Dec 11, 2016; Miami Gardens, FL, USA; Miami Dolphins defensive end Andre Branch (50) causes Arizona Cardinals quarterback Carson Palmer (3) to fumble the ball during the second half at Hard Rock Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports
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What will the Arizona Cardinals do in the 2017 NFL Draft? Find out in this complete seven-round mock draft.
Fans of the Arizona Cardinals are already looking ahead to the 2017 NFL Draft. However, it was never supposed to be this way. The Cardinals entered the 2016 season among the favorites to reach the Super Bowl in the NFC. Instead, they have taken a major step back this season and currently sit with a record of 5-7-1 after their loss to the Miami Dolphins on Sunday.
Arizona undoubtedly has a ton of talent on their roster. They’re loaded defensively, showing elite-level talent on all levels of their defense. Also, David Johnson is arguably the most talented running back in the league and Larry Fitzgerald leads an impressive overall receiving corps.
That being said, it simply has not come together well this season. They are not playing up to their potential defensively and the regression of quarterback Carson Palmer has been a major issue for their offense. The Cardinals undoubtedly have the talent to make a quick turnaround and be competitive next season. However, changes will have to be made this off season.
What will the Cardinals be looking to do in the 2017 NFL Draft? Let’s look at a scenario in this seven-round mock.
Oct 22, 2016; Tuscaloosa, AL, USA; Alabama Crimson Tide defensive back Marlon Humphrey (26) intercepts the ball from Texas A&M Aggies wide receiver Josh Reynolds (11) at Bryant-Denny Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Marvin Gentry-USA TODAY Sports
An edge rusher like Derek Barnett or Charles Harris may have filled a bigger need for the Cardinals here, but I believe in taking the best player available over filling a positional need. Here in the first round, Alabama cornerback Marlon Humphrey was clearly the best player available in my eyes.
Humphrey is an incredibly talented cover corner who has massive upside at the next level. He is an elite athlete who has a strong track background. His natural speed and athleticism is elite, but do not look at Humphrey as simply a track guy who plays football. A strong and smart defensive back, Humphrey’s talent translates extremely well to the football field.
The Crimson Tide star shines the most when given an opportunity in press coverage. He is a physical cornerback who also has more than enough speed and athleticism to play off coverage as well.
His natural coverage ability is extremely impressive as are his high-level ball skills. Humphrey simply has a knack for the playing the cornerback position and an elite athletic profile to go with it.
In Patrick Peterson, the Cardinals have the best cover corner in the entire NFL. Peterson is an incredible player who can shut down an opposing receiver on a consistent basis. That being said, there is a need for a strong option opposite of Peterson.
Adding Humphrey to the mix in Arizona would give the Cardinals defense a potentially elite duo at the cornerback position. As good as Peterson already is and as good as Humphrey can be, this duo could quickly become the best in the NFL. Talk about a weapon in the pass-happy NFL.
Nov 26, 2016; Columbus, OH, USA; Ohio State Buckeyes offensive lineman Pat Elflein (65) blocks during the second quarter against the Michigan Wolverines at Ohio Stadium. Ohio State won 30-27. Mandatory Credit: Joe Maiorana-USA TODAY Sports
Offensive Line, Ohio State
After landing a potentially elite defensive piece in the first round, the Cardinals look to give Carson Palmer and company some help here in the second. The Cardinals offensive line has been extremely inconsistent this season. It would be nice to see them add a stable option or two up front.
Whether he is playing guard or center, Ohio State’s Pat Elflein is an extremely reliable player on the offensive line. Elflein is a mean and nasty blocker who will absolutely dominate in the running game.
A powerful man who can drive block down field extremely well, once Elflein gets his paws on a defender, it is game over. While he has great power and strength, he is not the most fleet of foot.
Elflein does have enough quickness to reach the second-level in the run game, but he can be a step slow in pass protection at times. Elflein will never have the athleticism to play on the outside, but he is a potentially elite option on the interior.
A smart and tough player, Elflein has a nice future at the next level. He has shown the ability to play both guard and center at a high level in college. That being said, he definitely has the awareness on the field to play center at the next level as well. That is the position that should be his future. I could see the Cardinals bringing Elflein in and making him their starting center for the foreseeable future.
Oct 21, 2016; Berkeley, CA, USA; California Golden Bears quarterback Davis Webb (7) passes the ball against the Oregon Ducks during the third quarter at Memorial Stadium. The California Golden Bears defeated the Oregon Ducks 52-49 in overtime. Mandatory Credit: Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports
Carson Palmer has had an extremely long and impressive NFL career. The 2003 first-overall pick suffered a major knee injury with the Cincinnati Bengals and did not look like the same guy for a few years. However, Palmer really got his career back on track the last few seasons with the Cardinals.
The soon-to-be 37-year-old Palmer has been a major part of the Cardinals’ success in recent years, but he has also been a major reason for their lack of success this season. Palmer has shown his age in 2016, not showing as much big-play ability and turning the ball over at a higher rate.
I am not saying that the Cardinals need to find someone to replace Palmer right away, but they should get a backup plan in place. Current backup Drew Stanton is a nice player, but he is not the answer to be Palmer’s replacement. They should find a young quarterback with upside to learn under Palmer for a year or two.
Davis Webb is an extremely interesting quarterback prospect who would make a lot of sense for Arizona. Webb is a big-armed quarterback with great mobility and solid accuracy.
Webb put up huge numbers at Cal this past season, but there are concerns about the system that he played in. Cal’s air raid attack is built to make the quarterback look good on paper, but it is not necessarily good prep for the next level.
At Cal, and Texas Tech before that, Webb was not asked to do much mentally. The offenses that he played in used simple, quick reads for the quarterback on a consistent basis. Webb will have to prove his ability to read defenses at the next level.
While Webb far from an established player, he has some nice upside at the next level. Also, his big arm makes him a perfect fit for a Bruce Arians passing offense. Webb needs time to sit before he is ready to play at the next level, and the Cardinals are in a good position to be patient. Strong overall fit here and great upside for both sides.
Oct 15, 2016; East Lansing, MI, USA; Michigan State Spartans running back Madre London (28) runs the ball against Northwestern Wildcats linebacker Anthony Walker Jr. (1) during the first half of a game at Spartan Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports
The Cardinals have an extremely talented and aggressive defensive unit. Their defense is filled with player flying around and making plays on the ball. They are loaded with talent at most defensive positions, but could really use some depth at inside linebacker.
If Northwestern linebacker Anthony Walker declares for the 2017 NFL Draft, his aggressive style of play would make him a perfect fit in Arizona. The Cardinals have a strong starting unit at inside linebacker with Deone Bucannon and Kevin Minter leading the way, but they could certainly use some depth at the position.
Walker is an extremely talented prospect who shows the ability to make plays from sideline-to-sideline. A free-ranging player with impressive speed and athleticism, Walker has fantastic natural instincts that typically allows him to make a play on the ball.
He has the quickness to consistently knife into the offensive backfield and make plays behind the line of scrimmage and he is also strong at the point of attack. Walker is an extremely talented player against the run, but he also shows the necessary skills and field awareness to succeed in coverage.
The Northwestern product is an extremely raw player. That being said, he is smart and talented football player whose aggressive style would fit in perfect in Arizona. Walker may have to get his feet wet on special teams first, but this would be a great fit for both sides.
The Cardinals have a lot of talent on their defensive line. Calais Campbell is an absolute stud, guys like Corey Peters and Frostee Rucker are solid regulars and Robert Nkemdiche has a lot of upside, even though he has been unimpressive as a rookie.
I would not consider defensive line a major need, but the Cardinals could undoubtedly use some more depth up front. Here in the fifth round they find an Alabama defensive lineman who can certainly come in and make an impact.
Dalvin Tomlinson is surrounding by an incredible amount of talent in the Alabama front seven. He is not asked to be a big-time playmaker for the team, but Tomlinson does a great job of filling a role.
Tomlinson is a big and powerful defensive lineman who does a great job against the run. He plays all over the defensive line for Alabama, showing the size and power to play nose guard and the length and strength to play five-technique defensive end.
A powerful player who can dominate against the run, Tomlinson would certainly make sense for the Cardinals. He would not be a star player for the team, but he has shown the ability to play a role on a talented defense. A strong role player with some nice upside, Tomlinson is a strong value in the fifth round.
Oct 17, 2015; Evanston, IL, USA; Iowa Hawkeyes defensive lineman Jaleel Johnson (67) celebrates after a fumble recovery during the second half of the game at Ryan Field. Mandatory Credit: Caylor Arnold-USA TODAY Sports
Defensive Line, Iowa
After losing offensive tackle Bobby Massie in free agency last off season, the Cardinals are expected to have a compensatory pick in the 2017 NFL Draft. The On the Clock Simulator projects that compensatory pick to be in the fifth round, 177th overall to be exact.
With their compensatory selection, the Cardinals decide to double-dip on the defensive front. Tomlinson would undoubtedly bring some nice depth to the table, but the Cardinals would benefit from being able to rotate their defensive line more than they currently do.
Iowa’s Jaleel Johnson has been an extremely productive college defensive tackle, primarily playing the one-technique in Iowa’s traditional four-man front. Johnson is a big and strong defensive lineman who shows nice two-gap ability, but he does have some nice explosiveness off of the snap.
Johnson is not the most athletic defensive lineman in the class, but he is quicker at the point of attack than you would expect. Johnson blew up a lot of plays for Iowa the past few years, making a living in the backfield at times.
He is not an overly impressive pass rusher from the edge, but Johnson is a powerful and explosive player who you can count on to do his job. The Cardinals would benefit from an expanded defensive line rotation and Johnson would be a great player to add to the mix.
Sep 10, 2016; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Pittsburgh Panthers quarterback Nathan Peterman (4) reacts after gaining a first down against the Penn State Nittany Lions during the third quarter at Heinz Field. PITT won 42-39. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports
We talked extensively about the Cardinals’ quarterback situation earlier. Palmer is a decent option for now, but they need to figure out when they are going to do going forward. They already swung for upside with the big-armed Davis Webb, but taking another shot at quarterback makes sense for Arizona.
Nathan Peterman is not exactly the kind of quarterback that Bruce Arians’ typically likes. He does not have an extraordinarily strong throwing arm and Arians love to stretch the field deep. That being said, they already swung for the upside passer with a big arm with Webb, a little mix of skills would not hurt.
Peterman stood out at Pittsburgh, showing solid accuracy, great leadership ability and elite toughness for the quarterback position. Peterman is an extremely reliable and consistent player who everybody on the team would love to go to battle with. A tough player who has some mobility and great touch on his passes, Peterman could be a major sleeper quarterback at the next level.
Drafting both Webb and Peterman would be interesting for the Cardinals. Peterman is probably the more pro-ready player and could theoretically come in and be Palmer’s backup next season. However, Webb would be the one to have the long-term starter upside.
A great leader who you can count on at any time, Peterman has great traits for a long-term backup quarterback. However, with his elite intangibles, I would not count Peterman out from becoming a strong starting option.
Oct 22, 2016; Morgantown, WV, USA; West Virginia Mountaineers defensive lineman Noble Nwachukwu (97) pressures the quarterback during the fourth quarter against the TCU Horned Frogs at Milan Puskar Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Ben Queen-USA TODAY Sports
EDGE, West Virginia
In Chandler Jones and Markus Golden, the Cardinals have a nice combination of starting edge rushers. Jones is set to be a free agent this off season, but I expect Arizona to aggressively pursue getting him back.
Whether Jones returns or not, you can never have too many pass rushers. Noble Nwachukwu entered the 2016 season with a ton of hype. He has been disappointing this season, but he still has a lot of upside as an outside rusher.
Nwachukwu is not the most explosive athlete on the outside, but he blends impressive power with more than enough quickness to make an impact. Nwachukwu is a strong pass rusher who also shows good ability in run defense.
I think Nwachukwu could help the Cardinals as both a stand-up edge rusher and an interior rusher from the three-technique on passing downs. I see a player who can affect the game in a variety of ways up front. He also shows nice upside and has the athletic profile to bring strong versatility.
He is far from a perfect player, but Nwachukwu has a nice combination of strength and athleticism that gives him a chance to compete. Also, Nwachukwu has the proper skill-set to shine on special teams. Nice upside choice for Arizona here in the seventh round.