The Arizona Cardinals came up one win shy of making the playoffs last year. While Kyler Murray made strides during his second season, Arizona lacked the defensive force and offensive supporting cast to make a postseason run. Kliff Kingsbury and Murray are still young and inexperienced, but patience is running thin with the duo.
We’re two years into Kingsbury’s tenure as head coach, and the Cardinals haven’t put together a winning season. It’s asking a lot for the 41-year-old head coach to turn a snake-bitten franchise around immediately with a 23-year-old quarterback, but those are the expectations for the new breed of offensive coaches.
Teams should build through free agency as much as possible. It’s better to trade in known commodities than bet on a prospect hitting in the draft. Unfortunately, that’s often not the nature of the NFL, especially in cap-strapped seasons. General manager Steve Keim and Kingsbury must round out a Super Bowl contender with their limited draft capital.
I used The Draft Network’s mock draft machine and Pro Football Focus’ mock draft simulator to justify each of my selections. At least one website had the chosen players available at their listed spots over several simulations. I didn’t include any trades and added an “ideal pick” after every selection for those optimistic fans. You know who I’m talking about. The ones that mock their team all of the best players, even at unrealistic positions.
Round 1 (No. 16): Jaycee Horn, CB South Carolina
PFF’s mock draft simulator still had South Carolina’s Jaycee Horn on the board at 16. Northwestern’s Greg Newsome II might fit defensive coordinator Vance Joseph’s scheme better than Horn, but the former Gamecock is higher on most big boards. Newsome also has a notable injury history, and the Cardinals can’t afford to pick an injury-prone player with their top selection.
Most analysts initially viewed Horn as a distant third corner to Caleb Farley and Patrick Surtain II, but he closed the gap significantly in the past month.
Horn began rising up draft boards after a monster pro day. He measured in at 6-1, 205 lbs. with 33-inch arms. According to PFF, Horn further demonstrated his exceptional athleticism by jumping 42 inches in the vertical and 133 in the broad, both of which rank above the 95th percentile historically for corners. The future star corner also put up 19 reps on the bench and ran the 40-yard dash in 4.39 seconds.
The Cardinals won’t find the next Patrick Peterson at 16. The future Hall of Famer was the fifth overall pick in 2011. Those types of guys rarely make it outside of the top ten. At least Horn can serve as a developing starter alongside free agent signee Malcolm Butler.
Ideal pick: Patrick Surtain II, CB Alabama
Round 2 (No. 49): Dyami Brown, WR North Carolina
Unfortunately for Cardinals fans, they miss out on the three feature backs in this year’s draft class. Travis Etienne, Najee Harris, and Javonte Williams flew off the board before Arizona had a shot at them in the second-round. The remaining backs either aren’t bell cows, or they’re not worth this level of investment.
Brown is a special receiver with the chance to go down as one of the five best pass catchers in this class. He stretched the field at UNC, averaging over 20 yards per reception in 2019 and 2020. Brown flashed excellent ball skills and is a natural separator. Arizona can deploy him from the slot or outside and expect consistent downfield production.
Gregory Rousseau could generate some interest from Arizona if he’s still on the board here. Tight end Pat Freiermuth is another plausible option. Rousseau would start over Zach Allen opposite of J.J. Watt, while Freiermuth could also start immediately.
Maxx Williams hasn’t solidified the tight end room since arriving in Arizona two years ago. Dan Arnold, who led all Cardinals tight ends in receiving last year, signed with Carolina in free agency. Great wide receivers are just as quarterback friendly as tight ends though, and Brown has the chance to become a consistent 1,000-yard stud.
Ideal pick: Javonte Williams, RB North Carolina
Round 5 (No. 160): Khalil Herbert, RB Virginia Tech
At this point, the board has gone to hell for Arizona, but there are plenty of options. Cornerbacks Shakur Brown, Deommodore Lenoir, and Marco Wilson are still available. Safety James Wiggins could stick around. All of the reasonable edge and interior defensive line options are long gone. However, the running back class still features plenty of options.
At 160, any combination of Herbert, Javian Hawkins, Kylin Hill, Jaret Patterson, Rhamondre Stevenson, and Pooka Williams should be available. My decision came down to Herbert and Hill because they have enough speed to get outside while still possessing the mass to break tackles.
Chase Edmunds is currently the only running back on Arizona’s roster to rush for over 100 yards in a single season. In three years with the Cardinals, Edmunds has 959 rushing and 610 receiving yards. Even if Kingsbury wants to sling it most of the time, his team needs at least one traditional running back.
Ideal pick: Hamilcar Rashed Jr., EDGE Oregon St.
Round 6 (No. 223): Patrick Johnson, EDGE Tulane
PFF and TDN differ significantly on where they think Johnson should go in the 2021 NFL Draft. PFF’s simulator had him come off the board in the top 100 picks while he fell to 223 for TDN. Both rankings make sense based on how the different sites evaluate players. Johnson made 21 sacks and 34 tackles for loss in his final three years at Tulane, giving him plenty of positively graded games in PFF’s model.
On the other hand, TDN sees the holes Johnson’s game displayed on tape and his physical shortcomings. One of the biggest concerns with Johnson is his subpar length, which will show up against NFL tackles. He’s also only 240 lbs., but that makes him a solid fit as a rush linebacker in Arizona’s 3-4 scheme.
The Cardinals already have plenty of gifted edge rushers. Chandler Jones and Watt are household names, but Devon Kennard has 17 sacks over the past three years while Markus Golden has 17. However, it’s always wise to have cheap, young players at key positions.
Other possible options at 223 include edge rusher Wyatt Hubert and cornerback Deommodore Lenoir. I’ve always said you can never have enough edge rushers and cornerbacks. Those positions are always worth drafting more players at, especially with these low-value picks.
Ideal pick: Rachad Wildgoose, CB Wisconsin
Round 7 (No. 243): Cornell Powell, WR Clemson
I’m not sure how realistic it is for Powell to fall this far, especially considering his breakout season at Clemson, but he made it to the seventh-round for TDN. That’s good enough for me. Powell was a non-factor heading into the 2020 college season, but he turned the narrative around quickly. The senior thrived in the absence of Tee Higgins and Justyn Ross.
Powell has a chance to be as effective as Christian Kirk at a fraction of the cost. I loved Kirk coming out of Texas A&M three years ago, but his production remains erratic. The former second-round pick hasn’t gotten any better despite getting more targets, and he’s in the final year of his rookie deal.
The Cardinals won’t bring back A.J. Green or Kirk next season, and no one knows what’s going on with Larry Fitzgerald. That’s a lot of production Arizona needs to fill, and Powell can answer the call as a cheap, all-around receiver.
Ideal pick: Elijah Mitchell, RB Louisiana
Round 7 (No. 247): Tony Poljan, TE Virginia
At 6-7, 265 lbs. with over 33-inch arms, Poljan is worth investing a seventh-round pick in. He was originally a quarterback for Central Michigan before transitioning to tight end full-time in 2019. Poljan caught 71 passes for 907 yards and ten touchdowns over the past two seasons.
Poljan isn’t sudden and lacks a quick release. For now, he’s a large, lumbering body that offers upside as a blocker. However, teams should look at Poljan and imagine what he could become in two or three years. This is a long-term investment that could yield the next Logan Thomas, or an elite red zone threat at least.
Ideal pick: Matt Bushman, TE BYU