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Round 1 2021 NFL Draft: Top Value Picks for Cardinals

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: SEP 14 TCU at Purdue Photo by Zach Bolinger/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The term “value pick” has become the NFL pundits’ trendy descriptor when evaluating the potential impact a draftee can have on the team that drafts him.

The shortest way I can think of to explain what a “value pick” is —- it’s the player who checks off the most boxes in terms of what he is able to do for his side of the ball.

The more I started checking off boxes as they apply to each of the top prospects, it became increasingly clear to me that the player in the 2021 NFL Draft who could bring the most immediate and long-term value to the Arizona Cardinals is TCU defensive back, man-to-man and zone coverage star, Trevon Moehrig.

  1. Trevon Moehrig, CB/S, TCU

Ask yourself this question: if the Cardinals had a game this week versus the San Francisco 49ers, who is going to cover TE George Kittle? The one player I can think of is LB Isaiah Simmons. However, the best and surest way to cover a TE is with a strong safety who can line up directly over the TE. It is very challenging to cover a TE from the WILL ILB position of a base 34 defense.

Budda Baker has battled Kittle in the past, but at 5-10, he gives up too much height on the 6-4 Kittle. Jalen Thompson is 5-11, and I think he can cover most TEs, but we have yet to see him handle George Kittle. When comparing Thompson’s man cover skills with Trevon Moehrig’s, Moehrig is stickier and more consistent at jumping routes and getting his hands on the football.

The thing is too —- Trevon Moehrig would also be the team’s best matchup on slot WR Deebo Samuel. Thus, in passing situations the Cardinals could put Isaiah Simmons on George Kittle, Trevon Moehrig on Deebo Samuel, Malcom Butler on Brandon Aiyuk and Byron Murphy on Mohamed Sanu.

Versus the Seattle Seahawks, with the current roster, who would cover Tyler Lockett? Lockett has had field days versus the Cardinals the last couple of years and the Cardinals have had no answer for him. In 2020, for example, the two division rivalry games, Lockett amassed 24 receptions, for 267 yards and 4 TDs. Patrick Peterson, Dre Kirkpatrick and Byron Murphy all tried to cover him, to little avail. Trevor Moehrig has the ability to change all of that.

Same for covering the likes of Robert Woods and Cooper Kupp of the Los Angeles Rams who have basically had their way against the Cardinals’ secondary the past few years. This year Woods and Kupp have Matthew Stafford throwing to them.

Therefore, the value of selecting a sticky cover man like Trevon Moehrig who has the size and skill to cover any receiver would be enormous. It is worth noting that Trevon’s college coach, Gary Patterson, who is arguably one of the most brilliant and creative defensive coaches in the history of the NCAA (and has been as the head coach at TCU for 21 years), asserts of his 2020 Jim Thorpe Award winner (given to the nation’s top defensive back): “Trevon Moehrig is the best man-to-man cover safety I have ever coached.”

One may rightly ask, well, what about the top 4 rated CBs in this draft? I think an argument can be made for the Cardinals to select any of them, but here are the question marks:

Patrick Surtain II, Alabama —- he should be the first CB off the board, thus the Cardinals would have to trade up for him, which likely means giving up the #16 pick and their 1st round pick in 2022. Likely selection: #10 to DAL.

Jaycee Horn, South Carolina —- it’s very likely that the Cardinals have Horn ranked near to the top of their board, based on Horn’s impressive physical skills. If he is still available at #16, few pundits and fans could argue with pick. Likely selection: #13 to LAC.

Caleb Farley, Virginia Tech —- probably the most gifted athlete at the CB in this draft, but has the medical flags (ACL, back) and has only played CB for two years. Obviously, picking Falrey at #16 would be a high risk, but potentially high reward scenario for the Cardinals. Much could depend on whether the Cardinals’ physicians give Steve Keim the green light.

Greg Newsome II, Northwestern —- here is another superbly gifted athlete who played ta very high level in a Power 5 conference, but he missed 8 games in 2018 with an ankle injury. He missed 3 games in 2019 with a leg injury and missed 3 games in 2020 with a groin injury that prevented him from playing in the Big 10 Championship. Again, Newsome is a gifted athlete who would be a high risk and potential high reward pick for the Cardinals.

While I am impressed with all four of these top CB prospects, when I compare their cover skills, zone instincts, tackling eagerness/fundamentals and versatility to Trevon Moehrig’s, Moehrig wins in all four categories.

My NFL Player Comp for Trevon Moehrig: Aeneas Williams

2 (tie). Travis Etienne, RB, Clemson

I have been trying like crazy to decide which star RB in this draft class I like best, Travis Etienne, Najee Harris or Javonte Williams. But, there are three things that have have tipped the sales toward Etienne: (1) seeing that Steve Keim made an effort to bond with Etienne at his pro day; (2) Daniel Jeremiah, whose draft board I have utmost respect for, has Etienne ranked #21 on his board, one peg ahead of Najee Harris at #22; (3) and I love the fact that Travis Etienne has said that he hopes and wants to be an Arizona Cardinal.

The versatility and skillset that Travis Etienne would bring to the Cardinals’ offense is of the highest value imaginable, particularly because the Cardinals’ offense has become run heavy, and pass to the RBs heavy. Look at what the Cardinals got out of Kenyan Drake for the last year and a half and then imagine what Travis Etienne could do with his superior speed and ability to slip through tight holes and break tackles.

My NFL Player Comp: Alvin Kamara

2 (tie). DeVonta Smith, WR, Alabama.

The Cardinals have not had a super silky, quick slot WR in ages. DeVonta Smith could change all of that and make the Cardinals’ passing game extremely difficult to defend, with teams having to cover Smith from the slot, DeAndre Hopkins to one side of the field and A.J. Green to the other.

It is my belief that DeVonta Smith is the Justin Jefferson of this year’s draft and that like Jefferson, Smith could emerge as the most productive WR in his class and a top candidate to win Rookie of the Year honors.

My NFL Player Comp: Stefon Diggs/Justin Jefferson

2 (tie). Jaylen Waddle, WR, Alabama.

Waddle is lightning in a bottle and with his great speed he can win from the outside and from the slot. If the Cardinals are able to trade up for him or if he somehow makes it to pick #16, he would be an outstanding selection and one that would have Cardinals’ fans jumping for joy.

My NFL Player Comp: DeSean Jackson.

5. Zaven Collins, LB, Tulsa.

Zaven Collins is the most versatile linebacker in this year’s class. Right now the Cardinals find themselves in 3-4 limbo because the only one of the 4 linebackers who is a clear fit at his position is Isaiah Simmons at WILL, and Simmons is just getting started.

It’s uncertain at this point what the Cardinals are going to do at SAM OLB, now that Haason Reddick, who played the position better than any SAM has ever since the Cardinals adopted the 34 as their base defense, has moved on. At MIKE, the Cardinals are hoping to get a bounce back year from Jordan Hicks, but if he keeps playing the position on his heels 7-8 yards from the line of scrimmage while being a tad too slow in pass coverage, then we are apt to see more of Tanner Vallejo this year, particularly in sub and short yardage packages. I think Vallejo is a better fit, although physically he looks more like a WILL than a MIKE. At BANDIT, Chandler Jones give the defense the pass rushing skill the position requires, but he’s struggled in recent years versus the run and in pass coverage.

Zaven Collins has the versatility to play all 4 LB positions —- in watching his game tapes at Tulsa, his most natural spot is at MIKE where he runs downhill to the ball, storms the gaps on running and passing downs and is an extraordinarily gifted cover LB, amazingly playing at 6-3, 265.

Could Zaven Collins start out at SAM? Yes. he could be very effective at SAM in the 34 base and then, with Isaiah Simmons, be the nickel LBs in the nickel and dime sub packages.

My NFL Player Comp: Brian Urlacher

Note: last night on the NFL Network’s Mock Draft, Penn St.’s juggernaut ILB, Micah Parsons, was still on the board at #16. I haven’t listed him here because I believe Parsons will be long gone by pick #16. However, if he is available and the Cardinals are satisfied that his off the field issues are not a cause for concern, then wow, what a pick Parsons would be at #16.

My NFL Play Comp: Bobby Wagner

5 (tie). T/G Rashawn Slater, Northwestern, T/G Alijah Vera-Tucker, USC, T/G Christian Darrisaw, Virginia Tech

Slater, Vera-Tucker and Darrisaw were All-Conference Power 5 tackles who have the uncanny ability and flexibility to play practically any position on the offensive line.

My NFL Player Comps:

  • Slater —- Marshal Yanda
  • Vera-Tucker —- Ali Marpet;
  • Darrisaw —- Dion Dawkins.

Wild Card: Teven Jenkins, Oklahoma St. The Cardinals have spent a good deal of time scouting and meeting with Jenkins, who is a flat-out mauler at RT.

My Player Comp: Ryan Ramczyk

Note: Last night on the NFL Network Mock Draft, Kurt Warner made the selection for the Cardinals and, with Michah Parsons still on the board, Warner picked Christian Darrisaw.

There is no doubt that Christian Darrisaw is an outstanding prospect and in essence would be a great pick at #16. Which got me to thinking that Sean Kugler is the current coach whom Steve Keim would be most apt to want to please the most.

If Keim manages to remain the team’s GM for years to come, then I believe that Sean Kugler is on a fast track to become Keim’s next head coach, particularly if and when Jason Licht and the Bucs announce Todd Bowles as BA’s eventual successor.

If one of the Cardinals’ first two picks is an offensive lineman in a year where there appears to be greater immediate needs at other positions, then this would affirm how important it is to Steve Keim, not only to continue to make protecting Kyler Murray a top priority, but also for giving Sean Kugler the best chance to keep moving up the ladder.

The most comparable players at these position in Round 2:

Versatile cover man with plus 6 feet size? Jevon Holland, Oregon. Not quite as consistently sticky as Trevon Moehrig, but Holland breaks on the ball very well and gets his hands on a good number of passes.

While an inch or so under six feet, Washington’s Elijah Molden and UCF’s Aaron Robinson are two versatile, quick-footed, aggressive, playmaking CBs who would be excellent picks at #49.

Versatile dual threat RB? None even remotely comparable to Etienne, assuming that Javonte Williams is off the board, which, of course, he will. The best possibilities would appear to be Michael Carter of North Carolina , Chuba Hubbard of Oklahoma St. and Kenneth Gainwell of Memphis although they are projected as late Round 3 or early Round 4 prospects.

Dynamic, quick to separate, slot WR? Elijah Moore, Mississippi (but the way he’s moving up draft boards, the Cardinals would have to try to trade up to get him). Two sleeper slot WRs in round 2 may very well be D’Wayne Eskridge of Western Michigan and Amon-Ra St. Brown of USC. Another possibility may be Dyami Brown, North Carolina, but he’s had issues with drops, which likely will cause him to slide in Round 3 or early Round 4. Anthony Schwartz of Auburn and Tutu Atwell of Louisville are 4.38 speedsters.

Versatile 34 LB? None with Collins’ size and skills. But Nick Bolton of Missouri would be an absolute boon for the Cardinals if he were to still be on the board at pick #49. Another versatile LB prospect who appears to be moving up draft boards in swift fashion is Ohio St.’s Pete Werner.

Immediate Impact Prospects for Cardinals:

Offense:

  • Kyle Pitts, TE, Florida
  • Ja’Marr Chase, WR, LSU
  • DeVonta Smith, WR, Alabama
  • Jaylen Waddle, WR, Alabama
  • Travis Etienne, RB, Clemson

Defense:

  • Trevon Moehrig, CB/S, TCU
  • Micah Parsons, LB, Penn St.
  • Patrick Surtain, CB, Alabama
  • Zaven Collins, LB, Tulsa
  • Jaycee Horn, CB, South Carolina

Those are my favorites.

Who are yours?