The Arizona Cardinals finished 8-8 in 2020. They scored their most points (410) since the 2016 season and their defense finished with their best points per game allowed rank since 2015, finishing 12th this past season. The Cardinals were hot to start the season, winning five of their first seven games before going 3-6 following their bye — including 0-4 against divisional opponents. Four of the six losses down the stretch were one-possession games. Despite the record, Arizona showed significant improvements on both offense and defense in 2020 and has plenty of young talent to continue to make strides next season.
Some quick history, the following are the Cardinals’ last five years’ worth of first-round draft picks.
2020: Isaiah Simmons (S)
2019: Kyler Murray (QB)
2018: Josh Rosen (QB)
2017: Haason Reddick (OLB)
2016: Robert Nkemdiche (DT)
The Cardinals have drafted just three Pro Bowl players — only one of these three, Kyler Murray, has been a first-round draft pick — out of the 50 players they’ve drafted since 2014.
The following players could possibly be on the move, either through trade or being cut, due to their 2021 cap hit (age is in parentheses):
Chandler Jones – EDGE (31)
Justin Pugh – IOL (30)
Robert Alford – CB (32)
Maxx Williams – TE (26)
The Cardinals’ are $12.59 million under the cap for the 2021 season, not including any of the possible trade or cut candidates listed above.
Despite missing the playoffs for their fifth straight season, Arizona showed promise and took a step forward. As Murray continues to improve heading into his third season and Arizona continues to help both him and the defense, Arizona could potentially become a playoff team if they add the right pieces this offseason.
Here are some players the Cardinals might target with the 16th overall pick in this year’s draft:
Possibility #1: South Carolina CB Jaycee Horn
2020 stats: 7 games, 16 tackles, 1 TFL, 2 INTs, 6 PDs
Why: Arizona enters this offseason with both Patrick Peterson and Dre Kirkpatrick as free agents. Both cornerbacks are over 30 years old and aren’t the future of Arizona’s secondary. With both unlikely to be re-signed, this makes cornerback arguably Arizona’s biggest position of need in the draft.
South Carolina’s Jaycee Horn would help fill their biggest defensive need immediately. Horn is highly instinctive and aggressive and has good size for the position — 6-1, 205 pounds — while also having the length and ball skills to disrupt passes. He has great upside, athleticism, size and instincts for a cornerback. His biggest knocks are his mental toughness and competitiveness. Gets discouraged when flagged and allows the officials to get into his head. Takes plays off and can also get touchy with receivers. Overall Horn’s skillset mixed with his size and athleticism make him a highly intriguing cornerback prospect with the potential to become a team’s number one cornerback.
Possibility #2: USC G Alijah Vera-Tucker
Career stats: 13 starts
Why: Offensive line is always a position of need for NFL offenses, especially ones with young QBs. Murray was pressured on just 17.1% of his drop backs last season and with J.R. Sweezy and Kelvin Beachum both set to become free agents, depth along their line is needed. Protecting Murray and finding a guard who can pave the way in the run game will be huge for Arizona.
Vera-Tucker plays with a high motor and high effort. On top of that, he is always engaged with a defender on tape; when he isn’t, he’s looking for someone. He is a smart player who understands where the QB and RB are on most plays. Great urgency and awareness as he plays, which pair well with his athleticism and aggressive style. He is a day one starter in the NFL at the guard position. He also has experience at offensive tackle. He offers versatility all over the offensive line with the exception of center. His only knocks are his still hips when he moves laterally. Has the potential to be a great player for years in the NFL and would be a perfect piece for their offensive line. A guy who would protect Murray for years to come.
Possibility #3: Georgia EDGE Azeez Ojulari
2020 stats: 10 games, 31 tackles, 12.5 TFLs, 8.5 sacks, 2 PDs, 4 FFs
Why: Arizona decided not to use its franchise tag on OLB Hassan Reddick, who led their team in sacks in 2020 (12.5). Markus Golden is also expected to test free agency, which would mean their two starting OLBs from last season will be gone. The return of Chandler Jones and the signing of J.J. Watt will be highly beneficial for Arizona’s pass rush but both are over the age of 30.
Ojulari will fit best as a 3-4 OLB at the next level. Wins with a combination of leverage, pass rush polish and speed. He should be able to have pass rush production immediately at the next level. Would likely starte his first year in Arizona as a rotational pass rusher who after that has all the tools to develop into a starting caliber pass rusher. He is the youngest edge rusher in the class and his level of pass rush polish is very promising for his age.
Possibility #4: Alabama DL Christian Barmore
2020 stats: 12 games, 37 tackles, 9.5 TFLs, 8 sacks, 3 PDs, 3 FFs
Why: Arizona’s front seven is going to be one of the better units in the NFL. Their interior defensive line will be arguably the weakest point of the front, through. Corey Peters and Domata Peko are both UFAs this offseason; if they both walk, it leaves depth concerns for Arizona’s defensive line.
Christian Barmore would fix that problem. Barmore is a freaky athlete with exceptional size for the position as well. He will wow teams at his pro day with his pairing of athleticism and measurables. He showed this past season that he has major upside as a pass rusher from the interior, recording eight sacks this past college season. He wins with his physical gifts and needs to improve his technique — specifically with his hands — to take the next step in the NFL.
SEE ALSO: On the Clock archive
Sources: Overthecap, Football Reference, 33rd Team Scouting Reports