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Potential of Cardinals’ 2020 Draft Class

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California V Utah Photo by Chris Gardner/Getty Images

If you don’t mind, I would like to keep reveling in the enormous potential of our draft class. I don’t think enough has been written or said about it. Hey, we’re Cardinals fans—-we usually don’t want to get too excited about anything. But, this time it feels like getting excited is more than okay and highly warranted.

In the week following the draft, it’s my ritual to go back to my Lindy’s Pro Football Draft guide to re-read everything they wrote about the Cardinals picks.

Back in the day when player info was not readily accessible on the internet, I always bought three draft publications: Mel Kiper’s Blue Book, Ourlads NFL Draft Preview and Pro Football Weekly’s Draft Digest.

I, like so many of you, was so thirsty for knowledge that I tried to call anyone I could get a phone number for. Mel Kiper, way back when, used to include his phone number on this subscription applications—-so I made it a habit of calling Mel. He was fantastic in offering me his opinions of what the Cardinals should do and answering any questions I had about the prospects. .

In his yearly Blue Book, Mel used to analyze in detail each team’s current personnel and its top draft needs. This was my favorite part of Mel’s publication. But then he stopped doing that in the Blue Book and instead made his readers purchase a separate “update” guide for the draft which included the team analyses and any recent news about the prospects.

I called Mel to express my disappointment in these changes and he said that he was so busy scouting prospects that he no longer had time to do the team by team analyses until a few weeks before the draft. Unfortunately I had to tell him that I would stop buying his Blue Book because it felt wrong to have to spend the $29 on the Blue Book and then have to spend another $19 on the update.

Thus, with Ourlads they have always been very good about laying out each team’s current depth chart and how each player was acquired. So, I kept ordering their yearly draft preview and supplemented that with my favorite draft guide of all, Pro Football Weekly’s.

Some of you veteran fans will remember the star analyst at PFW—-Joel Buchsbaum. Joel was a football fan from Brooklyn, New York who loved to analyze the pros and cons of every major draft prospect. He was the first draft analyst to offer sharp critiques of the players.

At first it was difficult to get used to Buchsbaum’s sharp critiques because reading his positives about a prospect would get me all excited, but then once I had finished perusing his critique of the negatives, it made me wonder whether I wanted the Cardinals to draft the player at all.

In 2002, just at the height of his acclaim as one of the best evaluators of college football and NFL talent, Buchsbaum died of natural causes at the age of 48. This was such a brutal loss for football fans and draftniks. PFW’s draft guides have never been the same.

However, the draft guide today that most resembles, Joel Buchsbaum’s at PFW is Lindy’s. With each prospect, they provide 4 paragraphs: snapshot (stats & background), strengths, weaknesses and pro comparison, much like Joel used to do and in a similar format.

They also include in-depth analyses of each NFL team’s current roster and draft needs. So, to me, this is like getting a nice melding of Joel Buchbaum’s PFW guide with Mel Kiper’s old Blue Book team analyses.

This morning as I combed back through Lindy’s 2020 guide, I discovered a number of things they wrote about the Cardinals draft picks that I think you might be interested in reading.

I am going to go in order of the pages in the preview:

Page 3—-Field Level Media Top 100:

4. Isaiah Simmons, OLB, Clemson

29. Leki Fotu, DT, Utah

48. Josh Jones, T, Houston

75. Evan Weaver, LB, California

Thus, with regard to their Field Level Media—-the Cardinals drafted 2 1st rounders (Simmons and Fotu), a 2nd rounder (Jones) and a 3rd rounder (Evan Weaver).

Page 4—-Rob Rang’s Bog Board Top 32 Prospects

2. isaiah Simmons, OLB, Clemson. “With an unfair combination of fluidity, speed and size, Simmons initially starred in coverage at Clemson before getting unleashed as a pass rusher in 2019 after the Tigers lost the entire starting defensive line from their championship squad to the NFL. Simmons is perhaps limited only by the creativity of his defensive coordinator.”

25. Leki Fotu, DT, Utah. “A throwback run-stuffer with awesome size (6-5, 337) and strength, Fotu ranks right up there with (Derrick) Brown (number 3 on this list) when it comes to collapsing opposing rushing attacks. He would have generated plenty of buzz at the Senior Bowl if not for a minor injury forcing him out of practice.”

Page 6—-Tweeners

  1. Isaiah Simmons, LB/S, Clemson. “Simmons played almost every position for the Tigers, from CB to deep safety to nickel back to off-ball LB and even edge rusher. He’s freakish enough to do it all, and should be a top 10 pick, but the team that drafts him should have a specific plan.”

Page 7—-Hindsight 20/20—-The 2019 NFL Draft

  1. Arizona Cardinals-Did Select: QB Kyler Murray-Should Have Selected: QB Kyler Murray

“It’s tempting to say the Cardinals should have taken Nick Bosa and given Josh Rosen a chance to develop. But Murray was quietly outstanding a rookie, and he should only improve as he and Kliff Kingsbury adapt to the NFL.”

Page 9—-2020 2 Round Mock Draft by Rob Rang

3. DETROIT: Isaiah Simmons, OLB, Clemson. “Matt Patricia may appreciate the incredible versatility Simmons would offer, helping his team’s coverage and pass rush simultaneously. “

28. BALTIMORE: Leki Fotu, DT, Utah. “Fotu has the size and physicality to help a front line expected to lose key pieces in free agency.”

29. TENNESSEE: Josh Jones, T, Houston. “If the Titans lose Jack Conklin to free agency, they may have no choice but to use this pick on a gaping hole.”

Page 19—-Running Back Prototype

Receiving—-Eno Benjamin, Arizona St. “With 77 receptions over the past two seasons, Benjamin already owns an advanced degree in the running game.”

Page 20—-Running Backs

8. Eno Benjamin, Arizona St. 5-9, 195, 4.55, 3rd Round.

Snapshot—-”burst on the scene a a first year starter in 2018, setting a school season record with 1,642 rushing yards and the ASU single-game record with 312 yards versus Oregon St. and earning 3rd team AP All-American honors.”

Strengths—-”bowling ball of a RB”—-”compact but surprisingly powerful frame, good lateral agility and balance”—-”shifty without being a finesse back.”

Weaknesses—-”lacks the frame to handle bell cow duties in the NFL”—-”more shifty than speedy”—-”fumbled 6 times (losing 5) after losing just one of three fumbles in 2018.”

Pro comparison: Kenjon Barner, Atlanta Falcons.

Page 38—-Offensive Tackles

9. Josh Jones, 6-5, 310, Houston, 5.10, 2nd Round

Snapshot—-”durable lineman who was projected as an early-round pick in 2019, but decided to return to Houston where he was a 4 year starter”—-”shined at the Senior Bowl where he was one of the best tackles during practice.”

Strengths: “broad shouldered, long armed left tackle with impressive functional quickness and power”—-”surprisingly quick when asked to pull, altering his route to consistently hit moving targets at the second level, including top notch athletes (Oklahoma).”

Weaknesses: “was aided by playing in an up-tempo offense with a highly mobile QB. Doesn’t have experience at RT or G, but put in some work there for scouts in Mobile.”

Pro Comparison: Russell Okung, Carolina Panthers

Page 45—-Guards

Worth Watching: Steven Gonzalez, Penn St. “Powerful LG who earned All-Big 10 notice and started the final tree years of his career.”

Page 55—-Defensive Tackles

Prototype—-Run Defense: Leki Fotu, Utah. “Possessing a similar frame and power-based game as Pac-12 predecessor Vita Vea (the 12th pick overall in 2018), Fotu is an immovable object in the middle, guaranteed to immediately help boost a team’s run defense.”

3. Leki Fotu, Utah, 6-5, 330, 5.10, 1st-2nd Round

Snapshot: “earned 1st team All-Pac 12 honors the past two seasons, helping Utah win the Pac-12 South both years”—-”picked up multiple 2nd team All-American honors as a senior”—-career totals of 85 tackles, 18 for loss, 4.5 sacks.”

Strengths: “naturally massive man with broad shoulders and tree trunks for limbs, surprisingly quick off the snap, demonstrating enough initial burst to split gaps if uncovered”—-”greatest asset is his raw size and strength combination, allowing him to eat up blockers while teammates wreak havoc.”

Weaknesses: “while quicker and more agile than he looks, no one is going to mistake Fotu as a consistent pass-rush threat”—-”too often he appears content with holding up at the point of attack and waiting for the ball to come toward him.”

Pro Comparison: Eddie Goldman, Chicago Bears

11. Rashard Lawrence, LSU, 6-2, 308, 4.95, 4th Round

Snapshot: “a 5 star prospect out of Louisiana in the 2016 class, Lawrence was a senior leader on LSU’s national championship game”—-”earned 2nd-team All-SEC honors from the league coaches in 2019, finishing his career with 120 tackles, including 21 for loss and 9 sacks, with 7 pas breakups.”

Strengths: “high energy tough guy who utilizes his naturally low center of gravity and core strength to collapse running lanes from the interior”—-”flashes an explosive initial burst to split gaps and located the ball quickly”—-”earns high grades for his character on and off the field, named ‘permanent’ team captain as a true sophomore and maintained a 3.0 GPA throughout his time at LSU.”

Weaknesses: “flashes quickness and power, but does not consistently move the meter in either regard”—-”too easily rooted out by double teams, simply lacking the girth and sand in his pant to hold his ground as a run stuffer.”

Pro Comparison: Akeem Spence, Jacksonville Jaguars

Page 61—-Inside Linebackers

Prototype—Read and React: Evan Weaver, California. “Statistics can be bent to show just about anything, but in the case of Weaver, who possesses Jedi-like instincts, they are telling. He led the country in tackles (182) averaging 14 a game.”

4. Evan Weaver, California, 6-2, 245, 4.75, 2nd-3rd Round

Snapshot: “Weaver was the Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year, setting a school record for tackles by surpassing Hardy Nickerson’s 167 single-season record in the regular season finale”—-”he set the Pac-12 single-season record (182)”—-”leaves Cal with top production numbers despite not starting full-time until his junior season after converting from defensive end in 2016.”

Strengths: “superior key-and-diagnose skills, plays faster than he’s likely to be timed in workouts”—-”attacks the line of scrimmage like a running back”—-”unafraid of blockers in the hole”—-”surprising agility and flawless durability—-no known injuries or missed games dating back to high school.”

Weaknesses: “relies on instincts and is not likely to dazzle in workouts, showing just average point to point speed on tape”—-”rarely asked to drop deep into man coverage”—-”technique challenged as a pass rusher, relying on simple bull rushes and tenacity to blow through would-be blockers on his way to the QB.”

Pro Comparison: Blake Martinez, New York Giants

Page 64—-Outside Linebackers

Prototype—-Pass Defense: Isaiah Simmons, Clemson. “Arguably the best player in the 2020 draft, Simmons checks every box—-covers like safety (20 career pass breakups) at a rock solid 230 pounds.

  1. Isaiah Simmons, Clemson, 6-4, 230, 4.39, 1st Round

Snapshot: “defensive coordinator Brent Venables moved him to OLB in 2018 and Simmons took off, collecting 88 tackles (9 for loss) an interception and 3 forced fumbles”—-”he considered entering the 2019 draft but returned to cement himself as a 1st round pick”—-”he did so resoundingly, piling up 102 tackles (16 for loss), 8 sacks and 3 interceptions while winning the Butkus Award as the nation’s top linebacker.”

Strengths: “Simmons dazzles in all areas, showing tremendous man-to-man coverage ability versus a variety of players, but also hounding QBs as a blitzer and outside rusher”—-”his instincts, effort and positive attitude will allow him to thrive anywhere, giving his defensive coordinator myriad options.”

Weaknesses; :Simmons isn't a classic thumper, and he might not fit teams that want a stack-and-shed type”—-”he’s still new to playing LB so there will be growing pains and his zone-coverage awareness could use some polishing.”

Pro Comparison: Derwin James, Los Angeles Chargers

Why I Loved Each Selection:

  1. Isaiah Simmons brings supreme athleticism to the Cardinals pass coverage and pass rush. His passion, character, versatility and football IQ are off the charts and I believe that like Kyler Murray, Simmons is a unique player to build his side of the ball around.
  2. Josh Jones is a first round talent who, when you think about it, might have been the best tackle choice for the Cardinals’ K-Raid. The fact that he’ such an accomplished LT who have up on one sack and 3 QB hurries in the Houston Air Raid on close to 350 passing snaps the entire 2019 season, this gives the Cardinals a wonderful safety net in the event that D.J. Humphries loses time to injuries. And depending on how quickly Jones can make the transition to the speed of the NFL and to the RT position, at some point he might win the starting job this season.
  3. Leki Fotu is such a key addition as a run stuffer in a division where the OCs in LA, SEA and SF love to run the football. I think that even as a rookie he should start in the base 34 next to Corey Peters and Jordan Phillips to form a brick wall between the tackles. I also believe that in time and with Brentson Buckner’s tutelage, Fotu will develop as a pass rusher.
  4. Rashard Lawrence brings the kind of young and exuberant leadership the Cardinals need in rebuilding their defense. I think that Zach Allen and Rashard Lawrence could make a real splash this season in the rotation and as nickel interior pass rushers. Both are adept at batting down passes when they can’t get close enough to sack the QB.
  5. Evan Weaver brings tackling ferocity to defense that needs more of it. Like Leki Fotu, it’s easy to imagine Weaver at some point earning a starting ILB spot in the 34 base on running downs, while being a standout on special teams. I think the Red Sea is going to rave about this kid’s baller mentality and that he will develop quite a vociferous fan club.
  6. Eno Benjamin is such a good fit as the RB3 this year and possible RB2 in the near future. I was hoping like mad that the Cardinals would find a way to draft Clyde Edwards-Helaire of LSU (who wound up going #32 to the Chiefs)—-but I think that of all the RBs in the draft, Eno is the closest to Clyde stature and skill-wise. To think the Cardinals got Eno in the 7th round at pick #222 is crazy!

Video of the day courtesy of Ron Wolfley:

I am going to tweet Wolf today and advise him to wear a seat belt and a bib at the games because of how he is apt to respond when the Cardinals trot out Leki Fotu at FB as the lead blocker in the goal-line! I think at some point they might even hand him the ball!