O-line, pass rusher among Cards’ primary needs

TEMPE, Ariz. – The needs have been assessed. The talent has been evaluated. The arguments have been heard. The draft board has been built. The misinformation has been disseminated to the media.

Yep, it’s time for the NFL Draft.

In what has become a larger-than-life event – or too large an event, depending on your perspective – the league’s 32 teams will add the next building blocks to their futures beginning Thursday evening at storied Radio City Music Hall in Manhattan.

When the Cardinals make their first pick some time after 6 p.m., Arizona time, we’ll finally have the answer to a question that may have elicited more debate than the debt ceiling, drones or teachers’ pay. 

Who will the Cardinals take? 

There are four schools of thought. Here they are, along with quick thoughts on why the team might go in each direction, who’s available and, finally, what other positions the Cards might look to fill with picks 2-7.

PRIMARY NEEDS

OFFENSIVE LINE

Why they need help: Arizona allowed a league-high 58 sacks last season, the running game has been among the league’s worst for years, and the passing game hasn’t been any better since Kurt Warner retired. Levi Brown has been better than his critics will admit, but he hasn’t lived up to his stature as the No. 5 pick in the 2007 Draft. Tackles Bobby Massie and Nate Potter are inexperienced and raw, guard Adam Snyder did not perform well when he was healthy enough to play in his first season in Arizona, and the Cards lack depth, including a decent backup center. Are those enough reasons?

Who’s available: This draft is considered deep in offensive linemen, with Texas A&M tackle Luke Joeckel, Central Michigan tackle Eric Fisher, Oklahoma tackle Lane Johnson, Alabama tackle D.J. Fluker, Florida State tackle Menelik Watson, Alabama guard Chance Warmack and North Carolina guard Jonathan Cooper all drawing first-round projections on multiple draft boards. 

Here’s a more complete look at the top rated tackles, guards and centers in this years draft.

PASS RUSHER

Why they need help: O’Brien Schofield has had a troubling history of injuries (knee, shoulder, ankle) that have sidelined him for good portions of his three-year career, and Sam Acho recorded just four sacks last season. The Cardinals overall sack total of 38 last season was still good enough for 11th in the NFL, but the team lacked consistent pressure from the edge for long stretches.

Who’s available: Oregon’s Dion Jordan, LSU’s Barkevious Mingo and Georgia’s Jarvis Jones are the top rated outside linebackers in the draft. BYU’s Ezekiel Ansah and Florida Sate’s Bjoern Werner are the top defensive ends.

Here’s a more complete look at the top-rated outside linebackers and defensive ends in this year’s draft.

QUARTERBACK

Why they need help: They might not after acquiring Carson Palmer, who coach Bruce Arians has already named the starter, and Drew Stanton, who is making the right amount of money for a good NFL backup. But where is the QB of the Cardinals’ future? Palmer is a short-term solution, and it’s unlikely Stanton is going to morph into a franchise quarterback. 

Who’s available: As Kurt Warner and Arians have both noted, this draft class lacks a wow factor, particularly in comparison to last season’s star-studded class that included Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III and Russell Wilson. West Virginia’s Geno Smith is the only QB currently projected as a definite first-round pick, with USC’s Matt Barkley, Florida State’s E.J. Manuel and Syracuse’s Ryan Nassib also possibilities. 

Here’s a more complete look at the top-rated quarterbacks in this year’s draft.

WILD CARD

Arians and GM Steve Keim hinted last week that if an uber-talented player is on the board, even if he doesn’t fill a position of need, the Cards might go in that direction. It’s hard to imagine that happening at wide receiver, where they already have Larry Fitzgerald, Andre Roberts and 2012 first-round pick Michael Floyd, but one major mock draft even has the Cards selecting West Virginia wideout Tavon Austin.

SECONDARY NEEDS

SAFETY

Why they need help: They released starters Adrian Wilson and Kerry Rhodes in the offseason. Rashad Johnson has not shown that can be the kind of impact player Rhodes was last season and Wilson was for most of his career. Yeremiah Bell has a lot of wear on his 35-year-old body.

Here’s a more complete look at the safeties in this year’s draft.

CORNERBACK

Why they need help: Because you can never have enough at this position, particularly in an era where teams often go with three- and four-receiver sets, essentially making the nickel corner a starter. Patrick Peterson is a star, Jerraud Powers will likely slide into the spot opposite Peterson, and the Cards have high hopes for 2012 third-round pick Jamell Fleming and former University of Arizona product Antoine Cason, who signed as a free agent his offseason. 

Here’s a more complete look at the cornerbacks in this year’s draft.

TIGHT END

Why they need help: Despite internal hype last season, Rob Housler has yet to emerge as the dynamic threat the Cards envisioned. Todd Heap is gone, while Jeff King and Jim Dray are better blockers than receivers, although King has shown some ability in that area.

Here’s a more complete look at the tight ends in this year’s draft.

RUNNING BACK

Why they need help: With Rashard Mendenhall and Ryan Williams, the Cards appear set at the position, even if they don’t bring back the popular LaRod Stephens-Howling, who is still a free agent. But Mendenhall has had some injuries issues and Williams’ career has been defined by injuries. Alfonso Smith and William Powell are OK, but if the Cards can find a quality back in the later rounds, it might make sense to upgrade with youth.

Here’s a more complete look at the running backs in this year’s draft.

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