PHOENIX – For the first time since 2013, a new face will be running the show in the Arizona Cardinals draft room during the upcoming NFL Draft.
And with eight picks – including the No. 3 overall choice – the Cardinals have options available to fill some holes in a roster that has a lot of them in the first draft conducted by Monti Ossenfort, the club’s new general manager.
The new era of Cardinals football is trying to make up for a poor draft reputation in the past and the trip to Kansas City, where Thursday’s draft takes place, is one day away.
Ossenfort’s biggest decision is what to do with the No. 3 pick. Do the Cardinals trade back in the draft to acquire more picks or keep it to acquire a marquee player for new coach Jonathan Gannon?
“I’m excited about all the prospects (whether) they’re No. 3 overall or in the sixth round,” Gannon said. “When I evaluate players, I try to visualize how we’re going to use them. If we are sitting at three, great, I’ll be excited. If we’re not sitting at three, great, I’ll be excited.”
For a new head coach and general manager, an advantage of having a thin roster during the offseason is all of the options are win-win scenarios.
“It’s easier in the Cardinals’ situation to draft because wherever you’re picking the best player marries up with a need,” said Jim Nagy, Executive Director of the Reese’s Senior Bowl. “You never want to truly reach for a need, but you’ve got a roster that has holes.”
The Cardinals will look for a new star on the defensive line after losing both starting defensive tackles, J.J. Watt to retirement and Zach Allen to free agency, as well as edge rusher Marcus Golden. The three combined for 20.5 of 36 sacks last season.
This mock draft highlights players the Cardinals need to fill holes in the roster, more specifically the offensive and defensive line. Beefing up the trenches gives the rebuilding franchise a solid foundation for Gannon and Ossenfort to build on for the future.
2023 Mock Draft
Round 1, Pick 3: Will Anderson Jr., Edge-Rusher, Alabama
Scouting report: One of the few blue-chip prospects in the 2023 class, Anderson is a perfect fit for a team that lost two of its top pass rushers this offseason. Anderson is a moderately loose/bendy edge rusher. His combination of speed, power and instincts should translate into being a 10-sack (or more) player per season at the NFL level.
Trade rumors have been swirling around the No. 3 pick, giving the Cardinals an option to gain more draft capital, adding talented depth to build on for the future.
“Taking the best player and trading down would probably be a good strategy for him (Ossenfort) to accumulate picks and take as many shots as possible because I know when a new regime comes in, whether it be front office or coaching, and in this case both, they’re gonna want to put their own stamp on the roster they’re gonna value different things in different positions,” Nagy said.
Hypothetical trades for the No. 3 pick
Round 1 Pick 4: Will Anderson Jr., Edge-Rusher, Alabama
Rumors have surfaced about the Indianapolis Colts trading up one spot with the Cardinals to get a quarterback. NFL Draft expert Mel Kiper and Chad Retuer both have this trade in their mock draft. If this trade were to happen, then the pick is still expected to be Anderson, and the Cardinals can add draft capital in a later-round pick while still getting their guy.
Round 1, Pick 7: Devon Witherspoon, Cornerback, Illinois
Scouting Report: In order to secure this place in the draft order, the Cardinals need to strike a trade with the Raiders, who have been rumored to move up from the seventh selection and pick a quarterback. According to the draft trade value chart, the No. 3 pick is worth 2,200 points and the No. 7 pick is worth 1,400. The Cardinals would need to swap tiheir first-round pick with the Raiders and get an extra second-round pick this year with an additional third-round pick next year. With a lack of depth at the corner positions, adding Witherspoon – a lean, rangy cornerback with outstanding quickness, instincts, and ball skills – will help the poor secondary massively. He will fit in well with Gannon’s system, which has corners playing off the ball – where Witherspoon thrives.
Round 2, Pick 34: Calijah Kancey, Defensive Tackle, Pittsburgh
Scouting report: Despite his undersized frame and stature, Kacney uses his explosiveness and twitchiness to get into the backfield. In the run game, he relies on quickness to shoot gaps and disrupt during the development of a play. The one downside is he struggles to impact plays if he can’t get off the block quickly and win his matchup early. Kancey is a high-upside pick for a team that needs more difference-makers on the defensive line.
Round 3, Pick 66: Joe Tippman, interior offensive lineman, Wisconsin
Scouting report: The lack of depth mixed with the injury bug in the offensive line room has been a weak point of the Cardinals’ offense over the past few years. This is an issue Gannon addressed during the NFL’s annual owners meetings, noting that he wants versatile linemen who can play multiple positions due to the constant injury bug. The perfect way to combat the problem is to draft someone like Tippman who can play guard and center. Tippman is a tall and athletic lineman who is quick out of his stance in pass protection, showing off the ability to sink and anchor versus power. At times he can set up too high in his stance, allowing defensive linemen to gain ground on him. However, he is excellent at being aware of this and redirecting the man he is up against to keep a pocket clean.
Round 3, Pick 96: DJ Turner, Cornerback, Michigan
Scouting report: The Cardinals need to attack corners in the draft, with starting corner Byron Murphy Jr., going to the Minnesota Vikings in free agency, leaving Antonio Hamilton and Marco Wilson to pick up the brunt of the work. Turner would be a great fit for Gannon’s heavy zone coverage scheme because of the proper drops used in the zone coverage responsibilities. Turner’s football IQ is evident as he squeezes routes to eliminate options for the quarterback before making a play on any threatening ball in his zone. The explosiveness he put on display to break on routes in zone coverage can increase the 11 interceptions forced by the Cardinals last season.
Round 4, Pick 105: Michael Wilson, Wide Receiver, Stanford
Scouting report: Trade rumors are swirling around Cardinals standout wide receiver Deandre Hopkins. In the event he is traded, the offense will be lacking a tall and strong jump-ball weapon. Wilson checks the box on height, weight and speed. Wilson has an elite combo of route-running ability mixed with moving well in and out of his breaks to generate separation. He can be a crucial piece for the offense once Kyler Murray returns from a torn ACL. Wilson was projected to be selected in the first three rounds but has fallen on draft boards due to a knee injury. Nagy spent a great deal of time with him at the Resse’s Senior Bowl and said that despite the injury concerns, Wilson’s upside as a route runner, speed, ball-tracking ability and, most importantly, his high-end character still makes him a great prospect.
Round 5, Pick 168: Warren McClendon, Offensive Tackle, Georgia
Scouting report: Continuing the offensive line trend in Arizona, McClendon excels in the run game with an ability to climb to the second level and pick off linebackers. He knows how to set up versus long-speed rushers and forcibly widen their rush path. With scheme versatility and experience in the top conference in college football, he gives the Cardinals excellent upside value in the 5th round.
Round 6, Pick 180: Jake Haener, Quarterback, Fresno State
Scouting report: Murray will miss most, if not all, of the 2023 season with an ACL tear. Bringing in another quarterback late helps build depth and adds competition for the backup position between Colt Mccoy and David Blough. For an undersized quarterback, Haener has an above-average arm and an ability to hit all the throws an NFL quarterback needs to make. A highly-instinctive player, Haener is a rhythm passer who throws with great timing and anticipation. He has a chance to separate himself and be the clear backup to Kyler while only investing in a sixth-round pick.
Round 6, Pick 213: Alex Forsyth, interior offensive lineman, Oregon
Scouting report: The third lineman taken by the Cardinals, Forsyth is a right-handed center with excellent snap quickness and punch timing. He handles all of Oregon’s protection calls with an amazing ability to pick up stunts. Forsyth has the requisite athleticism, football IQ and technique to excel as a starter in the NFL. He is a perfect option for the Cardinals with their last pick in the draft.