The last time that the Arizona Cardinals drafted a guard in the first round was back in 2013, when the club chose Jonathan Cooper with the seventh-overall pick. During his three years in the desert, the University of North Carolina blocker would make just 11 mediocre starts for a severely-disappointed Cardinals squad. Would general manager Steve Keim dare to go down that road again in 2021?
Various mock drafts have linked Arizona with a stud offensive lineman out of the University of Southern California. Alijah Vera-Tucker, a 6’4, 315 pounder, is one of the top-ranked guards in the country. The Cards could certainly use some help on the defensive side of the ball, but Vera-Tucker would be quite tempting for the franchise’s offensive unit.
Justin Pugh, the team’s current starter at left guard, will need to be replaced in the near future. The 30-year old took a pay cut just to remain with the Cardinals in ’21, so the upcoming campaign could very well be his last with the organization. Keim could select Vera-Tucker later this month with the idea that he’ll take over for Pugh in 2022.
There’s also the possibility that Vera-Tucker could compete for the starting gig at the right guard spot. At the moment, free agent pickup Brian Winters is expected to be declared the winner in a competition that will include Justin Murray and Josh Jones. If selected, there’s a decent chance that the talented Vera-Tucker could outshine those three players, and start as a rookie for Arizona this coming fall.
In 2019, Vera-Tucker started 13 games at left guard for the Trojans, and received Second-Team All PAC-12 honors for his performance. Then, in 2020, the 20-year old kicked out to the left tackle post and excelled at that position as well. Vera-Tucker was awarded the Morris Trophy following the abbreviated season, and was also named First-Team All PAC-12 for his efforts.
The Cards could be a bit gunshy about taking a guard in the opening round after the Cooper debacle eight years ago. At the same time, a past mistake should not dissuade Keim and the front office from acquiring a prospect who they truly believe in. Cardinals fans should not be surprised if Vera-Tucker is the team’s first pick when April 29th rolls around.