With The First Pick: Exploring The Cardinals Options

With the NFL scouting combine in the rearview the Cardinals are now on the clock. Gossip and rumors are flying around what they will do with the first selection in the 2019 NFL Draft. Will it be Kyler? It has supposedly become the consensus within the league that he is their pick. Will they look to trade down? A sensible option for a team with so many needs. Do they take one of the two premier talents in the draft class in Nick Bosa or Quinnen Williams? A wise move for a rebuilding team in desperate need of young talent on the defensive side of the ball. In this piece, I will explore the Cardinals options with the first pick.

Draft Kyler, Trade Rosen

Nov 10, 2018; Norman, OK, USA; Oklahoma Sooners quarterback Kyler Murray (1) throws during the first quarter against the Oklahoma State Cowboys at Gaylord Family – Oklahoma Memorial Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

Why would you take a QB with the first pick in the draft when you traded up to take a QB only a year ago? Because this is the NFL. In a sport where one position makes such a tangible impact on the outcome of every game, the temptation to constantly reassess your strength at that position is always there. After year of Rosen are the Cards really ready to move on from the UCLA product?

After trading up to draft ‘Chosen Rosen’ the Cardinals were committing to him as their field general for the foreseable future. Financially, they guaranteed $17 million to the 10th overall pick in the 2018 NFL Draft and would stand to owe Rosen $10 million for the 2019 season should they trade him. The Cardinals also committed significant assets to trade up and get Rosen in 2018. They moved their 1st, 3rd and 5th round pick in the 2018 Draft to secure the former UCLA signal caller.

Why is this relevant? Because Steve Keim, the GM who engineered the trade up for Rosen, is still calling the shots in Arizona. This offseason Keim hired Kliff Kingsbury to take the reigns as head coach. In his initial press conferences since taking the job, Kingsbury has highlighted the commitment the Cardinals seemingly have to Rosen. Referring to him as “our guy” and going on to say, “I want him to know he kind of has the keys to the castle.”

Yet, the speculation has grown to a point where many feel it is almost a certainty that Kyler Murray is the pick at number 1 for Arizona. Chatter coming out of the Combine suggested NFL insiders believe ‘almost universally’ that the Cardinals pull the trigger on Murray.

Could the Cardinals be willing to move on from Rosen after just one season of poor play behind a catastrophic offensive line? In my opinion, it would be a mistake. It would be a testament to the unreasonable expectations the organisation has placed on Rosen and proof that this front office is about as patient as a kid at Christmas. Let us not forget that this is the same front office who guaranteed $15 million to Sam Bradford so they could ‘compete’ with a frankly awful roster around him. When the wheels on the Bradford experiment came off in week 3, the Cardinals threw Rosen into the firing line.

Per PFF, the Cardinals ranked as the worst offensive line in the league and had the lowest pass block efficiency rating as a unit. Additionally, David Johnson had the worst year of his career, Rosen’s primary targets were an ageing Larry Fitzgerald, Chad Williams and rookie Christian Kirk. Not to mention Rosen was blessed with a truly incompetent play caller in Mike McCoy up until week 7. Where franchises are supposed to do everything they can to aid their young QBs development (see Mayfield, Baker) I would argue the Cardinals have done the opposite.

So what of this years hot name at QB Kyler Murray? The Sooner is certainly worth the hype, and whilst number 1 overall is a little rich for my taste, the ceiling with Murray is astronomical. The diminutive passer has a combination of arm talent, athletic ability and natural accuracy (you can view my full scouting report on Kyler Murray here) that will get NFL decision makers excited.

We could not be talking about two more contrasting QBs as far as play style is concerned. Rosen a typical, 6’4” pocket passer and Murray a phenomenal athlete with outstanding arm talent and a slight frame. However, there are significant risks associated with Murray’s selection.

Whilst the physical traits are there in abundance, the mental side of the game is still a work in progress with Murray. He can be slow to come off of his primary read and his ability to ID coverages post snap is a concern. Added to that, is the fact that Murray would be a true ‘one percenter.’ According to mockdraftable.com Murray’s measured height of 5’10” puts him in the bottom percentile for QB heights going back to 1999. Their database shows Muray is the 2nd shortest QB prospect in that time frame. While I think Murray can succeed in the NFL regardless of what the number on the measuring tape may say, betting on him is taking a chance on him being a major outlier.

Potentially the greatest challenge Kyler Murray presents to NFL teams comes away from the football field and beyond concerns regarding his height. Up until February 11th we had no firm commitment from Kyler that he would play football. The plan was for him to go play Baseball after his Heisman winning season at Oklahoma. As the 9th overall selection in the 2017 MLB draft, Murray signed a contract with the A’s guaranteeing him $4.66 million. With Oakland retaining his MLB rights should he chose to return to play baseball at any point in his career.

Perhaps Murray changes his mind down the road and wishes to return to baseball. He’d be saving himself from taking the physical toll football inflicts on the body and still be set up to make good money. This risk is something the Cardinals will have to weigh before they decide to pull the trigger.

I can see the allure of Murray as a prospect however, I struggle to buy the rumors that he is the sure fire pick for Arizona. Murray may be in consideration with the number 1 pick, but reports that it is a certainty at this point seem to be a reach. The front office valued Rosen highly last year, making the move from 15 to 10 to secure his services. Since being hired Kingsbury has reaffirmed the franchise’s faith in him.

This leads me to believe the Cardinals could simply be trying to run up the value of the number 1 pick and putting the teams on notice. If a team wants Murray, they’re going to have to move up to number 1 to get him. Whilst I believe the Cardinals should stick with Rosen, whichever direction they go with this decision, they will have a really good QB under center in 2019.

Trading Down

It remains a strong possibility that the Cardinals are simply trying to drum up interest in Kyler. If a team wants to draft him, they are going to have to go up and get him with the first pick. A trade down would allow the Cardinals to acquire more picks to address the many holes on their roster.

There are a couple of teams who would appear to be candidates to move up for Murray. The Giants, Redskins and Dolphins are all teams searching for a long term option at QB. It would not surprise me if one of them were to pull the trigger on a trade up. In such a scenario the Cardinals could expect to receive a first round pick this year and next year as well as a couple of day 2 selections either this year or in 2020. Those would be valuable assets for a team in need of a complete overhaul to their roster.

Should the Cardinals trade down, there a few prospects I think they absolutely have to target. The priority for Keim has to be bolstering the offensive line, be that be with their first round pick or, early on day two. A couple of names to keep an eye on are Jonah Williams (OT, Alabama) and Chris Lindstrom (G, Boston College).

Both are plug and play starters along the offensive line with the potential to be long term starters. Williams would be in consideration if they were to trade down with the Redskins or Dolphins and would be a great value in that range of the first round. If they were to acquire the 6th pick from the Giants, Williams could still be in play, but there may be better players still on the board. If Lindstrom lasts until day two, the Cardinals would be wise to pick him up. He is one of the most complete offensive line prospects in this year’s class and an instant impact player at guard.

The holes on the Cardinals Roster go beyond their offensive line however and investing picks in  CBs, LBs, WRs and DLs is essential. Devin White (LB, LSU) could be in play if they trade down with the Giants. So too could Combine standout D.K. Metcalf (WR, Ole MIss) or Houston DT Ed Oliver. Either of those guys would bolster the Cardinals roster at positions of need.

If they were to move a little further back in the first round with either the Dolphins or Redskins, there are still a handful of options worth considering. Andre Dillard (OT, Washington State), Byron Murphy (CB, Washington), Cody Ford (OT/G, Oklahoma) are all prospects who should be available in that range. Each of those players would be a good selection for the Cards, providing good value. I would also love to see the Cardinals take advantage of the depth of this receiver class on day two.

There are a wealth of options for the Cardinals to consider should they trade down. Additionally, there is excellent day two value in this year’s class should they receive some more picks in that range through a trade. In trading down, the Cardinals would be firmly committing to rebuilding around Rosen and surrounding him with the help he desperately needs.

Staying Put And Taking The Best Player On Their Board

Matthew Emmons, USA TODAY Sports

There are two players in this class who I consider to be elite prospects, Nick Bosa and Quinnen Williams. Both are worthy of the first overall pick and have All Pro potential at the next level. I think Williams would ultimately be the best option for the Cardinals if they stay at No. 1. However I really could not argue against either of these guys being the pick. Williams would give the Cardinals defense a dominant interior presence that it is currently lacking. On the other hand, Bosa would bookend Chandler Jones along the edges of Arizona’s defensive line.

Williams dominance as a run defender and refinement as a pass rusher would be a massive upgrade over any of the options presently on the Cardinals roster. With rumors the Cardinals may move on from former first rounder Robert Nkemdiche, the defensive tackle may prove to be a bigger need than edge for the cardinals. Whereas Bosa would fill the hole left by free agent Markus Golden opposite Chandler Jones.

Both these guys are truly top tier talents at their positions and are the kind of players the Cardinals need to kickstart this rebuild. Adding elite prospects when you have the chance to is an opportunity that should not be passed up. Be it Bosa or WIlliams, the Cardinals need the infusion of young talent these guys can provide on defense. Staying put and drafting one of these elite talents would be the best move for Arizona in my opinion.

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