The Arizona Cardinals equalled their best ever win tally for a season since moving to the Desert in 1988 with ten, and yet we still come away thinking we underachieved this season. I for one find that remarkable, but anyhow, with our post-season dreams dashed on the final day of the season, the organization can now look ahead to the highly-anticipated 2014 season, which, as we all know, begins with the 2014 NFL Draft.
As has been the case for many a season now in Arizona, the main cause for concern heading into the offseason is the
quarterback offensive tackle position. Despite a gradual improvement over the course of the year, the offensive line, in particular left tackle, was a poor group. Popular statistical analysis site Football Outsiders have taken a look at the performances of all the NFL’s offensive lines, despite the Cardinals ranking 17th in run blocking and 13th in pass blocking, the left side of the line is clearly the weak link. When running in the direction of the left tackle, Bradley Sowell and/or Levi Brown, the team ranked 28th in Adjusted Line Yards gained. For comparison, the team ranked 8th when running in the direction of the right tackle, Eric Winston and/or Bobbie Massie.
So it’s pretty evident this area needs to be address. Luckily for us, the draft is filled to the brim with top-tier talent, some of which will be available when we select at pick 20. The top players at the position: Texas A&M’s Jake Matthews and Auburn’s Greg Robinson will probably be off the board at this point, with some teams in the upper echelons of the draft needing tackle help, most notably the Rams and Falcons, but you have players such as Michigan’s Taylor Lewan, Alabama’s Cyrus Kouandjio and Florida State’s Cameron Erving all pegged in that 15-25 range in the first round, depending on the mocks you read.
Despite the philosophy the Cardinals organization often follow of drafting the best player available, regardless of position, it makes logical sense to upgrade areas of weakness early and often, right? So if we look toward the second round, there is an abundance of talent there as well, across all positions of the offensive line. When running up the middle, essentially either at/or inside the guards, the Cards ranked 28th in the NFL. Part of this can be address by the return of Jonathan Cooper who missed his rookie season through a leg injury, but the rest of the interior could be upgraded.
Daryn College for me is a major candidate to be cut this offseason. He has been an average at best performer for the team the last few seasons, and according to Spotrac, he has a $7.275 million cap hit next season and the 2015 season. With the Cardinals projected to be tight up against the cap with the upcoming Patrick Peterson extension, the Daryl Washington option and the resigning of players who impressed on one year deals (and how can I forget Fitz’s deal) College could prove to be a costly player to keep a hold of.
So how would they go about replacing him? There are plenty of guard prospects there in Day 2 of the NFL Draft. The player atop that list is Baylor’s Cyril Richardson. With the ability to play both guard and tackle, that versatility gives him the advantage against players with strict skill sets.
Mississippi State’s Gabe Jackson has been tipped to be a first round pick in the draft, but I can see him sliding into the second round. Seen as the most pro-ready of all the guard prospects, Jackson provides a plug-and-play outlook in the NFL and would be a a great addition. He also has impressive lateral agility, and excels when pulling, which would be a heavy feature of the Cardinals run game once Cooper returns at left guard.
A wildcard in this mix is UCLA’s Xavier Su’a-Filo, a player who has bags of potential but could do with another year in college. He can great speed for a guard, a movement style likened to a tight end and is one of the more flexible guard prospects.
Lyle Sendlein has been a reliable servant for the Cardinals since 2007 and has arguably been the best performer on the offensive line in recent years, but it could be time to go younger (and cheaper). Spotrac identify that Sendlein has a $4.125 million cap hit next season, and that goes up an extra $150,000 the year after that. There are some talented prospects out there in the middle rounds should the team decide to make Sendlein a cap casualty.
The top player at the position, in my eyes anyway, Hroniss Grasu has returned to Oregon for his senior year, so that leaves only two stand-out players at the position. Firstly we have Arkansas’ Travis Swanson. With the First Pick took a look at Swanson last month and likened him to Miami’s Mike Pouncey. Swanson excels in both pass protection and run blocking and does a great job at pulling, and can even fill in at left guard.
We also have Florida State’s Bryan Stork, and check out WTFP’s scouting report on him also. Stork has a great combination of size, strength and agility whilst being a multi-year starter with the Seminoles. He does an excellent job, like Swanson, of getting into space and making tackles on the second level in the run game and on screens, which is deal for when the team decides to utilise Andre Ellington.
That’s just a quick look at what the organization could do come draft day, but if you have anything you would like to add, don’t be afraid to voice your opinion in the comments section, or you could always hit me up on twitter, @moliverNFL.