2014 NFL Draft: Arizona Cardinals Spotlight
2014 NFL DRAFT TEAM SPOTLIGHTS: ARI | ATL | BAL | BUF | CAR | CHI | CIN | CLE | DAL | DEN | DET | GB | HOU | IND | JAC | KC | MIA | MIN | NE | NO | NYG | NYJ | OAK | PHI | PIT | SD | SF | SEA | STL | TB | TEN | WAS
This is the 14th of a team-by-team series, analyzing five prospects that each team should consider in the 2014 NFL Draft.
The Arizona Cardinals are entering Year 2 of the Steve Keim/Bruce Arians regime, and despite not making the playoffs in 2013, the Cards were a pleasant surprise. And Keim and Arians kept that momentum going this offseason with the additions of key players like left tackle Jared Veldheer, cornerback Antonio Cromartie and wide receiver Ted Ginn.
While the Cardinals have answered several questions, there are still some lingering issues on the roster that need to be addressed in the draft. Arizona has needs at cornerback, safety, linebacker and on the offensive line, but with pick No. 20 in the first round, the Cardinals will likely lean to the best player available, regardless of position.
"What we've done right now is we've ranked every position by grade and then what we'll do is we'll transition in about a week to our top 120 board, which is what we'll draft off of," Keim told Arizona Sports 98.7. "Our philosophy has always been 'best player available' and it will stay that way, and that's how we'll draft."
There is a good chance the best player available on the board will also fit a need for the Cardinals, but the quarterback position adds some intrigue to the pick, especially if a strong-armed passer like Fresno State's Derek Carr is still on the board.
And maybe the best news of all? The Cardinals will presumably have two first-round rookies take the field this year – whoever they select at No. 20 and guard Jonathan Cooper, Arizona's selection at eighth overall last season who missed all of 2013 with a broken leg.
Arizona Cardinals' 2014 draft picks: 20, 52, 84, 120, 160, 196
Primary Needs: QB, DE, CB, SS, OLB
General Manager: Steve Keim, 2nd year
Head Coach: Bruce Arians, 2nd year
Five draft picks that clicked:
• FS Tyrann Mathieu, 69th overall, 2013
• CB Patrick Peterson, 5th overall, 2012
• ILB Daryl Washington, 47th overall, 2010
• DE Calais Campbell, 50th overall, 2008
- WR Larry Fitzgerald, 3rd overall, 2004
Five players who should be on Arizona's draft radar:
(overall rating, position rating)
DT Ra'Shede Hageman, Minnesota (33, 4): The Cardinals have met with Hageman a number of times, indicating they are considering him with the 20th overall pick. And the interest is understandable as the former Gopher projects very well as an athletic 5-technique (his best NFL position), who will be able to give Arizona depth on the defensive line and be the long-term replacement for soon-to-be 33-year old Darnell Dockett. Hageman is at his best when he stays low and fights through the limbs of blockers, but that doesn't happen enough as he routinely battles leverage problems. He needs to show better consistency at the next level, but he likely ends up in the first round by a team looking to capitalize on the splash plays he had in college.
QB Zach Mettenberger, LSU (100, 7): Carson Palmer is the Cardinals starting quarterback, at least for the 2014 season, but the long-term vision for the position is a question mark, leading many to believe that Arizona will target a passer at some point. And Mettenberger fits the perceived picture of what Bruce Arians wants at the position: a well built, strong-armed quarterback who can be molded. The former LSU quarterback is every bit a traditional, drop-back passer and has shown the elite arm strength to make every NFL throw and drive it with ease. Mettenberger's slow feet, inconsistent accuracy, off-field issues and ACL injury are why he'll still be available in the 2nd or 3rd round, but the natural traits make him worth drafting and developing and Arizona would be a great fit, not only for the Cardinals, but also for Mettenberger.
OL Laurent Duvernay-Tardif (193, 16): One of the teams that have shown the most interest in the Canadian medical student-turned-NFL prospect is the Cardinals. Duvernay-Tardif is the projected No. 1 overall pick in the CFL Draft, but is training for the NFL and has put his schooling on hold to pursue his football dreams. He has a versatile skill-set that projects well at any spot on the offensive line, and scouts and coaches see a lump of clay with him that is ready to be molded. Duvernay-Tardif will require time to adjust to the NFL game (only moved to the offensive line two years ago), but he's a quick study and would be a great fit in Arizona where he could learn at his pace and possibly see snaps as a rookie.
LB Howard Jones, Shepherd (170, 16: Despite the loss of Karlos Dansby, the Cardinals still have a deep group at linebacker. But there is always room to add depth, especially promising prospects who need to sit and learn like Jones. He arrived at Shepherd as a 185-pound wide receiver and slowly transitioned to the 235-pound linebacker that he is today. Jones is undeveloped with his technique and ballskills, but offers intriguing athletic traits and a solid resume despite starring at the Division-II level (holds the school record for career sacks, 34.5). He will likely require a patient coaching staff and is at least a year away from meaningful snaps, but there is a good chance Jones becomes the first Shepherd player to be drafted since 1979, possibly to Arizona in the later rounds.
SS Ahmad Dixon, Baylor (164, 5): The Cardinals could use an enforcer in the back half of the defense and someone to compete with Tony Jefferson and others for the starting strong safety job. Dixon played the position at Baylor and is an extremely active run defender who loves to get his hands dirty and go for the knockout blow. He has the on-field temperament you want, but needs to clean up his tackling technique and button up hi reliability as a striker to avoid any illegal hits. Dixon will likely be asked to do things in the NFL that he didn't have to do in college and has the makings of a core special teams player and back-up strong safety who could push for playing time as he develops at the next level.