Position by Position: Cardinals Offensive Questions Ahead of NFL Draft

The NFL Draft begins on Thursday, and there are numerous questions about what the Cardinals could do at 16.
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The eve of the 2021 NFL Draft is here, as the Cardinals will select 16th overall on Thursday night. The second and third rounds will continue Friday, while the final four rounds will take place Saturday. 

A mid-round pick sparks unpredictability with how many decisions unfold before the Cardinals selection. Arizona's roster build also draws questions about depth and building for the future, especially on offense around quarterback Kyler Murray. 

Quarterback

With Murray gearing up for Year 3 and the Cardinals adding veteran backup Colt McCoy this offseason, the quarterback room appears to be set for 2021. 

The question: How will the quarterback class in Thursday's Round 1 affect Arizona's pick? 

Cardinals head coach Kliff Kingsbury believes that the more quarterbacks get taken earlier, the more players who could help Arizona right away could fall to the middle of the round. 

"We're hoping (quarterbacks) go with the top five picks because it'll push a player that that we have rated really highly to us," Kingsbury said. "It's a great group. I haven't studied them as thoroughly as I have in the past, but very, very talented young men, that all could go in that top 10 to 15 picks."

The Cardinals may have been hurt by potential quarterback-needy teams in the top-10 like the Panthers and Broncos trading for quarterbacks this offseason. But, there are likely trades on the slate for Thursday's draft, and teams moving up for quarterbacks would benefit Arizona. 

SI NFL Draft Bible's Top Five:

  1. Trevor Lawrence, Clemson
  2. Zach Wilson, BYU
  3. Trey Lance, North Dakota State
  4. Justin Fields, Ohio State
  5. Mac Jones, Alabama 

Running back

The Cardinals filled the urgent need for a second back to pair with Chase Edmonds by signing former Pittsburgh Steelers running back James Conner on April 14. 

But, Edmonds and Conner will both be unrestricted free agents after the season. 

Question: Do the Cardinals go for their future bell-cow running back in the opening two rounds? 

Being at the 16th pick, the Cardinals will need to react to what happens ahead of them. General manager Steve Keim said that free agency is for filling holes while the draft is for taking the best young prospect on the board. How high does he rank Alabama running back Najee Harris, who broke his school's rushing and total yards records? 

NFL Media's Peter Schrager, who commented that he is plugged in with a lot of NFL teams, said on multiple shows leading up to Thursday that he would not be surprised if the Cardinals took Harris to be that stalwart back behind Murray.

If the Cardinals decide on someone else at 16, Travis Etienne of Clemson or Javonte Williams from North Carolina are other possible options in Round 2. 

SI NFL Draft Bible's Top Five:

  1. Najee Harris, Alabama
  2. Travis Etienne, Clemson
  3. Javonte Williams, North Carolina
  4. Kenneth Gainwell, Memphis
  5. Michael Carter, North Carolina

Wide Receiver

Keim mentioned last week that he expects as many as three receivers landing in the top 15 on Thursday. The three he alluded to are LSU's Ja'Marr Chase along with DeVonta Smith and Jaylen Waddle from Alabama. 

"Chase at LSU reminds me a little bit of Andre Johnson when he came out of Miami. He was a guy that had all the traits: size, speed, explosiveness, run after the catch," Keim said. "People question Smith's size weighing 170 pounds. I played in a high-school all-star game with a guy who weighed about 174 pounds coming out of Syracuse that you might have heard of named Marvin Harrison. He was a pretty good player. Those guys have similar body types. And Waddle reminds me a little bit of Steve Smith when he came out of Utah; explosive, has the ability to return, can be dynamic in that part of the game as well."

The question: Will one of the top three fall to 16? 

Sports Illustrated's NFL Draft Bible president Zack Patraw believes so based on his final mock draft, predicting Smith to be the one to fall. Many other projections on SI.com do not. 

If those three all land in the top 15, Keim mentioned that he is impressed by the depth of the position in this class, including Minnesota's Rashod Bateman. 

The production from Arizona's receiver corps last season fell significantly behind DeAndre Hopkins. Former Bengal A.J. Green signed with Arizona this offseason to alleviate the issue, but he will soon be 33 and Larry Fitzgerald still has not announced his plans regarding retiring or returning. 

SI NFL Draft Bible's Top Five (Outside):

  1. Ja'Marr Chase, LSU
  2. DaVonta Smith, Alabama
  3. Rashod Bateman, Minnesota 
  4. Terrace Marshall Jr., Texas
  5. Nico Collins, Michigan

SI NFL Draft Bible's Top Five (Slot):

  1. Jaylen Waddle, Alabama 
  2. Rondale Moore, Purdue
  3. Kadarious Toney, Florida
  4. Chatarius "Tutu" Atwell, Louisville
  5. Amari Rodgers, Clemson

Tight End 

The Cardinals lost Dan Arnold to the Carolina Panthers in free agency. He was their leading tight-end receiver last year, and his departure leaves Arizona with Maxx Williams, coming off an injury-plagued season and on the last year of his contract, and Darrell Daniels on a one-year deal. 

The question: Can the Cardinals move up to take Florida tight end Kyle Pitts?

Pitts has a rare combination of skills for a tight end

"Have been extremely impressed, everything you hear about his character, his commitment to the game and his passion is extremely high," Keim said after spending time with Pitts virtually. "Then, you turn on the tape and you see a guy who can do it all. I mean, he's got rare and unusual height, weight and speed. He is a real mismatch problem for a number of different positions defensively."

Pitts falling to the 16th pick seems impossible. He mentioned during his Pro Day that multiple teams in the top 10, including the Falcons at four and the Panthers at eight, have had multiple meetings with him and have shown significant interest in drafting him. 

So, the Cardinals would likely need to move up. Keim mentioned that depending on how the draft shakes out, he could be aggressive to move up or move down. The Cardinals have been aggressive making moves all offseason. 

If not, the Cardinals could look deeper in the draft for tight ends. SI's NFL Draft Bible big board has 12 tight ends landing from rounds 2-7. 

Hunter Long of Boston College, Brevin Jordan of Miami and Penn State's Pat Freiermuth are all projected Day-2 picks by SI.

SI NFL Draft Bible's Top Five:

  1. Kyle Pitts, Florida
  2. Hunter Long, Boston College
  3. Pat Freiermuth, Penn State
  4. Brevin Jordan, Miami
  5. Tommy Tremble, Notre Dame

Offensive Line

The Cardinals filled out the starting offensive line this offseason by trading for center Rodney Hudson to replace Mason Cole, re-signing right tackle Kelvin Beachum and adding right guard Brian Winters to compete with Justin Murray. Plus, Arizona used its third-round pick on Josh Jones last year, and he can play both tackle and guard. 

The question: Will the Cardinals add more depth at guard?

Adding another guard would give Arizona another name to throw into the battle on the right side. It could also ensure that the Cardinals have someone to compete for Justin Pugh's spot on the left side in the future. Pugh is an unrestricted free agent after the 2022 season, and he has a low dead-cap hit next year. 

Arizona Cardinals offensive lineman Justin Pugh (67) against the New England Patriots at Gillette Stadium.

"I like some of the guys who are inside players, the guards and the centers," Keim said.

The Cardinals having close to a set starting five, which would give any rookie the chance to learn under veteran leadership before taking over. 

SI Draft Bible's Top Five (Guards):

  1. Trey Smith, Tennessee
  2. Wyatt Davis, Ohio State
  3. Ben Cleveland, Georgia
  4. Aaron Banks, Notre Dame
  5. Kendrick Green, Illinois