Rd. 1, Pk. 29
Robert Nkemdiche, DT/DE/3-4DE, Ole Miss
Some teams won't take Robert Nkemdiche, no matter what round it is, as they've completely taken him off their board. That's not the case for the Cardinals. I'm told he's an option here at No. 29. Arizona has taken chances on players with character concerns before, and it has paid off. Nkemdiche could be next, and he would further bolster the pass rush.
The Cardinals wanted to address the center position entering free agency, but that never happened. As it turns out, one of the top players available at this juncture would help fill that need, further bolstering Carson Palmer's protection.
*** OTHER 2016 NFL DRAFT POSSIBILITIES: ***
1. Ryan Kelly, C - If Kelly somehow falls, he's the likely pick at No. 29.
2. Cody Whitehair, G/C - A backup option in case Kelly isn't available.
Pick change; previously Ryan Kelly, C
Rd. 3, Pk. 29
Graham Glasgow, G/C, Michigan
If the Cardinals don't draft Ryan Kelly or Cody Whitehair in the first round, look for them to target Graham Glasgow at the end of Day 2. They love Glasgow's versatility.
Pick change; previously Joshua Perry, LB
Rd. 4, Pk. 30
Jonathan Jones, CB, Auburn
The Cardinals tried to sign a cornerback in free agency, which makes sense because they never properly replaced Antonio Cromartie. They failed to do so, which means a pick like this one makes sense.
Rd. 5, Pk. 28
Jeff Driskel, QB, Louisiana Tech
Jeff Driskel seems like he'd fit well into Bruce Arians' offense. Arians will have to look for a young quarterback to eventually supplant Carson Palmer, who had an epic meltdown in the playoffs.
Rd. 5, Pk. 31
Nicholas Kwiatkoski, LB, West Virginia
The Cardinals need help at inside linebacker, so expect them to address the position in the middle rounds.
Sources have told me that Bruce Arians loves Pat Mahomes, so I think he and Deshaun Watson could be in play here. The Cardinals could easily take a linebacker in Reuben Foster, but they took a chance on a character concern last year in Robert Nkemdiche, and that doesn't look very good a year later. Howard is one of the safest picks in the 2017 NFL Draft and will give Arizona a receiving weapon. Larry Fitzgerald is aging, Michael Floyd was cut, and John Brown is in the last year of his contract. Here's a long-term weapon for Arizona.
Howard is a safe pick, meanwhile, and the organization, including general manager Dave Caldwell, needs a safe pick after Luke Joeckel was a bust, Blake Bortles is trending that direction, and Dante Fowler is still an unknown. Howard is one of the safest picks in the 2017 NFL Draft as a plug-and-play starter. Marcedes Lewis turns 33 just after the draft and is more of a blocker, while receiving tight end Julius Thomas was traded away. Howard would give Bortles another weapon, and Howard's blocking would be an upgrade over Thomas in double-tight end sets.
Howard had 45 catches for 595 yards and three touchdowns in 2016. In 2015, he made 38 catches for 602 yards and two touchdowns. Howard totaled 17 receptions for 260 yards in 2014. The 6-foot-5, 249-pounder flashed big-time potential in 2013. The freshman hauled in 14 passes for 269 yards - 19.2 average - with two touchdowns.
The talented tight end was very under-utilized by Alabama, generally. As he proved with Robert Woods, Marqise Lee, Amari Cooper and then Calvin Ridley, former Crimson Tide offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin settles on one receiver and struggles to call plays for anyone else regardless of their talent or mismatch potential. Howard is a fast and dangerous receiving weapon who is a dynamic mismatch weapon. He is too big for defensive backs and too fast for linebackers. Howard looks like a future Pro Bowl tight end. Sources say Howard still needed to improve his route-running and blocking, but he was able to show progress in those areas as a senior. His blocking was significantly better to the point that he was making an impact as a blocker late in his senior year.
Rd. 2, Pk. 2
Davis Webb, QB, California
The Cardinals grab their understudy for Carson Palmer.
In 2016, Webb completed 62 percent of his passes for 4,295 yards with 37 touchdowns and 12 interceptions. The graduate transfer has a strong arm and can make some well-placed passes downfield. He also has good size and stands tall in the pocket. Webb shows some field vision to work through his progressions, but he doesn't have mobility for the NFL. In terms of the critical characteristic of accuracy, Webb has potential. Sources say Webb (6-4, 229) can be erratic, but that they like him enough to think of him as a potential second-day pick. California's offense does a poor job of preparing quarterbacks for the NFL - see Jared Goff -, so Webb will have to learn calling plays in the huddle, working under center, traditional footwork for a pro quarterback, and running NFL plays instead of California's Bear Raid college plays.
Rd. 3, Pk. 3
Malachi Dupre, WR, LSU
The Cardinals cut Michael Floyd, John Brown is in the last year of his contract, and Larry Fitzgerald is aging. Thus, Arizona could target some receiver help.
Dupre totaled 41 receptions for 593 yards and three touchdowns in 2016, but LSU's receivers were generally held back by the program's quarterback play. In 2015, Dupre had 43 receptions for 698 yards and six touchdowns despite poor quarterback play in a ground-based scheme. As a freshman in 2014, he recorded 14 catches for 318 yards for five scores. Dupre (6-2, 196) has a lot of potential and could have produced more if he had played in a passing offense.
Rd. 4, Pk. 4
Trey Hendrickson, DE, Florida Atlantic
The Cardinals could add multiple defensive linemen since Calais Campbell left in free agency and Robert Nkemdiche struggled as a rookie.
Hendrickson was one of the stars of the East-West Shrine with a strong week of practice. He did well in the pass-rushing one-on-ones and notched a lot of wins. In 2016, Hendrickson totaled 51 tackles with 15 tackles for a loss, 9.5 sacks, one forced fumble and two passes batted. He had 13.5 sacks as a junior.
Hendrickson could be a mid-round sleeper. Sources have said they graded him in the early rounds of Day 3, but sneaking into the second day is possible. Hendrickson had an impressive combine performance.
Rd. 5, Pk. 5
Dwayne Thomas, CB, LSU
The Cardinals grab a corner to compete.
Rd. 5, Pk. 5
Eddie Vanderdoes, DT/3-4DE/NT, UCLA
The Cardinals grab more interior defensive line competition.
Rd. 6, Pk. 6
Marquez White, CB, Florida State
The Cardinals will probably add some corner competition in the 2017 NFL Draft.
Rd. 7, Pk. 7
Dylan Cole, OLB, Missouri State
The Cardinals have hosted Cole and could use some edge-defender depth.
The missing piece to Arizon'as offense. Everything else is settled along the line. 4 deep at WR, a young bellcow in the backfield, at least another couple years before they have to worry about QB. Kelly is an instant starter. Very balanced attack, proficient in both pass protection and run blocking. Incredibly bright player. Started for years Under Nick Saban and Lane Kiffin, making all the line calls and adjustments.
Scouting report: Plays with a big motor and tremendous endurance. Had eight-sack season as a sophomore at Ohio State. Plays at same speed throughout the game. Good upfield burst. Has played with hand in the ground and standing. Won't give away leverage by engaging too early in pass rush. Has solid speed to the edge with a strong rip move at the top of his rush to turn the corner. Takes good angles around the rush arc. Quick lateral slide down the line to restrict running lanes. Plays with a sense of desperation when the ball is in his area. Eludes lead blockers and cut blocks. Pursues around the field looking to scoop up tackles. Dominated his level of competition with 11.5 sacks, 22.5 tackles for loss and 63 tackles over 11 games. Scouts call him an intelligent person and player. Has had success fighting through adversity and has renewed sense of urgency on and off the field as well as a sense of accountability. Former head coach Urban Meyer helped get Spence a second chance because he believes Spence is high character but made mistakes.
Other possibilities: Miles Kelebrew S, Keanu Neal S, Shaq Lawson DE
Robert Nkemdiche is one of the top prospects in the draft. His on going saga of character concerns is worrying to many NFL teams. The Arizona Cardinals are the type of team that can mold Nkemdiche into a good person. He is the most physically imposing player available. A very fast defensive tackle is useful in this NFL. The Cardinals are one of the best teams in the NFL, and have a top 5 talent fall to them here. Bruce Arians has a special player with some concerns, but like Noah Spence, can be cleaned up with the right coaches. David Johnson, John Brown, Tyrann Mathieu, Larry Fitzgerald, Carson Palmer, and Calais Campbell should be a favorite to win the Super Bowl this years. Having Nkemdiche will just boost their odds. David Johnson is a super physical running back. Robert Nkemdiche will start at the tackle position pending his act clean up. Watch out for this special player.
NFL Ceiling - Sheldon Richardson, DL, New York Jets
It might seem crazy but the Cardinals could use some help off the edge. Pending free agents include Dwight Freeney, Jason Babin, Lamarr Woodley and Red Bryant. That is a lot of names, most that will not be resigned. Kevin Dodd, the Clemson standout, showed why he is worthy of a first round selection. When his school needed him the most, during the College Football Playoffs, Dodd who had to pick up slack for injured teammate Shaq Lawson, was exceptional. Dodd is one of the prospects with the greatest potential in this year’s draft.
Most years, I don't project any trades in my mock draft because they're just too unpredictable. However, I believe Arizona will end up trading this pick to a team looking at one of the remaining pass rushers or defensive tackles. However, if they do end up having to make a pick here, I think they'll reach for a player they like. Keanu Neal has been linked to the Cardinals for a few weeks now and while his value is much higher in the second round, his pick would allow Tyrann Mathieu to move full-time to the slot, his best position and allow DeOne Bucannon to continue his role as a rover on defense.
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Rd. 1, Pk. 29
Robert Nkemdiche, DT/DE/3-4DE
If Robert Nkemdiche were totally clean off the field, he would've been a top-10 selection. There's no doubt about that. There were a lot of things wrong with him, however, and several teams told us that he was completely off their board.
That said, this is a great pick. The Cardinals were completely fine with his attitude, and that carries some weight because they've taken chances on players with character issues before like Dan Williams and Tyrann Mathieu. They panned out, and there's a good chance Nkemdiche will as well. If so, he's someone who could help put Arizona over the top.