NFL Draft rumors: Are Cardinals tipping hand by meeting with Kizer, Watson?

With most NFL teams finishing up their draft meetings and the NFL Combine re-check taking place, the days leading up to the draft is ripe with rumor and innuendo. NFLDraftScout.com’s staff is filtering through the hot gossip with a “Fire Detector” assigning the big news as “Fire” with “Smoldering Coals” and “Simply Smoke” used to differentiate the reports.

Arizona Cardinals quarterback Carson Palmer announced prior to the NFL Combine that he would be returning for his 15th NFL season.

His head coach, Bruce Arians, and general manager, Steve Keim, however, appear to be preparing for life without the three-time Pro Bowler, inviting potential first-round quarterbacks DeShone Kizer and Deshaun Watson to the Cardinals’ facility this week.

The Cardinals have expressed plenty of interest in finding Palmer’s eventual replacement. The club met with North Carolina’s Mitchell Trubisky at the combine and were notable attendees at the pro days of Patrick Mahomes ( Texas Tech Red Raiders ) and Davis Webb (Cal).

To speak in general terms about adding to the position at the combine or owner’s meetings or even attending pro day workouts, however, is much different than investing two of the team’s allowed 30 visits in the position.

Actions speak louder than words during the cloak and dagger days shortly preceding the draft, providing evidence that there is plenty of fire behind the rumors that the Cardinals are, in fact, looking to select a quarterback early in this month’s draft.

Arians’ history suggests that Kizer, Mahomes or the similarly strong-armed Webb might be the Cardinals’ intended targets. Each would appear to be a better fit in the aggressive vertical passing attack that Arians has preached in Arizona, as well as in previous stops in Indianapolis and Pittsburgh where he worked with Andrew Luck , Peyton Manning and Ben Roethlisberger , among others.

Kizer, Mahomes and Webb each starred in spread offenses which rarely asked the quarterbacks to huddle with teammates, call their own plays or make difficult post-snap reads of defenses. As such, each is viewed by most scouts as less polished than some of their peers, though they boast undeniable upside. Watson lacks the imposing height and velocity but possesses the intangibles that warrant a closer look.

Back at the combine, Keim admitted the difficulty in simultaneously drafting for the present but keeping an eye trained on the future.

“It’s a tough balance, but that’s my job, to look at the long-term health of the organization. You have to make those kinds of decisions. To me, there’s no better time to take a young quarterback then when you can have a guy like Carson who can help develop him,” Keim said.

“He and I had dinner the night before he announced he was coming back, and at dinner, Carson told me, all the coaching things are great, but some of the best things to develop a young quarterback are a veteran quarterback. He learned from Jon Kitna. Maybe it wasn’t technical things, it was maybe how to prepare off the field, how to study film. To me Carson would be a great role model.”

NFLDraftScout.com Fire Detector: Fire

Every indication is that the Cardinals are serious about adding a young quarterback to the roster. At this point, it would be a mild surprise if the club does not use its first (No. 13 overall) or second round (No. 45) selection on a passer.

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DeShone Kizer has the big arm that Bruce Arians wants in a QB. USATSI

Fournette in play at No. 1 overall?

CBSSports.com insider Jason La Canfora reported Monday that if “something shocking happens in the top five picks it very well might involve LSU Tigers running back Leonard Fournette ,” suggesting that the bruising runner might even be in play with the Cleveland Browns at No. 1 overall.

Fournette may very well be in play early; he’s been slotted at No. 4 overall to the Jacksonville Jaguars in my personal mock draft for weeks. Fellow first-round talents at running back like Stanford’s Christian McCaffrey , Florida State’s Dalvin Cook and Oklahoma’s Joe Mixon are flashier but no one in this draft (or frankly in recent memory) comes with Fournette’s raw blend of size, power and speed -- traits that could make him a bell-cow back capable of carrying an offense. Certainly a Browns’ team that averaged just 16.5 points per game a year ago (31st in the NFL) would be intrigued.

NFLDraftScout.com Fire Detector: Smoldering Coals

For all of Fournette’s gifts, Texas A&M pass rusher Myles Garrett remains firmly the top-rated prospect on NFLDraftScout.com’s board and the clear favorite to be the Browns’ selection at No. 1 overall. With recent draft picks in burly backs Carlos Hyde (San Francisco, selecting second overall), Jordan Howard (Chicago, third) and Derrick Henry (Tennessee, fifth), the Jaguars at No. 4 overall would appear the likeliest team in the top five to nab a running back. 

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Leonard Fournette is more smash than flash. USATSI

Injured cornerbacks still in play for first round?

A torn Achilles tendon and ruptured pectoral muscle suffered at their respective pro day workouts seemingly ended any chance of star Pac-12 cornerbacks Sidney Jones ( Washington Huskies ) and Fabian Moreau (UCLA) earning first round selections -- at least in the opinion of most.

Baltimore Ravens ’ assistant general manager Eric DeCosta apparently disagrees, however, citing Jones and Moreau by name -- an unusual move for the highly-respected talent evaluator.

“It drives me crazy when you get a guy that you really fall in love with out of school and maybe track for nine months and then he goes and gets hurt or has a surgery and might miss six weeks to start the season or 10 weeks to start the season, or gets hurt at his pro day,” DeCosta said.

“The defensive board for instance; we had a lot of corners that we thought were really, really good players and then, in a blink of an eye, in over a two-week span, two really intriguing guys, Sidney Jones and Fabian Moreau, both got hurt at their pro days. That is just a challenge that we have to overcome.”

DeCosta continued: “There have been players that have gone very high in the first round with injuries like that. Sometimes they fall a little bit, but [Jones] is a really good player, and I don’t think it is going to affect him that much.”

The Ravens entered the offseason with significant concerns in the secondary but appeared to address them in free agency with splashy signings of former Dallas Cowboys cornerback Brandon Carr and Cardinals’ safety Tony Jefferson . Baltimore has four draft picks among the first 78 selections, starting with No. 16 overall. At this point, an edge rusher, right tackle and wide receiver would appear to be greater needs for the club.

NFLDraftScout.com Fire Detector: Simply Smoke

It is easy to feel bad for Jones and Moreau, given how close they were to achieving their dreams of being drafted in the first round, but the sad reality is, each already came with durability concerns and are already up against an extraordinarily deep class of corners. The difference between Jones and Moreau and the “next” tier -- including Alabama’s Marlon Humphrey , Ohio State’s Gareon Conley, LSU’s Tre’Davious White, Colorado’s Chidobe Awuzie , USC’s Adoree Jackson and Jones’ former teammate at Washington, Kevin King , in fact, is considered by some to be so razor thin that each could slip deep into the second round or further based on the feedback clubs receive from the upcoming medical re-checks. 

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