While they faded late in the season, the Cardinals proved last season that they are on the precipice of being a perennial playoff team. Led by the offensive duo of Kyler Murray and DeAndre Hopkins, along with defensive standouts Budda Baker and Haason Reddick, the Cardinals raced out to a 6-3 start before stumbling to an 8-8 final record.
In order to avoid another late-season collapse, Cardinals general manager Steve Keim went back to the formula that helped his team reach an NFC title game in 2015: fill out the roster with proven veterans eager to win a ring. Among the veterans the Cardinals are calling on this time around include future Hall of Fame pass rusher J.J. Watt, former Bengals All-Pro receiver A.J. Green, former Steelers Pro Bowl running back James Conner, former Raiders Pro Bowl lineman Rodney Hudson, and former Patriots cornerback Malcolm Butler, among others.
With proven veterans in place, Keim's next task is drafting the right pieces to fill out the rest of the roster. Here's a look at how Keim and company can pull off the perfect draft while ensuring Arizona's place in the 2021 postseason.
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Take the best-available OL/CB with first two picks
The Cardinals own the 16th and 49th overall picks in the draft. But they don't have another pick until the 160th pick. And while they could surely trade up into the third and fourth rounds, the Cardinals need to make sure they address their needs at offensive line and cornerback with their first two picks. The general consensus is that they will take former USC tackle Alijah Vera-Tucker with the 15th pick. An extremely good pass protector in college, Vera-Tucker has the versatility to play either tackle or guard at the next level.
If they take a lineman with their first pick, the Cardinals can use the 49th pick to acquire the top-remaining cornerback prospect. Ideally, the Cardinals would have their choice between South Carolina's Jaycee Horn, Florida State's Asante Samuel Jr. and Northwestern's Greg Newsome II. Even if those players are off the board, UCF's Aaron Robinson and Kentucky's Kevin Joseph may be there for the taking. Whoever they select at cornerback will be asked with helping provide depth after the Cardinals watched Patrick Peterson sign with the Vikings earlier this offseason.
Address WR, TE, RB positions
While Hopkins, Green and Larry Fitzgerald (assuming he is back for the '21 season) pose a formidable receiving trio, the Cardinals should infuse a young face to their receiving corps. They also need to find a replacement for tight end Dan Arnold, the team's third leading receiver last season.
Fortunately for the Cardinals, there are a slew of promising receivers that should be available on Day 3. One of those is Trevon Grimes, a 6-foot-4, 218-pound target who caught nine touchdowns for Florida last season while averaging 15.5 yards per catch. A possible Day 3 steal could be former Bowling Green tight end Quintin Morris, who made a slew of plays in space during his time with the Falcons. While his production slipped last fall, the 6-foot-4, Morris rebounded with a solid pro day. A player who was known to make plays in space in college, Morris shed 11 pounds off of his 6-foot-4 frame between the Senior Bowl and his pro day.
The Cardinals recently replaced Kenyan Drake with Conner, who had an up and down four years with the Steelers. A Pro Bowler in 2018, Conner struggled to stay on the field, which was one of the main reasons why the Steelers did not renew his contract. Arizona should add to their backfield with one of their final draft picks. An intriguing option here could be Rakeem Boyd, the former "Last Chance U" star who averaged 5.6 yards per carry in three seasons at Arkansas.
Take advantage of deep edge rusher class
A common them here, the Cardinals should bring in a young player who can hopefully blossom under the tutelage of a veteran. In this situation, the Cardinals should use a Day 3 pick on an edge rusher who can learn from Watt and Reddick. One possible Day 3 option is Jonathan Cooper, who comes from a long lineage of successful pass rushers that have come out of Ohio State. Another possible Day 3 option is Tarron Jackson, who posted 18 sacks and 26.5 tackles for loss during his final two seasons at Coastal Carolina.
Here's the prospects CBS NFL Draft writer Josh Edwards has the Cardinals taking in his mock draft:
Round (Overall pick)
Azeez Ojulari (LB)
Aaron Robinson (CB)
Bobby Brown III (DT)
Pooka Williams (RB)
James Smith (P)
Michael Menet (C)