The NFL Draft is notoriously hard to predict, but this is one of the tougher ones to prognosticate I can remember in a long time. Especially from an Arizona Cardinals perspective—mostly because no one seems to have a clear idea what the teams around them are doing.
The Panthers seem poised to take a QB at #1 … but which one? Most observers had pegged the Texans to grab another QB at #2 … but now the rumor is they’ll take a defensive player. We’ve been hearing all offseason that teams are lining up to trade up to the Cardinals #3 spot… but now there are whispers that teams aren’t as high on the QBs as previously thought.
Long story short: no one knows what will happen tonight. Same as it ever was. But when you consider all the mock drafts, the Twitter rumblings, the front office smokescreens, you can start to make an educated guess as to what the team will do tonight.
I think the Cardinals’ decision comes down to 6 players at 3 positions—depending on how the draft unfolds around them, of course. What are those positions and who are those players? Let’s find out.
With J.J. Watt retired and Zach Allen in Denver, the Cardinals’ need for a top-flight pass rusher is obvious. You can bet new Jonathan Gannon and Nick Rallis are hoping Monti Ossenfort can find them a player who can fill the Haason Reddick role in their defense. (Because, you know, we let Reddick walk for nothing a few years back.)
Alabama EDGE Will Anderson Jr.
Anderson has been by far the player most commonly mocked to the Cardinals Even though there is now uncertainty about whether Anderson will actually be there at #3—and whether the Cardinals will even be picking at #3—he still has the best betting odds to be taken at that draft slot. The top-ranked defensive player—if not top-ranked player overall—on most teams’ draft boards, Anderson would be a great get and fill a huge need if he winds up being the pick. Everyone from scouts to coaches to draft analysts rave about Anderson as a player and a person. I’d be excited if the Cardinals landed him.
Texas Tech EDGE Tyree Wilson
Wilson could apparently go as high as #2 to the Texans, but if the Texans take Anderson—or if the Cardinals trade back and Wilson falls a bit—Wilson could be a strong fallback option. At 6’6” and 270, he’s got a few inches and about 20 pounds on Anderson. He’s a more physically imposing presence and some analysts say he has a higher ceiling than Anderson. He just doesn’t have the college production to match his obvious physical gifts and he did suffer a serious foot injury last season. But he’s been shooting up draft boards recently and is a surefire top-10 pick, if not top-5.
The Cardinals’ need at corner is even more obvious than their need at pass rusher. Right now, Marco Wilson stands atop the depth chart with various JAGs, street free agents, and practice squad types behind him. Corner will absolutely be a target for Ossenfort this weekend. He won’t take one at #3, but if the Cardinals trade down 5-6 slots, he might very well be looking to land the team’s new CB1.
Oregon CB Christian Gonzalez
The guy below seems to be the #1 CB on most draft boards, but Gonzalez is the name most often connected with the Cardinals so far. At 6’2”, 200 pounds with 4.38 speed, Gonzalez is an absolute specimen with all the traits it takes to become a dominant corner in the NFL. He’d be an immediate difference-maker in a secondary that might soon be missing Budda Baker. Gonzalez could be a target if the team were to, say, trade back with the Titans at #11… if he’s still on the board, that is.
Illinois CB Devon Witherspoon
Witherspoon seems to be the consensus top-ranked corner, an absolute demon in coverage who profiles as a shutdown corner even if he doesn’t have Gonzalez’s size. Most mocks seem to have him going either to the Lions at #6 or the Raiders at #7, so it might be difficult for the Cardinals to land him. But things rarely go according to the mocks. The Lions or Raiders could trade up, prefer Gonzalez, or go a different direction entirely. If the Redbirds trade back and Anderson and Wilson are off the board, they could very well snatch up Witherspoon if he’s there.
The Cardinals desperately need to rebuild both trenches, and O-line might be an even bigger question mark for the team than D-line. They seem set at tackle for 2023 with D.J. Humphries and Kelvin Beachum, but Beachum is just a placeholder. And they have absolutely NO ONE in the interior of the O-line. So, yeah, O-line is a huge need. Just ask Kyler Murray.
Northwestern OT Peter Skoronski
Although the Cardinals’ biggest need is interior O-line, that wouldn’t stop them from taking a tackle—especially since the top two options can both play guard if needed. In fact, some scouts project Skoronski as a guard, rather than a tackle, in the NFL. He’s a more refined prospect than the guy below, if not quite as physically gifted, but he’d be a Day 1 starter on the ramshackle Cardinals O-line. Like CB, I only see the team taking an O-lineman if they trade down toward the back end or even out of the top 10.
Ohio State OT Paris Johnson
Johnson projects as more of a pure tackle (although he did play at guard for a spell in college), and his ceiling is a Pro Bowl–level left tackle. If you’re intent on rebuilding the O-line, Johnson is the kind of player you want to start with. The only question is whether Ossenfort will focus on the O-line in the early rounds—something (say it with me) former GM Steve Keim was loathe to do. I’ve seen one mock that has the Cardinals actually taking Johnson at #3, but I don’t see that happening. But after trading down? Absolutely.
Other Potential Options
Okay, so I’m hedging my bet here a little bit. I really do think the Cardinals’ pick will be one of the 6 guys above, but here are a few other names to keep in mind if things get truly crazy.
- Georgia DT Jalen Carter: Who knows what will happen with Carter—he really could go anywhere, to anyone. But I don’t get the sense he’s someone the Cardinals are targeting, especially with his legal/character red flags. Would Ossenfort really make a divisive prospect like Carter his first-ever #1 pick?
- Georgia EDGE Nolan Smith: Smith seems to be a tier below the likes of Anderson and Wilson, and he’s also coming off a significant pectoral injury. He’d fill a need, but I think if Anderson and Wilson are off the board, Ossenfort would go in a different direction, likely OL or CB.
- Georgia OT Broderick Jones, Tennessee OT Darnell Wright, Clemson EDGE Myles Murphy, Penn State CB Joey Porter Jr.: Just some names to file away in case the Cardinals trade back further in the 1st round than people think. Or if they trade up from the 2nd round?
The most important question facing the Cardinals here on draft day isn’t what player they take, or even what position. It’s whether they trade back from #3 or not—which depends on whether there is demand for the pick. Lots of moving parts. But I have a feeling someone will pull the trigger and the Cardinals will trade back.
Here’s what I see as the two most likely scenarios for the team tonight:
If the Cardinals stay at #3, either because they have their hearts set on a certain player or they try and fail to trade back, I think they’ll take Anderson or Wilson, in that order, depending on which one is available.
If they trade back, my first guess would be that they’d take either Skoronski or Johnson over the corners. But don’t rule out Gonzalez or Witherspoon.
It’d be a minor surprise to me if they took anyone else, whether it be Carter or Smith or anyone else. But whoever the pick is, I’m excited to see how our new GM approaches his first draft. The rebuild starts tonight.
What do you think, RotBers? Who do you think the Redbirds wind up taking? You know the drill: vote in the poll and drop a comment.
Who will the Cardinals draft in the 1st round tonight?
This poll is closed
Will Anderson Jr.