Primary Needs: OT, S, CB,
Secondary Needs: OLB, RB, TE
The 2013 Arizona Cardinals finished at 10-6 but missed the playoffs once again in unlucky fashion certainly playing in the same division Super Bowl Champions. This only happened eight other times since the NFL went to its current playoff structure in 2002.
In any other NFC division the Cardinals would have contended immediately for a division title. If the team were playing in the NFC East, they would be resting their starters week 16 and 17.
Unfortunately, the Cardinals play a quarter of their games against the Super Bowl Champion Seattle Seahawks and three-time consecutive NFC championship participants San Francisco 49ers. This place’s, the Cardinals in a messy situation.
In order to compete in one of the strongest divisions in the league the Cardinals needs to do everything can to improve this offseason.
The Cardinals are smart and tend to draft the best players available with each selection and usually do not jump for a need. The team may draft a safety, but it simply will not be their first pick of the draft. They “already have the position filled”, they won’t hesitate to take the best player on the board with their pick in the first (or any other) round. This intelligent draft strategy plus about $13.3 Million in cap space will provide a good chance for the Cardinals to improve enough this off-season to make the playoffs.
Arizona’s biggest need is building up the offensive line with the exception of center position. The Cardinals were horrendous at protecting 35 year old Carson Palmer last year. They ranked 32 out of 32 in pass protection, according to Pro Football Focus. If the Cardinals can provide Palmer with another second or two in the pocket, he has great weapons on his receiving core and passing ability to reach 5,000 yards, even in the NFC West. Their first round pick from last year, Jonathan Cooper, will be back and make the line better.
The Cardinals may select one of the top lineman of the draft like Michigan Taylor Lewan or Notre Dame Zack Martin or improve their offensive line primarily through free agency as they may target guys like Brandon Albert, Anthony Collins and Travelle Wharton.
The Cardinals other needs are on the defense side of the ball they include gaining a pass rusher and add to their secondary by adding a linebacker and a defensive back or two.
In 2013 Cardinals were not ranked near the bottom of the league in passing defense, 233 yards per game ranked 14th, they can get much better. Their rush defense was the best in the NFL only allowing 84.4 yards per game. They need help once the ball is in the air, and this help can be attained by grabbing any of the three aforementioned positions. They will need to spend money on their all-category leading defensive player from last year, Karlos Dansby. If they’re able to resign Dansby and an sign an offensive tackle, the Cardinals should look to this year’s loaded draft to fill its needs.
It’s not too far-fetched to see the Cardinals use their 20th pick and draft one of the top two cornerbacks in the draft, Justin Gilbert out of Oklahoma State or Darqueze Dennard out of Michigan State. Pair either of them with Patrick Peterson and you have the makings of the best one-two punch of cornerbacks in the league.
Palmer would also love to add some additional offense weapons around him. The Cardinals are in need of impact players at running back and tight end. Andre Ellington might be the best running back in Arizona since Ottis Anderson in the 1980s. Too bad that isn’t saying much as the Cardinals have been void of a solid running game since the 2002 season when they were ranked 15th in the league in rushing.
They have been ranked 22nd or lower every year since and were the worst running “attack” four times since 2002. “You can never have too much of a good thing,” and in the case of a running game, the Cardinals cannot afford to ignore that saying. The 2014 draft will offer quite a few options to fulfill the tight end need for them.
Another possibility in the early rounds of the draft for the Cardinals, is for Arizona to look at the tight-end position. Here are a couple of tight-ends, they to take into account in the upcoming draft Washington Austin Seferian-Jenkins or Notre Dame Troy Niklas. Seferian-Jenkins is the best pass blocker in the draft and can hold his own against opponents trying to get to the quarterback. That ability just might make him a top target for Arizona.
Palmer the 35 year old signal caller therefore, there is a very good possibility in the later rounds of the NFL draft, the Cardinals will select a young quarterback to learn under the aging veteran quarterback.
The Cardinals are ready to play past week 17 in 2014. Playing in the toughest division in the NFL will provide major challenges to this goal, the Cardinals have a good returning core to build off of. With a great draft (a good draft won’t suffice) and key free agent signings, they could easily join or supplant either the Seahawks or 49ers in the post-season next year.
Written by: Nic Amanno
Follow me on Twitter: @ChicoAlum
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