“The way Justin Murray played took some pressure off of seeking a right tackle.”
That was just this past week via Arizona Cardinal head coach Kliff Kingsbury, speaking to AzCardinals.com reporter Darren Urban.
Kingsbury went on to continually praise the development of the soon to be third year right tackle Justin Murray. Murray, who was claimed after the last round of cuts in the 2019 preseason, was thrust into action thanks to a season ending injury to then incumbent starter Marcus Gilbert.
Murray, expectantly, had his ups and downs through his sophomore season but did settle in admirably toward the tail end of 2019. Given the fact that Murray won't turn 27 until this April, combined with his (projected) modest salary, the Cardinals obviusly like what they have in the former Syracuse product.
With Murray expected back in fold for 2020, one would assume he’d get first crack once again at the starting right tackle gig.
However, there was also the following statement from Kingsbury when asked about the status of the position:
“We’re going to look at all of our options.”
The Cardinals would be foolish not to, considering that like the wide receiver class, this group of offensive tackles could be the strongest position group in the 2020 NFL Draft.
Several NFL scouts and media members alike have projected as many as five tackles go in the top 20 of the first round.
There’s no hiding the fact that the Arizona Cardinals have famously bumbled their way through countless first round picks on the offensive line.
From Levi Brown, to Jonathan Cooper and Leonard Davis, the list of disappointments upfront are seemingly endless for the Big Red.
Yes, 2015 first round pick D.J. Humphries has a chance to buck that trend but he himself still has much to prove entering his sixth NFL season.
So why should Arizona risk yet another first round offensive line debacle when they have a quality in house option readily available?
Tristian Wirfs is why.
The Iowa native, born and raised in frigid Mount Vernon, has long been atop my wish list for the Cardinals in the first round. Yes, the receiver class is obviously tempting but the addition of Wirfs upfront would equal the impact of someone like CeeDee Lamb or Henry Ruggs.
Wirfs success dates back to his high school days, where he would secure back-to-back Iowa State Linemen of the Year awards for Class 2A football. He would then go on to become the first ever true freshmen to start for Iowa head coach and offensive line savant Kirk Ferentz, eventually capturing Big 10 Offensive Linemen of the Year honors in 2019.
At 6’5, 320 pounds, Wirfs projects as a 10 year starter at right tackle that could immediately come in a produce as a rookie. His pure power and explosiveness are unrivaled in a loaded tackle class, while Wirfs himself is well known as a weight room “monster”.
A dominiate run-blocker with absurd lateral quickness, Wirfs is a perfect anchor for Kyler Murray on the right side of Arizona’s offensive line.
His performance this past week at the NFL Combine was historic, as the now likely top 10 selection ran a ridiculous 4.85 40 time while also securing 121 inches in the broad jump.
Wirfs comes from a blue blood offensive line program that has recently produced the likes of fellow first round olinemen Brandon Scherff, Bryan Bulaga, Riley Reiff and James Daniels.
Oh, and several standout tight ends including one George Kittle.
The University of Iowa is a factory for elite offensive line talent and Wirfs is among the best to enter the draft. In my opinion, health permitting, he is one of the surest bets to hit at the next level.
Even with all of this in his favor, there are many still questioning why the Cardinals would go the route of right tackle when you have a chance to pair Kyler Murray with an enticing outside receiver ala Lamb.
Look, I have no problem with the Cardinals selecting a CeeDee Lamb or a Jerry Jeudy eighth overall. I’m just asking that we be open minded to the idea that the 2019 offensive line could significantly regress come 2020.
If that happens, it won’t matter who lines up at X or Y.
There’s a strong sense around the club that Keim and company would prefer all five starting linemen from a year ago return for the 2020 season. While the unit showed solid consistency, especially toward the second half of the season, several performances could prove to be outliers.
Outside of Humphries, I believe we’ve seen the best from this unit. Humphries himself has his fair share of questions remaining, mostly surrounding his durability.
Left guard Justin Pugh had a very nice season in the desert, playing all 16 games for the Cardinals. Yet in his prior three seasons, the veteran only averaged 9 games per year. What are the chances the injury bug bites him again?
J.R. Sweezy is in the final season of a modest two year contract and to his credit played well beyond anyone’s expectations in 2019. However, at soon to be age 31, can this former seventh round pick continue to produce at that same level moving forward?
Mason Cole is entering his third NFL season and the coaching staff has given no indication that the former Michigan man has a significant role moving forward.
Assuming A.Q. Shipley returns, the average age of the three interior starters heading into 2020 is just under 32.
And what exactly is Justin Murray’s ceiling? I’d be willing to bet it’s not that of Tristan Wirfs.
Not even close.
The team currently has minimal options in terms of swing tackles if and when either Humphries or Murray goes down.
The addition of Wirfs immeidatly gives the Cardinals a legitimate building block upfront that they do not otherwise have on the roster. Even if the Cardinals are content to roll with the same group as 2019, not adding capable talent to the pipeline would be incredibly foolish.
And no, I do not think Wirfs would have any trouble beating out Justin Murray in training camp.
The Cardinals are also in a much better position to develop a young offensive linemen now that they have a more than capable oline coach in house.
Kingsbury and Keim have both praised Sean Kugler’s work with right tackle Justin Murray. Just imagine what the respected Kugler could do with a talent like Wirfs.
Remember, Kyler Murray’s health and development are the biggest keys to this franchise having sustained success. An injury riddled offensive line is the surest way to derail him building off of his phenomenal Rookie of the Year campaign.
Wirfs may not be the sexy pick that the majority of the fanbase is clamoring for, while many others are numb to yet another first round oline disappointment.
However, if there is one individual (like a Kyler Murray) that can buck a dismal draft trend for the Cardinals, I believe it’s offensive tackle Tristan Wirfs.