2020 NFL Draft Review: Arizona Cardinals
Last year, many football fans expected the Arizona Cardinals to not be real competitive with a brand new head coach and a starting rookie quarterback right out of the gate for week 1. However, the Arizona Cardinals easily exceeded their expectations in the rugged NFC West. The other three teams in the conference (San Francisco 49ers, Seattle Seahawks, Los Angeles Rams) all finished with winning records in the regular season. Although the Arizona Cardinals finished with a 5-10-1 record, six of those ten losses were seven points or less.
The reason optimism abounds is that the Arizona Cardinals pulled off the biggest trade of the offseason by acquiring WR DeAndre Hopkins from the Houston Texans. However, there are some weaknesses that need to be addressed. Let us take a look at who the Arizona Cardinals picked in the National Football League (NFL) Draft. All statistics are from NFL.com.
Round 1 - Pick 8 (8): Isaiah Simmons - LB - Clemson. (6'4", 238 lbs). Simmons played all over the field on defense as a linebacker. Sometimes, he would set up as an linebacker with the capability to either spy on the quarterback, make a tackle, drop in coverage, or rush the passer. His speed is off the charts with a 4.39 40-yard dash time. This type of closing speed is unreal from a linebacker because he is fast enough to chase down running backs and wide receivers. Plus, he is fast enough to cover tight ends that take advantage of their size against safeties in the middle of the field. His versatility will help take the Arizona Cardinals defense to another level. Simmons was expected to go higher than eight, but that could be due to some NFL defensive coordinators not being flexible enough to change their scheme of attack in order to maximize his strengths.
Round 3 - Pick 8 (72): Josh Jones - OT - Houston. (6'5", 319 lbs). Protecting QB Kyler Murray a little bit better this upcoming season would definitely help. Jones is more than likely penciled in to be the starter at the left or right tackle position. Finding a tackle this late in the draft that is predicted to contribute right away on the offensive line is some good spelunking by the Arizona Cardinals.
Round 4 - Pick 8 (114): Leki Fotu - DT - Utah. (6'5", 330 lbs). One of the main reasons why the Arizona Cardinals lost so many close games last season was that they were not able to stop the run in important situations in the fourth quarter. Now, the Arizona Cardinals have their run-stopper in Fotu to add to the defensive line rotation in the interior. However, there may be some issues going forward with leverage. In the trenches along the line between the offense and the defense, the person who can get lower first and under the pads will have leverage. Normally, an offensive guard or a center averages around 6'2" or 6'3". The guard or the center along the interior of the offensive line will have a leverage advantage over Fotu at the snap by looking for an upward push on the shoulder pads. Fotu will have to continue to work on his technique so that he will be able to counter the initial clash on the line by attacking the offensive lineman's hands before he latches on to the pads or by going at the offensive lineman at an angle from time to time instead of plunging straight ahead all of the time.
Round 4 - Pick 25 (131): Rashard Lawrence - DT - LSU. (6'2", 308 lbs). Wait a second! The Arizona Cardinals just drafted a defensive tackle 17 picks ago! As I said in the previous paragraph, Arizona could not stop the run at all. Also, Arizona needed more interior pass rushing as well. Lawrence will help out in putting some more pressure on the quarterback.
Round 6 - Pick 23 (202): Evan Weaver - LB - California. (6'2", 237 lbs). Weaver will also help in stopping the run at inside linebacker. He led the Pac-12 Conference last season with 182 tackles. That would average out to 14 tackles per game last season. If he is able to improve his lateral quickness, then he will be able to see plenty of playing time on all three downs instead of only on typical running downs or on goal line stands inside of the red zone.
Round 7 - Pick 8 (222): Eno Benjamin - RB - Arizona State. (5'9", 209). Arizona needed another running back after trading RB David Johnson to the Houston Texans. However, the Cardinals did not have to go far to scout Benjamin, who was scorching defenders at Arizona State with 1,083 rushing yards and 10 TD's along with 347 receiving yards and 2 receiving TD's. He also returned kicks and punts during his college career, so he will bring depth to the special teams. Arizona's offense is going to be a problem now with a three running back rotation along with current Arizona Cardinals running backs Kenyan Drake and Chase Edmonds.
Now, you see why Arizona head coach Kliff Kingsbury was leaning back on the couch after this draft was over. Opponents would look to run the ball on the Cardinals to keep the ball out of their hands. Now, Arizona can turn the tables and start winning the time of possession. Arizona will definitely improve next season unless everyone picks the Cardinals to be NFL's breakthrough team. That moniker did not work out well for the Cleveland Browns last season. You can be optimistic about their prospects for next season, but temper that enthusiasm with practicality.