Even after making one of the biggest splashes of the offseason by signing veteran pass rusher J.J. Watt, the Arizona Cardinals still have quite the offseason ahead of them to make their roster good enough to make it to the top of the NFC West and into the playoffs.
There are some key players who are about to hit free agency for them, most notably Patrick Peterson, Haason Reddick, Kenyan Drake, and Markus Golden. They also might be losing Larry Fitzgerald to retirement.
The Cardinals do have a decent amount of projected cap space at $17 million, but they don’t have much draft capital. As of right now, the Cardinals have just five selections in the upcoming 2021 NFL Draft. Here’s how they can make the most of it.
Round 1 (No. 23 Overall): Jaelan Phillips, EDGE, Miami
TRADE: Arizona trades No. 16 to New York Jets for No. 23, a 4th-round pick, and a 7th-round pick
Unless a cornerback like Patrick Surtain or Caleb Farley drops to the Cardinals at No. 16, I think their best move could be to trade back. They shouldn’t go too far, but jumping back a couple of picks for a potential late Day 2 pick and/or some Day 3 capital would be smart.
As for the selection, I am well aware that the Cardinals just paid the veteran Watt a lot of money to play with premium pass rusher Chandler Jones, but Watt himself is a DE/DT hybrid player. He can still be that for Vance Joseph’s multiple odd front defense. Now imagine adding the talent of Jaelen Phillips to that to be a true edge. Arizona would go from being one of the worst pass rush groups to one of the best in one offseason.
Round 2 (No. 49 Overall): Javonte Williams, RB, UNC
It seems as though the Cardinals are going to be letting Kenyan Drake walk in free agency. If they do, they won’t just have a small need at running back, they’ll have a major need at the spot. Javonte Williams brings you the power and early-down mentality you desire to set the tone, and also has the size, catching ability, and shiftiness to be your third-down back. He can absolutely be a starter in year one for the Cardinals.
Round 3 (No. 79 Overall): Paulson Adebo, CB, Stanford
The former wide receiver turned cornerback burst onto the scene in 2019 with a fantastic sophomore campaign. He has very good fluidity for a corner of his size, and great ball skills as a former receiver. Then 2020 came around and I think people just got bored. I recently went back over Paulson Adebo’s 2020 film and I can tell you it is just fine. There wasn’t a big drop-off from the sophomore season everyone loved. His hype might not make him a fringe first-round pick, but I think he’s a solid starting corner investment on Day 2, perfect for what the Cardinals need.
Round 4 (No. 107 Overall): D’Ante Smith, OT, East Carolina
Smith started at left tackle in 2018 and 2019 for East Carolina and was set to do so again before an injury limited his 2020 play. The Cardinals don’t have a glaring need at offensive tackle, but they do have offensive line needs in general. D’Ante Smith presents a really nice developmental upside, especially if he can fill out his frame more. I am a believer that offensive linemen can be versatile, and the best ones can learn to play spots inside and out. Perhaps that’s the case here with Smith, who was by far the best offensive lineman on the board at this pick.
Round 5 (No. 161 Overall): Tre’ McKitty, TE, Georgia
Tre’ McKitty would give the Cardinals a nice receiving tight end option. He’s not going to be a blazer up the middle of the field, but he is an added pass-catching threat. He’s also not a liability on the line of scrimmage when blocking, which could lead to play-action usage.
Round 7 (No. 238 Overall): Tre Norwood, CB, Oklahoma
After a promising start to his Oklahoma career, Tre Norwood suffered a non-contact ACL injury prior to the 2019 season. But he was able to bounce back as a starter once again in 2020 and recorded five interceptions, most notably his pick-six in his bowl game to finish out the season. He’s a talented player with nice size who would be a good late-round flyer for the Cardinals to take a chance on at a position of need.
Round 7 (No. 245 Overall): Landon Young, OT, Kentucky
You can never have too much invested in the offensive line when you need it. Landon Young would be a late-round dart throw for a massive offensive lineman (6-foot-7) to keep and develop in the farm system.