The Arizona Cardinals were served a rough ticket in 2014, as they started the year off 9-1 and looked like a legit Super Bowl contender, only to crumble under numerous injuries. Quarterback Carson Palmer and his backup Drew Stanton both suffered knee injuries, running back Andre Ellington couldn’t stay healthy and Jonathan Abraham left the team. Arizona did get to the playoffs with an 11-5 finish, but many are probably left wondering what could have been.
As bad as the ending was last year, it looks like Bruce Arians has built a foundation for success in the desert. With the 49ers seemingly regressing and the Seahawks potentially dealing with a Super Bowl hangover, next year could be the year Arizona makes a legit push. They have to correct some issues first, of course. Let’s take a look at their biggest needs and how they might go about addressing them in May’s NFL Draft:
Offensive Needs: RB, QB
At least for 2015, it looks like the Cardinals and Larry Fitzgerald are happily married. He can still be a productive #2 WR, so now Arizona will just have to hope Michael Floyd completes his jump up this year. John Brown is a solid third guy in the slot, so Arizona can add another talented wide receiver, but shouldn’t feel pressed to do so early. With Troy Niklas likely taking the starting gig for good this year, that leaves Arizona’s two biggest needs at running back and quarterback.
There have been some whispers that the Cardinals could be interested in landing Adrian Peterson, while other rumors simply suggest they love Andre Ellington and just want him to bulk up so he can handle a full workload. There might be a little truth to all of that, but I doubt Peterson wants to go to the desert and Ellington can’t be relied upon to stay healthy with such a slight frame. The Cardinals need to draft a running back and while I don’t think they’ll spend a first rounder on the position, going for some solid depth in round two or three isn’t out of the question. T.J. Yeldon could be had in round two, but a likelier prospect is Duke Johnson in the third round. It’s possible both are gone before AZ picks again in round two, but those are two guys they’ll have their sights set on.
Carson Palmer is still the guy under center, but it was beyond clear the Cardinals didn’t know what to do once he went down last year. Drew Stanton is a 2-3 game starter at most, which makes him a solid backup if your starter never goes down. AZ has a 34-year old Palmer who is immobile already and now has a knee twice surgically repaired. Stanton can no longer be their ultimate fallback plan, while Logan Thomas is a supremely raw prospect and Ryan Lindley doesn’t belong in the league. I don’t think it’s a knee-jerk reaction to contemplate taking someone like Bryce Petty in the second round.
Defensive Needs: LB, S, DE
The Cardinals had a great defense a year ago and really have been at least an above average unit for quite some time, but they could enter the draft with a litany of needs. They just parted ways with Darnell Dockett, Larry Foote is done playing, Antonio Cromartie could leave via free agency and Reshad Johnson may need to be replaced. That makes defensive end, outside and inside linebacker, corner and safety all huge problem areas for a unit that held opponents under 20 points routinely in 2014.
Arizona still has Daryl Washington to lean on in the inside, but he was suspended for an entire year and they can’t fully count on him anymore. If he’s back and stays out of trouble, that position is fine, but they should at least look for depth in the middle rounds. Outside linebacker in their 3-4 could be the bigger issue, as Jonathan Abraham left in the middle of the year and they don’t have much else to get excited about. There are several elite pass rushers in this year’s draft that could fit perfectly on the outside of their 3-4. Kentucky’s Alvin Dupree might be a name to watch, as well as Eli Harold.
If the Cards’ can hold onto nose tackle Dan Williams, their elite run defense should mostly stay where it’s at. If not, bringing in another body or two to compete for the spot up front will be key. That could force their hand in the draft, making Jordan Phillips a name to watch close to their first round selection. Defensive end plays right along with the need up front, though, so if Darnell Dockett can’t be talked into a cheaper deal, drafting someone like Malcom Brown out of Texas may be in order. Arik Armstead is another interesting talent and his raw ability could have him dip into round two. The Cardinals would be too lucky.
Safety is just an area where the Cardinals can get by but probably need an upgrade. That won’t be the easiest thing to do in a weak safety class, as Landon Collins will be long gone. If they don’t bring in someone during free agency, they might hope someone like Jaquiski Tartt or Gerod Holliman is around in the third or fourth round.