clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Best- and worst-case 2023 scenarios for every Cardinals draft pick

With free agency and the draft in the rearview, it’s time to start looking ahead to the coming season. Let’s try to prognosticate what the season holds for Monti Ossenfort’s first draft class.

Syndication: Arizona Republic
Rookie 1st-rounder Paris Johnson should be a fixture on the Cardinals’ O-line for years to come.
Mark Henle/The Republic / USA TODAY NETWORK

The grades are in and most draft analysts think new GM Monti Ossenfort did a bang-up job in his first draft. Ossenfort wheeled and dealed his way through all three days, and at the end of the weekend he added a draft class of nine new players to the Cardinals roster.

Only time will tell how each player’s career will unfold, but I thought it would be an interesting exercise today to focus on the 2023 season for these rookies. What is the best case for each player? The worst case? Let’s take a peek into the crystal ball and find out. (Note that I am not considering injuries in these scenarios. At least non-preexisting ones.)

1st Round – OT Paris Johnson Jr.

Best Case: 17-Game Starter

Johnson hasn’t been handed a starting gig yet, but given the dismal state of the Cardinals O-line, competition isn’t fierce. He should be able to beat out Kelvin Beachum for the other starting tackle slot across from D.J. Humphries, but if that doesn’t happen he should just be able to kick over to guard and start there. This O-line needs an injection of talent badly, and the 6th overall pick is as talented as rookies come.

Worst Case: Plays the Whole Year at Guard

I don’t really see a scenario where Johnson isn’t starting Week 1, but like I mentioned above he might just start the season at guard. If he plays a few games there before claiming one of the tackle slots, no big deal. But if he winds up playing the whole season inside? I think that would be the worst-case scenario for Johnson. He should be a franchise cornerstone moving forward, so let him develop at his natural position.

2nd Round – EDGE BJ Ojulari

Best Case: Among the Team Sack Leaders

Pass rusher was one of the team’s biggest needs heading into the draft, and Ossenfort landed a good one in Ojulari in the 2nd round. It’s unclear where he’ll line up—OLB? DE? a little of both?—but he’ll be a nice piece for Jonathan Gannon and DC Nick Rallis, who can maybe try to recapture a bit of the Haason Reddick magic they had in Philly. If they can do so, Ojulari could rack up 7 or 8 (or more?) sacks and be among the team leaders.

Worst Case: Doesn’t Find a True Position

Here comes the dreaded word: “tweener.” I don’t think the new regime will repeat the same mistakes of the old one that stalled the careers of Reddick and Isaiah Simmons, but if Gannon and Rallis don’t find a true position for Ojulari, he could struggle to get a feel for the defense and struggle in his rookie year. Let’s hope they give the rookie a job and let him do it.

3rd Round – CB Garrett Williams

Best Case: Starter Down the Stretch

It’s tough to envision a rookie coming off a significant injury like Williams making an immediate impact. He’s expected to be able to take the field in July, but it’ll take time for him to get back to full strength and adjust to the NFL. I’m not sure how much he’ll see the field early on. But I can see him coming on strong in the second half of the season, and maybe even starting a few games down the stretch. Ideally, he’d enter the 2024 season as a likely starter.

Worst Case: No Impact in 2023

Of course, it’s entirely possible that Williams experiences a setback in his ACL recovery, which would put him far behind the 8-ball. Maybe July turns to August; maybe he starts the regular season on the PUP list. He’d definitely see the field at some point, but the worst case for Williams is a lost rookie season where he fails to make a real impact. The only upshot to that would be that he’d have a full offseason to get up to speed and climb the CB depth chart.

3rd Round – WR Michael Wilson

Best Case: Solid WR3 by Season’s End

With DeAndre Hopkins now unlikely to be traded this offseason, Wilson is low down the depth chart in a relatively solid WR room. Hopkins and Hollywood Brown are obviously the top dogs, with Rondale Moore as the WR3. Wilson would have to leapfrog the likes of Greg Dortch and Zach Pascal to see the field. It might take some time, but he should be able to do so. From there, what if Hopkins is traded during the season? What if Moore falls out of favor? Wilson could benefit and make an impact down the stretch.

Worst Case: No Impact in 2023

Then again, none of the above could occur. Hopkins might not be traded, Moore could finally take a leap, and Dortch/Pascal could hold the rookie off. It’s easy to envision spending the 2023 only as a depth player and special teamer. Of all of Ossenfort’s picks, this is the one I questioned the most. I hope he finds a way to prove me wrong in 2023.

4th Round – OG Jon Gaines II

Best Case: Earns a Starting Job Early

As I mentioned earlier, the O-line depth chart is hardly imposing, to put it mildly. Will Hernandez should have one guard slot locked down, but the other options are currently “Elijah Wilkinson,” “Rashaad Coward,” and “Lecitus Smith.” It’s unclear if these are NFL players or minor 19th century religious figures. It seems unlikely that a 4th-round draft pick will be starting Week 1, but Gaines has the tools to bypass them all sooner rather than later.

Worst Case: Never Earns a Starting Job

Gaines is a just 4th-round pick. It’s very possible that he just doesn’t earn a starting gig in 2023. Maybe one of the religious figures has a strong camp/preseason and claims the gig and never gives it up. Maybe Gaines takes longer than expected acclimate to the pro game. You never really know with rookies.

5th Round – QB Clayton Tune

Best Case: Makes the Regular Season Roster

I know Kyler Murray is recovering from an ACL tear and the QB depth chart behind him is in a bit of a state of flux, but something will have gone very wrong if 5th-rounder Tune sees the field at all in 2023. But he might be able to force himself into the mix for backup to the backup (aka the Week 1 starter) with a strong camp/preseason. His best-case scenario is simply making the roster as a backup.

Worst Case: Practice Squad Bound

Again: this is a 5th-round rookie QB. Picks like this are basically why the practice squad was invented. The overwhelmingly most likely scenario for Tune is that he’s practice squad bound. Maybe he gets called up in an emergency, but he’s almost certain to never see the field for the Cardinals in 2023. And that’s okay—he’s a developmental prospect.

5th Round – LB Owen Pappoe

Best Case: Sub-Package Contributor

By all accounts, Pappoe has the speed and athleticism to make an impact in the NFL, if not necessarily the size. The LB depth chart is a little crowded, but Pappoe could make contributions as a special teamer and in sub packages. He has all the makings of a sneaky-good late-round pick.

Worst Case: Special Teams Contributor

Like I said, the LB depth chart is solid, so it’s possible that Pappoe only really sees the field on special teams. But with his aforementioned speed and athleticism, he should make an impact there, especially with many longtime special teamers no longer around.

6th Round – CB Kei’Trel Clark

Best Case: Sub-Package Contributor

Even though the CB room is in even worse shape than the O-line, it’s unlikely Clark plays his way into a starting role. But he could certainly make an impact in nickel/dime packages, likely later in the season. He should also contribute on special teams as a rookie.

Worst Case: Special Teams Contributor

It’s not unheard of for 6th-rounders to not make the team—but, again, the Cardinals CB room is one of the worst in the league, so Clark would have to have an epically poor camp/preseason for that to happen. But it’s more than possible that he doesn’t really see the field on defense in 2023, instead only playing special teams.

6th Round – DT Dante Stills

Best Case: Becomes a Rotational Player

D-line is yet another position with a barren depth chart for the Cardinals. Even a 6th-rounder like Stills—an athletic and productive college player—has a real chance to become a rotational piece down the stretch after acclimating to the NFL.

Worst Case: Practice Squad Bound

But maybe Ossenfort picks up another D-linemen or two after roster cuts, squeezing Stills out and dropping him to the practice squad. Again, that wouldn’t be unheard of at all for such a late draft pick.

Final Thoughts

This upcoming season is looking like a long one for the Cardinals, but one of the highlights will be watching how this rookie class develops. Ideally, a handful will become starters while the rest contribute as depth players and on special teams. This column could be a fun one to revisit in the offseason.

As long as these rookies contribute more than the typical Steve Keim rookie class, I’ll be happy and the Cardinals will be in good shape moving forward—especially with all the 2024 picks we have stashed. If you squint just right, the future is looking bright for the Cardinals.