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The Cardinals are in the race… for a top-3 pick

Let’s face it: This season is over. It’s time to start talking about the draft—and the best pick we can get.

NFL: Arizona Cardinals at Denver Broncos
The loss to the Broncos wasn’t pretty, but it did help us improve our draft position.
Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

This isn’t the race we thought we’d be in at 4-10, but we might as well embrace the fact that we’re in the race for a top-3 pick. After the Week 16 action, we are slotted in at the #5 spot in the draft order. That loss to the Broncos actually helped us quite a bit in this regard.

But with Kyler Murray (and maybe Colt McCoy) out, Cardinals fans can aim to dream higher (er, lower). We likely can’t get the #1 pick again (see below), but if some things break right, we might be able to land a top-3 pick in next April’s draft. You may remember that we drafted a guy named Larry Fitzgerald at #3 back in 2004. We won’t draft a WR that high this year, but this is a strong draft class at the top, so we want the best pick possible, right?

Today, let’s take a look at the other teams in contention for a top-3 pick and see where the Cardinals stand.

Not Quite Bad Enough

There are a few teams at 5-9 (or 4-9-1) who have an outside shot at a top-3 pick, but they’d need a lot of chaos from the true bottom feeders of the league to wind up in the top-3. But here they are for completeness’s sake. (All numbers per Tankathon.)

Outside Chance at a Top-3 Pick

Team Record SOS Remaining Opponents Remaining SOS (Rank)
Team Record SOS Remaining Opponents Remaining SOS (Rank)
Indianapolis Colts 4-9-1 0.508 LAC, @NYG, HOU .429 (22)
Atlanta Falcons 5-9 0.447 @BAL, ARI, TB .452 (20)
Carolina Panthers 5-9 0.452 DET, @TB, @NO .429 (23)
New Orleans Saints (to Philadelphia) 5-9 0.496 @CLE, @PHI, CAR .571 (9)

Basement Dwellers

These are the worst five teams in the NFL and will be duking it out for the right to pick at the top of the draft.

Contenders for a Top-3 Pick

Team Record SOS Remaining Opponents Remaining SOS (Rank)
Team Record SOS Remaining Opponents Remaining SOS (Rank)
Houston Texans 1-12-1 0.504 @TEN, JAX, @IND .417 (24)
Chicago Bears 3-11 0.574 BUF, @DET, MIN .690 (1)
Denver Broncos (to Seattle) 4-10 0.483 @LAR, @KC, LAC .548 (11)
Los Angeles Rams (to Detroit) 4-10 0.500 DEN, @LAC, @SEA .452 (19)
Arizona Cardinals 4-10 0.517 TB, @ATL, @SF .500 (13)

A few notes relevant to the Cardinals:

  • There’s almost no way we can get the #1 pick. The Texans would have to win out and we would have to lose out, plus the Bears would likely have to win at least two games. But never say never: the Texans have three divisional games against the woeful AFC South, and the Bears are fairly frisky for a 3-11 team.
  • It’ll be tough to get the #2 pick as well. The Bears have three very losable games, while we have at least the Atlanta game that profiles as somewhat “winnable.” But the rub is that they have a huge edge at strength of schedule (SOS), which is the tiebreaker—and the team with the harder SOS gets the higher pick. Since we almost certainly won’t be able to overtake them in SOS, we’d have to lose at least two more games than them down the stretch.
  • There are two trades here that greatly impact our NFC West rivals. The Rams pick goes to the Lions. Worth it for the Lombardi, but that’s going to be a very good pick. But that means the Rams have no incentive to tank, which could be good for the Cardinals. Bad for the Cardinals is that the Broncos pick will go to the Seahawks as part of the Russell Wilson trade. The Seahawks are very quickly returning to contender status after moving on from Wilson.
  • This is more funny than anything, but the Rams-Broncos game this week should be very, very interesting. Neither of them own their 1st-round pick, and neither may be starting their former Pro Bowl QBs. Very strong lower-tier college bowl game energy.

So how to we get a top-3 pick?

The simplest way would be to lose out while both the Broncos and Rams win at least one game. We know at least one of them will get a win since they play each other this week. (Even if they tie, that’s still fine for our purposes.) So then we’d just need the loser to spring an upset in the final two weeks. But we would likely be picking #4 at the worst in this scenario. (I’m not entirely sure how the SOS math would work.)

Winning a game would make getting a top-3 pick much more difficult. Again, I’m not quite sure how the SOS math would shake out, but we’d need the Broncos and Rams to help us out a bit. But, again, since neither of them have any incentive to tank, that might be feasible. We just don’t really want to beat the Falcons and have them potentially leapfrog us. But they are incredibly still very much in the hunt for the NFC South division title, so that might not be an issue.

If we were to do the unthinkable and win two or more games, we might drop out of the top-10 entirely. But that would be very Cardinals-like, wouldn’t it?

Anyway, I don’t love talking about this stuff, but that’s where we are right now as a franchise. We’ll talk about what to actually do with the pick at a later date (draft a stud D-lineman or edge rusher? Trade back?). For now, let us know what you are hoping for out of the Cardinals in these last three games in the poll below. You know where I stand.


What do you want to see the Cardinals do in the final three games?

This poll is closed

  • 6%
    Win every game we can win—pride matters
    (14 votes)
  • 71%
    Lose out to get a better draft pick
    (156 votes)
  • 21%
    Don’t care as long as the team plays hard
    (47 votes)
217 votes total Vote Now