Since I can’t go out to my favorite neighborhood bar (The Sleepy Whale in Chandler) and order a draft beer for the foreseeable future, I figured I’d talk about some other “draft” options today, especially with NFL draft chatter ratcheting up every day.
Heading into last year’s draft, the Cardinals were in the catbird seat with the #1 overall selection. The entire draft pool was available to them when they selected Heisman winner Kyler Murray and changed the trajectory of the franchise.
This year, the Cardinals are picking at #8 and we now have our quarterback of the future, which means that the pool of players we’ll be picking from is much shallower. Obviously, we’re not going to take a QB for the third-straight year, and the consensus top defensive player—Chase Young—isn’t going to fall to us, either.
So, who will be available when we’re on the clock? Let’s take a look at the possibilities and discuss the pros and cons of each.
LB Isaiah Simmons
Pros: Simmons’s measurables (we all know about the sub-4.40 40 time) are almost as impressive as his highlights, and he would be an instant upgrade for our defense regardless of where he plays. His versatility means that DC Vance Joseph could have him play multiple roles—he’s a tackling machine (104 last season), can get after the QB (7 sacks), and makes plays on the ball (3 INTs). Most importantly, he can cover tight ends, an obvious and long-running sore spot for the Redbirds.
Cons: The main “downside” to Simmons is that he’s not likely to be on the board at #8. He’s consistently been linked to the Giants at #4 throughout mock draft season. But if they trade back or take an offensive lineman instead? It’s conceivable he could fall to #8. If he does, his lack of a true NFL position might bring back bad memories of previous “tweener” Cardinals draft picks Deone Bucannon and Haason Reddick. That shouldn’t dissuade the team from drafting him in the least, but “versatility” can quickly become “positionless”—which this team has a history of. Just worth noting. Otherwise, there aren’t a ton of real drawback so Simmons.
CB Jeff Okudah
Pros: Coming from “Cornerback U” (OSU), Okudah has enviable size (6’1”) and speed (4.48 40 time) for a corner. He’s drawn comparisons to Patrick Peterson, and having Pat Pete’s heir apparent playing across from him would improve our pass defense both now and down the line. If Okudah is that good, he could take the torch from Peterson and give the Redbirds elite CB play for another decade. It would also allow the team flexibility if extension talks with Peterson break down or the team decides to trade him. Plus, you can never have enough talented defensive backs in today’s pass-happy NFL.
Cons: Like Simmons, it’s a stretch that Okudah would be available at #8. He’s mostly been linked to the Lions at #3, and he likely wouldn’t drop all the way to 8 if they go a different route. But if he’s there, CB isn’t really need with Peterson back in the fold and having drafted Byron Murphy with the first pick of the 2nd round last year. Also, is Okudah shares Peterson’s disdain for run support, that could hurt the defense in that facet. And can the team afford to add an outside player when the trenches are still in need of reinforcements?
DT Derrick Brown
Pros: Of the defenders considered as top-10-worthy, Brown is perhaps the most likely to be there at #8. And he fills a need, too—we still need another body or two on the D-line. Although I don’t know if we’d see all three on the field at the same time, Brown, Corey Peters, and Jordan Phillips would be a whole lotta beef for opposing offensive lines to handle. And with Peters’s contract up after the 2020 season, Brown would be a readymade replacement at starting DT. Freakish DTs are in vogue in the NFL right now, and Brown fits the bill.
Cons: Or does he? He didn’t test particularly well at the combine in a few key areas, suggesting his ceiling might not be as high as initially thought. If he’s merely a solid starter and not a Pro Bowl-type player, would he still be worth drafting at #8? And as I alluded to above, we need help more at DE than DT at this point. Brown is certainly an intriguing talent, but he’s not quite a can’t-miss player like Simmons or Okudah. I can’t see the team passing on either of those players if they’re available, but I could see them passing on Brown. (I also don’t see us taking Javon Kinlaw here.)
OT Tristan Wirfs or Jedrick Wills
Pros: These seem to be the two OTs we’ve been linked to most, but this would all apply to Mekhi Becton or Andrew Thomas or whoever winds up being our highest-rated tackle. Regardless, this is a deep draft for tackles, and if there’s one available that could start for the next decade, the Redbirds definitely need to consider taking him to keep Kyler upright. And even with Justin Murray and Marcus Gilbert back in the fold, tackle is still a need, especially since Wirfs or Wills would be an upgrade over either. It’d be unsexy to be sure, but building your team from the inside out is a tried-and-true strategy.
Cons: I touched on a couple potential downsides above. For one, the re-signing of Marcus Gilbert muddies things a bit—tackle is still a need, but it’s not as much of one with two guys with starting experience on the roster. Does Keim think he can get by with Murray/Gilbert across from D.J. Humphries this season? (That’s a dicey proposition.) The second downside is that picking an offensive lineman in the top 10 is deeply unsexy. The Cardinals have risen to the top of the NFL zeitgeist after picking Kyler last year and the recent blockbuster trade for DeAndre Hopkins. Would Keim want to keep that momentum going and give Kyler (and Cardinals fans) another shiny new toy like CeeDee Lamb? Or would he be making a mistake in choosing flash over substance?
WR CeeDee Lamb (or Jerry Jeudy)
Pros: Our own Walter Mitchell has been banging the drum for Lamb for the past several weeks, so I won’t spend too much time rehashing the case for him at #8. He’s mega-talented, Kyler wants him, and he’d give us an embarrassment of riches at the WR position. That’s a pretty good case. (Most of the above applies to Jeudy as well, aside from the “Kyler wants him” part. Many draft analysts also rate him as a better prospect than Lamb.)
Cons: I made my case against drafting a WR at #8 a few weeks ago. And that was before we traded for DeAndre Hopkins. At this point, QB is probably the only position on our roster that we have less need at than WR. Right now, we have one of the two or three best wideouts in the league, a future Hall of Famer, and two recent 2nd-round picks as our top four options. We’re set there for 2020—and beyond if Larry Fitzgerald comes back for yet another season. Keim has already done his work here. We have too many other needs to spend a top-10 pick at the position. It would be a colossal waste of a draft pick and as sure a sign as we’re likely to see that Keim hasn’t turned things around. We simply cannot go this route on draft day.
Pros: Okay, this isn’t a player, but it’s absolutely an option at this point. It’s easy to make a case for trading back: we have several needs on the roster and not enough high draft picks to fill them, and we could still get a starting-caliber OT or defensive player (Kinlaw? K’Lavon Chaisson?) if we trade back toward the middle of the 1st round and add a Day 2 pick to fill yet another need. Or another possibility: trade even further back in the 1st round and perhaps net a 2021 1st-rounder? It’d be worth thinking about.
Cons: Obviously, trading out of the top-10 means you miss out on drafting a top-10 talent. Watching Wirfs or Wills play in Pro Bowls while, say, Andrew Thomas is merely league average would be tough. (Assuming the former are gone by the time we pick.) And moving back only 6-8 spots or so might not net anything more than a mid-3rd-rounder. Nothing to sneeze at, but not exactly a glittering prize, either. Finally, a common refrain among Cardinals fans is that more draft picks are good, but it’s still Keim making them. Given his recent draft record, you can’t blame Cardinals fans for their lack of faith.
There’s still a lot to be figured out in the next 3 or so weeks—assuming the draft is even held as scheduled. Regardless, the Cardinals will likely have their choice between at least one top-flight defensive prospect and several elite options at OT and WR.
My preference would be to land either Simmons or Okudah if they fall. If not, trading back is looking more and more like the best move. Grab a solid OT and fill another need with an extra Day 2 pick. One thing I cannot stress enough: It would be a mistake use the #8 pick on a WR. Kyler will quickly get over missing out on Lamb when he’s chucking TDs to Hopkins. (If he even needs to “get over it” in the first place.) We already filled the glaring need for a WR; let’s focus on our other needs now.
Your thoughts, Redbirds fans? Are you on board with trading back? Making the unsexy pick of an O-lineman? Or are you set on another shiny new toy for Kyler? Where will you have your first drink when the bars are open again? Let’s talk drafts of all types in the comments.