2017 NFL Draft: Arizona Cardinals Pre-Combine 7-Round Mock Draft

The Arizona Cardinals look to restock their talent and recover from a disappointing 7-8-1 season in this 7-round mock of the 2017 NFL Draft

The 2017 NFL Draft could help a team that fell back some last season. After hiring Bruce Arians before the 2013 season, the Arizona Cardinals have become a highly respected franchise. They won ten games in his first season with the team and followed that up with 11 wins and then 13 in 2015. Heading into this past season there was no reason to think they wouldn’t keep winning like they had.

That’s not what happened though as the Cards struggled all year long en route to their first losing season under Arians. Going 7-8-1 was not what many expected, but the good news is that they still have the majority of their impact players on the roster that led to their double-digit win records in three of the past four years.

In order to help those impact players, the Cardinals can use an infusion of youth. With key players like quarterback Carson Palmer and receiver Larry Fitzgerald close to the end of their respective careers, the 2017 NFL Draft will be huge for not only rebounding from a dismal 2016, but also for the future success of their franchise.

Here is a look at how all seven rounds could play out for the NFC West team.

Sep 17, 2016; Champaign, IL, USA; Western Michigan Broncos wide receiver Corey Davis (84) evades Illinois Fighting Illini defensive back Jaylen Dunlap (1)during the third quarter at Memorial Stadium. Western Michigan beat Illinois 34 to 10. Mandatory Credit: Mike Granse-USA TODAY Sports

Sep 17, 2016; Champaign, IL, USA; Western Michigan Broncos wide receiver Corey Davis (84) evades Illinois Fighting Illini defensive back Jaylen Dunlap (1)during the third quarter at Memorial Stadium. Western Michigan beat Illinois 34 to 10. Mandatory Credit: Mike Granse-USA TODAY Sports

Round 1, Pick 13: Corey Davis, WR — Western Michigan

Here, they could go one of two ways. They could look to a quarterback to eventually replace Carson Palmer like DeShone Kizer of Notre Dame, or maybe even Patrick Mahomes II of Texas Tech. Both should be available at pick 13, but neither seems like they’re worthy of such a pick. However, if North Carolina’s Mitch Trubisky or Clemson’s DeShaun Watson were to fall here, the Cards should snatch them up right away.

In this mock, neither falls so the Cardinals instead try and get their heir apparent to Larry Fitzgerald. They hoped this was already done with the selection of Notre Dame wide out Michael Floyd in the first round of the 2012 NFL Draft. While Floyd flashed potential, he never became a legitimate number one receiver and was cut late last season thanks to a DUI arrest.

So now they get another playmaker at the position in Western Michigan’s Corey Davis. At 6-3 and 213 pounds, Davis has incredible size for the position and is pretty comparable in that area to the amazing Fitzgerald.

Davis was a receiving monster for Western Michigan, hauling in 331 receptions for 5,278 yards and 52 touchdowns in his four-year career. He was responsible for 19 receiving touchdowns in his senior season alone and, along with Mike Williams of Clemson, is one of the top two receiving targets heading into this year’s draft.

What scouts love about Davis is not just his amazing hands and excellent route running. While those things are raved about, it’s his competitive nature and desire to win one-on-one battles that stands out. He should be a day one starter in the desert and would allow for a seamless transition from the future Hall of Fame player in Fitzgerald.

Jan 2, 2017; Tampa , FL, USA; Florida Gators defensive lineman Caleb Brantley (57) rushes against the Iowa Hawkeyes during the second quarter at Raymond James Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Jan 2, 2017; Tampa , FL, USA; Florida Gators defensive lineman Caleb Brantley (57) rushes against the Iowa Hawkeyes during the second quarter at Raymond James Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Round 2, Pick 13: Caleb Brantley, DT — Florida

Another area that the Cardinals can look to improve is among their defensive line. Current starting defensive end Calais Campbell has been a solid starter for a long time, but is about to hit the open market. He also will be 31 years old next season, so the Cards may decide that his age and potentially huge salary would suggest that a rookie would be the better way to go.

With that way of thinking they select Florida defensive tackle Caleb Brantley and look to plug him into their three-man line. Brantley isn’t as tall as the 6-8 Campbell at 6-2 but can provide a stout defensive end in their 3-4 defense at 314 pounds. He also has enough weight to play inside on passing downs for the Cardinals.

In Florida Brantley didn’t play a ton of snaps, but showed enough strength to be a force in the NFL against the run. He also has more pass rush moves than what his 5.5 career sacks would lead one to believe.

His selection would allow Arizona to go much younger on their line after taking Robert Nkemdiche with their first round selection last season. The Ole Miss defensive lineman didn’t log much time as a rookie, recording just one tackle, but has the potential to be disruptive. Paired with Brantley Arizona should be able to continue with their reputation of being a top defense.

Nov 19, 2016; Baton Rouge, LA, USA; LSU Tigers guard Josh Boutte (76) and center Ethan Pocic (77) and quarterback Danny Etling (16) in action during the game against the Florida Gators at Tiger Stadium. The Gators defeat the Tigers 16-10. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

Nov 19, 2016; Baton Rouge, LA, USA; LSU Tigers guard Josh Boutte (76) and center Ethan Pocic (77) and quarterback Danny Etling (16) in action during the game against the Florida Gators at Tiger Stadium. The Gators defeat the Tigers 16-10. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

Round 3, Pick 13: Ethan Pocic, C/G — LSU

Starting right guard Evan Mathis is 35 years old, starting center A.Q. Shipley is 30, and left guard Mike Iupati is 29, about to turn 30. The Cardinals could stand to get some youth in the interior of their line and they try to do just that with their third round pick in this mock. Their selection is Ethan Pocic of LSU, who started all along the line for the Tigers.

Playing against SEC talent, Pocic thrived for LSU and is heralded for his intelligence. He is considered to be one of the smarter linemen in the draft, which has scouts placing him as an NFL center. He does seem out of sorts there thanks to his 6-6 frame. His height is abnormal for a center, and leverage loss could be a result.

What offsets such an issue is the knowledge that he could play inside, but also kick outside if needed. In the long run this may be an option as Pocic doesn’t wow with his power but is more of an athletic blocker. Despite any concerns what the Cardinals would get here is a guy with a high IQ that could help as a versatile backup with the potential to become a long time starter once his position is clearly defined.

Nov 5, 2016; Fayetteville, AR, USA; Arkansas Razorbacks tight end Jeremy Sprinkle (83) runs after a catch in the second quarter against the Florida Gators at Donald W. Reynolds Razorback Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports

Nov 5, 2016; Fayetteville, AR, USA; Arkansas Razorbacks tight end Jeremy Sprinkle (83) runs after a catch in the second quarter against the Florida Gators at Donald W. Reynolds Razorback Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports

Round 4 Pick 13: Jeremy Sprinkle, TE — Arkansas

The Cardinals have some talent at the wide out spot with the aforementioned Larry Fitzgerald as well as John Brown, J.J. Nelson and Jaron Brown. They also added Corey Davis in round one here, but that doesn’t mean the offense can’t find some more weapons.

Even with all those receivers, plus Michael Floyd, Arizona tried to bring in Jermaine Gresham as a pass receiving tight end in 2015. Over the last two seasons he has been decent, but offered nothing in the way of being an explosive player. 2016 was his best year for the Cards, recording 37 receptions for 397 yards and just two scores.

To try and get themselves an upgrade at that position they use a fourth-round selection on the promising Arkansas tight end Jeremy Sprinkle. He has great size for a tight end at 6-5, 256 pounds and is considered a three-down player who isn’t a liability in blocking or route running. An anonymous NFC South area scout said this about Sprinkle, via NFL.com:

“I think Sprinkle is a much better blocker (than Michigan’s Jake Butt) and he’s got more of an NFL body type.”

His best season was 2015 when he recorded 14.4 yards per reception on 27 catches. He found the end zone six times that season and while his yards per reception were down last season he continued to show he was a talented player with 33 catches and four touchdowns.

The reason he slips some is due to an off field incident in which he was caught attempting to shoplift. Sprinkle will have to convince NFL teams that it was an isolated lapse in judgement and not an issue going forward. Should he convince the Cardinals, they may get a talented player in the mid rounds of the 2017 NFL Draft.

Dec 29, 2016; Charlotte, NC, USA; Virginia Tech Hokies quarterback Jerod Evans (4) looks to pass the ball during the first quarter against the Arkansas Razorbacks during the Belk Bowl at Bank of America Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

Dec 29, 2016; Charlotte, NC, USA; Virginia Tech Hokies quarterback Jerod Evans (4) looks to pass the ball during the first quarter against the Arkansas Razorbacks during the Belk Bowl at Bank of America Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

Round 5 Pick 13: Jerod Evans, QB — Virginia Tech

Speaking of talented players in the mid-rounds, the Arizona Cardinals finally look for a quarterback with their first of two fifth-round picks. Their selection is Virginia Tech quarterback Jerod Evans.

This selection may make fans roll their eyes as this wouldn’t the first project quarterback out of Virginia Tech taken by Arizona. Back in 2014 they took a flier on Logan Thomas, and the former Hokies starter did nothing to warrant his selection. He appeared in two games for the team that drafted him and completed just one of nine career passes, although that one completion did go for an 81-yard touchdown to running back Andre Ellington.

As for Evans, comparing him to Thomas wouldn’t be fair. Thomas was never a polished passer and has since been converted to tight end by the Detroit Lions. He spent last season with the Buffalo Bills listed at the same position. Evans on the other hand is a good passer evidenced by his 63.5 completion percentage and 3,552 yards. The 6-foot-4, 230-pound Evans had 29 touchdowns through the air with just eight touchdowns in 2016 as well and added another 846 yards and 12 touchdowns with his legs.

The problem is that was his only season of FBS level competition as he was a junior college transfer. He needs time to develop, but with Palmer coming back for next season at the least the team has time to do just that. His raw talent is simply too much to pass on with a fifth-round selection.

Senior Bowl

Jan 24, 2017; Mobile, AL, USA; South squad offensive tackle Conor McDermott of UCLA (68) blocks tight end Evan Engram of Ole Miss (left) and offensive tackle Justin Senior of Mississippi State (middle) as tight end O.J. Howard of Alabama (88) backs up the play during practice at Ladd-Peebles Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Glenn Andrews-USA TODAY Sports

Round 5 Pick 33 (Compensatory): Conor McDermott, OT — UCLA

With a predicted fifth-round compensatory selection, the Cardinals once again add to their aging offensive line. This time they go with UCLA offensive tackle Conor McDermott. He was a basketball player in high school, which gets him attention as a good athlete. His size also will open eyes as he stands 6-foot-8 and 300 pounds.

Where the questions arise though are in his strength. Some don’t think he can make it in the NFL because of his lack of power, while others say he may be able to with a lot of work. Lance Zierlein of NFL.com said this of the UCLA standout:

McDermott’s impressive high school resume is usually an attention-grabber for NFL offensive line coaches looking for athletes. However, his lack of functional core strength is a debilitating weakness that could make it tough for him to maintain an NFL career. McDermott’s size will likely get him drafted, but there are quite a few holes in his game that are in desperate need of work.

For Arizona, they aren’t looking for a day one tackle here, so it makes sense to try and draft based solely on potential. McDermott played in a pro-style offense and was an effective left tackle. His quick feet and coordination cannot be taught. The other stuff can and a professional strength coach could help him add some power as well. Worth a flier late in round five.

Nov 19, 2016; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Pittsburgh Panthers running back James Conner (24) rushes the ball against the Duke Blue Devils during the first quarter at Heinz Field. Pittsburgh won 56-14. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Nov 19, 2016; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Pittsburgh Panthers running back James Conner (24) rushes the ball against the Duke Blue Devils during the first quarter at Heinz Field. Pittsburgh won 56-14. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Round 6 Pick 13: James Conner, RB — Pittsburgh

Pittsburgh running back James Conner is a feel good story who won the Disney Spirit Award and the Brian Piccolo Award in the ACC after overcoming a diagnosis of Hodgkin’s lymphoma which cost him all of his 2015 season. While many rooted for him after his cancer diagnosis, Conner is actually a really good football player as well.

In 2014 he rushed for 1,765 yards and an amazing 26 touchdowns. He then played in just one game the following season but triumphantly returned in 2016 when he had 1,092 yards and 16 scores.

Despite crossing the end zone like a machine, Conner’s NFL prospects are limited. He is a battering ram at 235 pounds, but lacks the top end speed that would allow him to break the long runs. While some teams may not like that, it won’t matter as much in Arizona as Conner would simply be a short-yardage guy behind the explosive David Johnson.

He would be a great value pick in the sixth-round as he has a ton of production at the collegiate level and also fits a role the team could use. On top of a short-yardage role, he would be able to hold up with a 20-plus carry role if the team was to ever be without Johnson for an extended time.

NCAA Football: Navy at Air Force

Round 7 Pick 13: Weston Steelhamer, S — Air Force

No team has a tie to the military like the Arizona Cardinals. After 9/11, they saw star safety Pat Tillman enroll in the Army to help defend his country. The heroic Tillman was an inspiration to all as he gave up his NFL career to serve the country he loved and in the end he lost his life.

It would only be fitting that the same team that was honored to have Tillman would look at a military safety like Weston Steelhamer of Air Force. In addition to having the best football name since forever, Steelhammer was also a stellar performer during his college days. He recorded 227 tackles, but more impressively he had 18 career interceptions in four seasons.

After just three games as a freshman he became a full time starter and recorded six interceptions as a sophomore, five as a junior and seven as a senior. He has good size at 6-2 and 200 pounds and proved his instincts were incredible as well with his high interception totals. While there isn’t a ton of players coming into the NFL out of Air Force, a player like Steelhammer is worth taking a shot on late as he has the intangibles to be a positive impact on any team.

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