The Arizona Cardinals were one of the big surprises in 2014, as they finished 10-6 under first year head coach Bruce Arians. Unfortunately for the Cardinals, they play in arguably the toughest division in the NFL. Arizona ended up 3rd in the NFC West and missed out on the playoffs, despite tying for the 5th best record in the NFC.
The Cardinals knew they had to make some changes if they wanted to take that next step and contend for a division title. They appear to be on the right track to closing the gap. Arizona filled a huge void at left tackle by signing free agent Jared Veldheer away from the Raiders and brought in veteran corner Antonio Cromartie (Jets) to form a potent 1-2 punch on the outside with Patrick Peterson. Arizona also added some help at the skill positions on the offensive side of the ball, bringing in wide out Ted Ginn (Panthers), running back Jonathan Dwyer (Steelers) and tight end John Carlson (Vikings).
Unfortunately for Arizona, they lost a number of key players from last year’s team, none bigger than inside linebacker Karlos Dansby, who was the heart and soul of the defense. The Cardinals also parted ways with safety Yeremiah Bell, offensive tackle Eric Winston, wide receiver Andre Roberts, guard Dayrn Colledge, corner Antoine Cason, linebacker Jasper Brinkley, running back Rashard Mendenhall (retired) and corner Javier Arenas.
Arizona will now shift their attention to the NFL Draft The Cardinals have one pick in each of the first six rounds and will select 20th overall in the first round. Here’s a quick look at the five positions I think Arizona needs to go after when they are on the clock.
Arizona got 11.5 sacks out of veteran outside linebacker John Abraham, but he will be 36 at the start of next season and can’t be trusted to repeat that level of production. Strong side linebacker Matt Shaughnessy managed just 3 sacks and they lose Dansby’s 6.5 sacks. While Arizona also gets pressure on the quarterback from star 3-4 defensive end Calais Campbell (9 sacks), they need to make sure they don’t suffer a huge drop back from the rest of the defensive unit. Adding in a linebacker who can help on passing downs and serve as a future replacement for Abraham would be a wise investment.
The Cardinals took a gamble on Tyrann Mathieu in last year’s draft and it paid off early on. Mathieu stepped in and played a big role as a rookie. Unfortunately he tore his ACL and LCL in his left knee. He’s projected to be the starting free safety, but they need to find a better option at strong safety than Tony Jefferson. If Alabama’s Ha Ha Clinton-Dix or Louisville’s Calvin Pryor are still available when Arizona is up at No. 20, I think they have to pull the trigger.
Arizona made a massive upgrade at left tackle with Veldheer taking over for Bradley Sowell, who was downright awful protecting Carson Palmer’s blind-side. Not to mention they are expected to get back a healthy Jonathan Cooper at left guard, who they took 7th overall in last year’s draft. The piece of the puzzle left to address is at right tackle. I already believe the Cardinals will have one of the most improved offensive lines in the NFL. If they can find an upgrade over Bobbie Massie, the unit has the potential to be elite in 2014. That is as long as they avoid a major injury.
Wide Receiver/Tight End
I’m a big fan of the Cardinals offseason addition of Ginn, who gives them another speedster that can stretch the field and open up more lanes for Larry Fitzgerald. However, I still feel it would be wise for Arizona to add in another weapon for Palmer, especially with the defenses they have to face on a regular basis in the NFC West. I don’t mind another receiver, but I think the big upgrade could come at tight end. Rob Housler and John Carlson are both serviceable at the position, but neither puts fear into opposing defenses. Adding a playmaker at tight end could do wonders for Cardinals.
This is not a pressing need, as I believe given the right circumstances that Palmer is more than capable of leading this team deep in the playoffs. However, I think it would make a lot of sense for the Cardinals to gamble on someone in the later rounds that could potentially replace Drew Stanton as the backup and develop into a starter while Palmer closes out his career. The draft is pretty deep at the quarterback position. Georgia’s Arron Murray or Alabama’s A.J. McCarron are a couple of the potential steals that could still be available in the 4th round.
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