “has not” for “cannot”.

With pro comparisons to that of Baltimore’s Mark Ingram, Akers steadied an otherwise underachieving Seminole offense for the better part of three seasons. Make no mistake, as this is a power runner who would allow Kingsbury and Murray to dominate the line of scrimmage late in games. Arizona’s offense evolved in 2019 as the run game became that much more prominent, and Akers could immediately find a role on early downs.

The Cardinals famously struggled running the football and executing in the red zone and the addition of Akers would do a lot to remedy those issues. Both Lamb and Akers would go a long way in providing size to an otherwise small Cardinal offense.

Yes, I’ll admit his pass protection is ROUGH but that can be amended in time.

I think Kingsbury could still look for a traditional pass catching back at some point. However, I do think Keim and company would be doing themselves a disservice but not securing a top 50 prospect at 81.

That’s exactly what Akers is. His ability as a pure runner is first round quality.

Imagine the Arizona Cardinals, with a fourth quarter lead in San Francisco (sound familiar?), hammering the football behind the newly cemented combination of Akers (RB) and Harris (OC).

Sign me up.

91. Rashard Lawrence, DT, LSU

Eventually Arizona needed to aid some beef upfront, and Lawrence brings plenty of it.

Again, I expect the Cardinals to bring in SEVERAL defensive linemen via free agency but finding a developmental talent in the mid rounds should also be a priority.

Hailing from the National Champion LSU Tigers, Lawrence was a three year starter that excelled vs the run. With Corey Peters’ time likely coming to an end in the desert within the next season or so, quality depth upfront is needed.

Yes, he leaves much to be desired as a traditional interior pass rusher, but those aren’t likely to be had in the middle rounds anyway. Where he does shine is as a LOS tone setter who packs a heck of a punch. He could absolutely free up blitzing lanes for the likes of Jordan Hicks among others.

This is a power player with the ability to wreck plays thanks to great leverage and a strong upper body.

In a division with three teams that love to run the football, additions like Lawrence have become mandatory.

104. Austin Jackson, OT, USC

With the top two position units in this draft being WR and OT, I expect Arizona to address both in the early rounds. I also expect Steve Keim to reap the benefits of one of those position units falling to him in the middle rounds that he otherwise wouldn’t expect.

Jackson isn’t a perfect prospect but he’s exactly the type of talent Arizona needs to secure.

With D.J. Humphries future still muddled at the moment, especially when you consider the team is trending toward using the franchise tag, Jackson quickly enters the LT mix as early as 2021.

What he brings in the short term is a highly talented prospect with elite length and mobility. This is a supremely talented athlete that COULD develop into a quality offensive tackle at the next level.

According to the Draft Network, a pro comp used for Jackson is that of Carolina’s Greg Little ,who himself went in the second round a year ago.

Unlike Arizona’s early addition in Nick Harris, Jackson doesn’t have an elite ability to finish blocks. He lacks ideal strength and could greatly benefit from a redshirt season. While I’m not overly keen on allowing mid round draft picks to sit a season on a rebuilding roster, there are far worse things than investing in a long term LT prospect.

Questions remain if he could adequately move to RT (should Humphries sign a long term deal), or even move to guard at some point. Still, his upside (especially when you consider his length) is far too tempting to pass on.