There’s no guarantees, but it appears clear with the draft three days away that the Cardinals will select a cornerback in the first round of the draft Thursday. Unless they don’t.
Now, that last comment seems glib, but what we all should know by now, unless we have been residing on a different planet for previous drafts, is that the unexpected should be expected. The word “surprise” should never be used when discussing a team’s pick.
The Cardinals’ slot at 16 in the middle of the first round only adds to the uncertainty.
As former NFL and college head coach Jim Mora told AllCardinals, “I always found when you're picking at 16, 17, 18, it was tricky because you have no idea what is about to happen in front of you. We know there's going to be some head-scratchers, right? Early in the draft. And there's going to be some moves you go ‘Jiminy Christmas, what's going on here?' And that's what's happening in these draft rooms. There's so much uncertainty and every pick changes the complexion of the draft as we go forward.”
Even with the addition of Malcolm Butler in free agency, the Cardinals need to add depth in the secondary and hopefully add a young starter that will play for many years. If Patrick Surtain II or Jaycee Horn are still around at 16, the Cardinals should take about five seconds to send their choice to the league.
What will be intriguing is if they are off the board. Numerous mock drafts have the Cardinals selecting Greg Newsome II or Caleb Farley. However, we don’t know if a player the Cardinals have rated higher at another position will be available or how the team has evaluated other corners that could be available in the second round.
As for the two top-rated cornerbacks, Horn has the best chance of lasting until 16.
“He's a great talent,” Mora said. “He can line up and get in bump-and-run, and they have to replace Patrick (Peterson). And you can never have enough corners. This is a passing league. Teams are slinging it all over the yard. And you've got to have some talented guys out there that can make some plays and cover some guys tight. And I think Jaycee Horn can do that.”
As for Newsome, Mora said, “I don't think a lot of people see him at 16. But (what matters) is how Arizona has evaluated him and if he fits what they're looking for. He's got length. He's got some size, he's got ball skills and he plays at a high level. He can play man from bump-and-run and from off-(ball). He's a good zone player. He's really good with his eyes. He's a good tackler. He's a notch below those two, but I think that he's gonna end up being a really, really, really solid, consistent player in the NFL.
“I'm not sure that people in Arizona will be jumping for joy if they make that pick. I think the analysts will say, ‘Oh, well, that's a little bit of a reach.’ But that's where the convergence of best player available and need come together. And that'll be the big debate in their draft room. I'm sure they're having those debates right now.”
When Cardinals general manager Steve Keim was asked about the cornerback class last week, he mentioned Surtain, Horn and Farley, but not Newsome. Does that mean he’s not enamored with Newsome or that he purposely avoided mentioning him?
That is all part of the smoke that gets in everyone’s eyes at draft time.
For the record, Keim said, “I do think it’s a deep corner draft. Pick your poison; these guys are all a little different whether it's Patrick Surtain II, Horn or Farley. There are guys that can be nickels and nickels only. To me, the nickel position is getting harder and harder to find. I think at one time that was a secondary thought, but the way these teams are playing schematically in the NFL, the nickel position is as important as ever. For us to have a guy like Byron Murphy Jr. who can play inside or outside, it gives us tremendous value. But there are guys that can play inside and outside in this draft and some guys that can only play outside with their length and their movement skills.
"The first two that I just talked about with Horn and Surtain II, the bloodlines that they come from are obviously very, very good which shows up in their competitiveness, the way they play the game, the way they approach the game and they've been very, very impressive to evaluate this spring.”
Farley had outpatient “minor” back surgery in March, so that looms over his draft prospects.
Keim said, “I like Caleb a lot. He’s another guy that came in early in his career as a wide receiver; they moved him to corner. Did not have tape from this past year because he opted out. As far as the medical goes, it's going to be up to our doctors and trainers. You have to lean on those guys and rely on them and I'll meet with those guys early next week and we'll address all of those concerns.
“As a player, he hasn't even scratched the surface yet, but he’s got tremendous upside and potential. For a guy who is as long as he is, he's got tremendous stop-and-start ability and really is as sudden in transition as any corner in this draft. He's got a bright future.”
Obviously, for all players waiting anxiously for Thursday through Saturday, the question is where and how bright those future will actually be.