2017 NFL Draft: 5 Realistic First-Round Targets for Arizona Cardinals

March 10, 2017
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The NFL Combine has come and gone in preparation for the NFL Draft. Now pro days are in full swing and the Arizona Cardinals begin forming their big board.

The Cleveland Browns have been on the clock since January and we’re all-but certain that Myles Garrett’ll be the man taken. Arizona will have to wait for 11 other selections to come and go before they’re on the clock.

Just a year removed from a 13-3 season, general manager Steve Kiem has a lot of work to do to get the Cardinals back on top of the NFC West. It starts with adding pieces that can not only get them to the playoffs in 2017 but be a key contributor for years to come.

With the new year starting the draft needs for all 32 teams can and will change on a minute-to-minute basis. Here are five possibilities for Arizona for their first round selection.

December 2, 2016; Santa Clara, CA, USA; Washington Huskies defensive back Sidney Jones (26) before the Pac-12 championship against the Colorado Buffaloes at Levi’s Stadium. The Huskies defeated the Buffaloes 41-10. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

5. Sidney Jones, CB – Washington

The find for a starting cornerback is on for the Cardinals. Lucky for them—and the rest of the NFL—the position is stacked in the upcoming draft. Teams can choose from multiple corners, all with first-round talent.

A personal favorite of mine is Washington’s Sidney Jones. The 6-0, 186-pound Junior was a part of a stout Huskies defense that also includes Budda Baker and Kevin King, both of which expect to be drafted by Day 2 of the NFL Draft.

Jones was the ultimate playmaker of the group. His numbers don’t jump completely off the page but sometimes that just means quarterbacks are straying away from his side of the field.

Defense & Fumbles Table
Tackles Def Int Fumbles
Year School Class Pos G Solo Ast Tot Loss Sk Int TD PD FR FF
*2014 Washington FR DB 13 48 13 61 2.5 1.0 2 0 5 1 1
*2015 Washington SO DB 13 30 15 45 3.5 0.0 4 1 10 2 3
2016 Washington JR DB 14 27 12 39 2.5 0.0 2 0 6 0 2
Career Washington 105 40 145 8.5 1.0 8 1 21 3 6

Provided by CFB at Sports Reference: View Original Table
Generated 3/6/2017.

Production was down his Senior season compared to his first two years on campus. Regardless, he finished both 2015 and 2016 as a First-Team, All-Pac12 selection.

The box score isn’t where you see Jones’ value. All you need to do is watch some tape on him. My favorite play I’ve seen came in 2015 against USC. You can see it below.

via GIPHY

I love seeing a corner be able to diagnose a play (correctly) and the ability to disrupt the play. It’s the type of mentality that reminds me a lot of his former teammate Marcus Peters. Realistically anyone with Jones’ ability to change a game can fit in anywhere. Why not, Arizona?

Next: No. 4 Reuben Foster

Dec 31, 2016; Atlanta, GA, USA; Alabama Crimson Tide linebacker Reuben Foster (10) lines up for a play during the first quarter in the 2016 CFP Semifinal against the Washington Huskies at the Georgia Dome. Alabama defeated Washington 24-7. Mandatory Credit: Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports

4. Reuben Foster, LB – Alabama

We all heard the news this past weekend surrounding Alabama’s star linebacker Reuben Foster at the NFL Combine. Or, maybe you missed it. Short story short, Foster was sent home after an argument with a student hospital worker. He wasn’t set to workout after having shoulder surgery, but was going to interview with teams.

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Projected as a top-10 talent, some think Foster may have hurt his draft stock after the incident. Matt Miller of Bleacher Report, however, still has him going ninth overall to the Cincinnati Bengals in his post-combine mock draft. That could be either Miller not seeing the incident as a red flag or that Foster’s move to send all 32 teams an apology letter as a positive.

Putting character aside, Foster is an elite talent that barring any shoulder setbacks will be a starter at the start of the 2017 NFL season. If Foster is Steve Kiem’s guy then one must assume that he’s comfortable moving on from Kevin Minter and/or Sio Moore, both of which are free agents free to negotiate with anyone.

Are you comfortable with someone like Foster playing for the Cardinals? Arizona’s owner Michael Bidwell has no problem going out and snagging a low-character guy. If he’s there at 13 and impresses in interviews at Alabama’s pro day then it’s a risk to take.

Next: No. 3 Mike Williams

December 31, 2016; Glendale, AZ, USA; Clemson Tigers wide receiver Mike Williams (7) against the Ohio State Buckeyes in the the 2016 CFP semifinal at University of Phoenix Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

3. Mike Williams, WR – Clemson

The answer that everyone is waiting for: How much longer does Larry Fitzgerald have? Many thought 2016 could’ve been his last season, but he’s back for at least one more. My money is one more year and he’ll call it a career. That’ll be a guarantee especially if the Cardinals reach and ultimately win Super Bowl 52. If the fairytale ending comes to life then whoever’s under center will have a tough time defending the title.

That is, unless, Arizona finds someone in round one of this years’ NFL Draft to ultimately be WR1 in Arians’ offense. They have two big-time options in the first round with both Mike Williams and Corey Davis.

I believe Williams to be a frontrunner due to his experience playing against ACC competition. He does, however, have one negative blimp on his radar which evolves around the neck injury he sustained in 2015. He turned the injury into a 98/1,361/11 season in 2016. Add to being a key component in Clemson’s National Championship victory and Arizona could have the successor to Fitzgerald.

Next: No. 2 Deshaun Watson

Sep 3, 2016; Auburn, AL, USA; Clemson Tigers quarterback Deshaun Watson (4) calls out the Auburn Tigers defense during the first quarter at Jordan Hare Stadium. Mandatory Credit: John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports

2. Deshaun Watson, QB – Clemson

Aside from a brief hiatus from 2010-2012, the Cardinals have had a fairly consistent force under center. Between Kurt Warner and Carson Palmer, Arizona has had some very successful years. Like Warner was Palmer is quickly coming to the end of a long career. Now’s the time for someone new to come under center and what better time than now.

There are a lot of option available but none have a better track record than Deshaun Watson. He’s coming off a great career as Clemson Tiger including a National Championship victory over Alabama.

Passing Table
Passing
Year School Conf Class G Cmp Att Pct Yds TD Int Rate
*2014 Clemson ACC FR 8 93 137 67.9 1466 14 2 188.6
*2015 Clemson ACC SO 15 333 491 67.8 4109 35 13 156.3
2016 Clemson ACC JR 15 388 579 67.0 4593 41 17 151.1
Career Clemson 814 1207 67.4 10168 90 32 157.5

Provided by CFB at Sports Reference: View Original Table
Generated 3/7/2017.

Arians has been tabbed as a quarterback whisperer. Between Peyton Manning and Ben Roethlisberger he’s been a part of coaching some of the leagues best. That doesn’t even include Andrew Luck (although many will dispute his ranking among NFL quarterbacks).

All of the aforementioned quarterbacks came into the league with high expectations much of which Watson will be doing. It may be a perfect fit for him.

Next: No. 1 Corey Davis

Jan 2, 2017; Arlington, TX, USA; Western Michigan Broncos wide receiver Corey Davis (84) reacts after catching a touchdown pass during the second half of the 2017 Cotton Bowl against the Wisconsin Badgers at AT&T Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

1. Corey Davis, WR – Central Michigan

I briefly hit on Davis a couple slides ago, but he’s due for his praise. In four seasons at Central Michigan, Davis went off. 331 catches, 5,278 yards and 52 touchdowns is a resume that speaks for itself. Although the former Chippewa played against Mid-American Conference competition his production can’t go unnoticed.

When deciding against which receiver could be the better fit for Arians’ offense is tough. Both have similar build and great college numbers. And like Williams he has an injury Arizona will want to monitor. If you’re looking for how Davis performed at the combine, stop. He underwent ankle surgery in January to repair two torn ligaments which kept him from working out at the combine and his pro day.

Next: 2017 NFL Mock Draft: Full Three Rounds

Keim and Arians will have to decide between which bigger-bodied receiver would be best. That is if they even go the receiver route come the end of April. Plenty of unanswered questions as the new league year begins.

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