The Combine is over and the NFL has reached the lull between the Combine and Free Agency beginning, so let’s take a snapshot of players that I think the Cardinals could select to fill their needs when Roger Goodell steps up to the podium on May 8th.
“And with the 20th pick in the 2014 NFL Draft, the Arizona Cardinals select…”
Round One: Dee Ford, DE, Auburn
It’s highly unlikely that a premiere left tackle falls to 20 this year, and based on what Arians and Keim have said, they aren’t desperate for a Quarterback. That leaves pass-rusher as a key area the Cardinals could look to address in the first round.
Enter Dee Ford.
Ford is a quick, explosive pass-rusher who helped Auburn get to the national title game this year. He’s very athletic, lengthy pass-rusher who fits well as an Outside Linebacker in Arizona’s blitz-heavy defensive front under Todd Bowles.
Below is a GIF from USA Today of Ford during the Senior Bowl (against a good Right Tackle in Jack Mewhort) which demonstrates how quickly Ford splits past the right tackle and succeeds in wrapping up QB Logan Thomas:
Notice how much quicker Ford gets off than the rest of the line after the ball is snapped. He’s been called a “snap anticipator” by some scouts on Twitter, and that may be true but he’s still a phenomenal athlete. Most likely he’d be brought in as a situation rusher as he develops in the run game, and would be primed to take over after John Abraham likely leaves Arizona after this season.
The below GIF shows the sort of “edge-bending” I’m referring to:
See how Ford’s body is tilted and his swim move is able to get past the right tackle and strip the QB of the ball? That’s something Cardinals fans have gotten accustomed to seeing John Abraham do for them over the course of this last season.
However, there is a concern with Ford: despite some taunting of South Carolina Defensive End Jadeveon Clowney, Ford was unable to workout at the NFL Combine due to a herniated disk.
Dee Ford said medicals flagged a 2011 procedure for a herniated disc in lower back. Not major but advised not to compete.
— Steve Wyche (@wyche89) February 24, 2014
If Ford’s medicals check out, Arizona should pounce on him if he’s there at the 20th pick. Adding a second top-tier pass rusher to an already stacked defense could put Arizona’s defense over the top for a playoff run.
If Arizona doesn’t address Left Tackle in Free Agency, look for them to possibly move back or up for one, or potentially select a defensive secondary player here if that is truly the best player available.
NFL Comparison: Bruce Irvin, Seahawks
Round Two: Deone Bucannon, SS, Washington State
To say that Arizona struggled covering tight ends last season might be the understatement of the year. And with Yeremiah Bell a free agent and Tyrann Mathieu out with torn a ACL and LCL Arizona needs safety help, as well as a true thumper in their secondary.
Deone Bucannon is a big, hard-hitting safety out of Washington State who can really bring the boom, but plays smart with how he hits. Observe this dynamic pad hit vs. Auburn that forces a fumble—right in the shoulder pads.
Bucannon had possibly the best combine of any safety prospect as well, running a 4.5 40 and showing tremendous athleticism. The biggest question that has been asked of Bucannon are how good his coverage skills truly are, as he played one-deep safety most of the time at Wash. St. Based on his week of Senior Bowl practice, it looks like he might already be there, based on what observers have said about him:
Thought Deone Bucannon displayed best press technique & jam in one on ones, which surprised considering he’s a safety.
— Alex Brown (@OS_AlexBrown) January 21, 2014
If Arizona can put Bucannon in press-coverage on Tight Ends, leaving Patrick Peterson on the #1 WR, it allows ballhawks Tyrann Mathieu and Rashad Johnson to roam in space, while adding a nice hand in the run game as well.
The following GIF shows Bucannon’s potential in coverage as well as his closing speed. Notice that the other defensive back has already blown his coverage of the tight end. What does Bucannon do?
He makes a fantastic play closing in on the tight end and cutting him off to make a game-changing play by taking 6 points off the board. The only question I have is why he wasn’t lined up on the Tight End in the first place, but I digress.
This isn’t a great safety class overall, and it’s very likely that there could be a better cornerback available when the Cardinals select in the second round with the length to line up against a tight end, should they go that route, and at some point they need to consider upgrading CB Jerraud Powers.
But as far as what Arizona is looking for as safeties are concerned, Bucannon could be a diamond in the rough and gives Arizona a solid secondary with Peterson, Mathieu, Buccannon, Tony Jefferson and Rashad Johnson all as playmakers.
NFL Comparison: Eric Berry, Kansas City
Round Three: Bruce Ellington, WR, South Carolina
This pick seems to be a no-brainer, and not just for the last name. Bruce Ellington (cousin of Cardinals RB Andre Ellington) was a fantastic playmaker during his time at South Carolina on the field…and on the court. Yes, you read that right. Ellington was also South Carolina’s starting point guard throughout his career as an athlete at SC.
He wasn’t highly recruited to play football out of high school (as he had committed to basketball at the time), but in an article by AZCardinals.com beat writer Darren Urban, Ellington decided to rekindle his passion for football and became a dual-sport athlete at South Carolina. Bruce is such a phenomenal athlete, he was considered to be the better athlete between him and his cousin Andre who averaged 5.5 YPC with Arizona in his rookie season. Ellington finished off his collegiate career with a fantastic game vs. Wisconsin in which he caught 6 passes for 140 yards with 2 Touchdowns and declared for the NFL shortly afterwards.
Oh and did I mention that he THREW a TD pass in that game as well?
“Just like an alley-oop, right, Coach?”
So with it seeming unlikely that free agent WR Andre Roberts returns and with Arians looking for speed, does Bruce Ellington fit Bruce Arians “mold” of a wide receiver in his offense?
Based on past players such as Mike Wallace, Emmanuel Sanders and TY Hilton, Arians tends to favor small, speedy Wide Receivers who can get separation in his offensive scheme to take the top of the defense. All of those above receivers are 6’0 or under and ran a 4.45 40 time (or less) at the NFL Combine.
Even 5’11 Andre Roberts, who seemed to be neglected by Bruce Arians in 2013 still averaged 10.93 yards per catch in his system, despite reports that he didn’t fit what Arians wanted. Clearly Bruce has a type: small and fast.
Cardinal fans of Team Ellington were pleased when Bruce Ellington knocked off an unofficial 4.31 time in his 40 yard dash that was later adjusted to an official 4.46, proving he DOES has the speed Arians looks for. Below is a gif of a TD catch in which Ellington gains separation before and after the catch:
He finds the soft spot in the defense and makes them pay.
Now compare the separation and route running to this catch by TY Hilton:
Minding the obvious under throw by Shaw in the first GIF, in both scenarios, both wide receivers get open with a great route and separation, have that “burn” speed and size and if you notice AFTER they make the catch, both make a nice move that takes an angle away from the safety that springs them for the Touchdown. Keim has already gone on record praising Ellington’s blood lines, per AZCardinals.com beat writer Darren Urban.
Another big hole on Arizona’s roster is that of the kick returner. Arizona ranked 32nd in the NFL (due to some poor decisions and returns by KR Javier Arenas) and the fact that Bruce was a solid kick returner in his time at SC only goes to show how perfect of a fit he is.
AND the “other Ellington” said that if the Cardinals do draft him, he’d want to wear #83 to mirror his cousin’s #38.
They’re a lot more alike than you’d think as receivers right now…
It’d be a lot of fun to see the Ellingtons team up in the desert. If the Cardinals don’t take Bruce, look for a tight end in the 3rd round possibly.
NFL COMPARISON: Bigger, Faster Dexter McCluster, Kansas City
Round Four: Josh Mauro, DE, Stanford
At some point, the Cardinals need to be looking to replace Darnell Dockett. Why not replace #90 with another DE who wore 90 in college? Stanford’s Josh Mauro is an underrated presence on Stanford’s elite defense that gets lost behind the bigger names like Murphy, Skov and Reynolds. He’s a mauler with brute strength who plays very smart and could sit a year behind Dockett before taking over in 2015.
Here’s a gif showing Mauro’s explosiveness off the line (he’s #90 at LDE and gets the hit on the RB):
Mauro would be an instant impact player who could rotate in for Dockett in AZ’s 3-4 scheme at defensive end, and would be an excellent pick for the Cardinals if there in the 4th round of the draft. If they don’t take a DE here, selecting a Center of the future to replace Lyle Sendlein is very possible.
NFL COMPARISON: Brett Kiesel, Pittsburgh
Round Five: Crocket Gilmore, TE, Colorado State
In a good class for Tight Ends, Crocket Gilmore hasn’t gotten a lot of love save from a few people on Twitter. The kid’s talented, and fits the Bruce Arians mold of “block first, catch second” tight ends he likes in his system.
At Colorado State, Gilmore was used as a blocker and he demonstrated a good knack for both clearing paths for running backs as well as taking on blitzers.
Secondly, Gilmore might have some of the softest hands of any Tight End in this draft. He can be a safety blanket for a QB with those consistent hands. He runs good routes with fluid motion that seems very natural despite his 6’6, 260 lb. size and has enough athleticism to make Bruce Arians very happy. He also had a great Senior Bowl week:
There’s Crocket Gilmore. That’s a one of the guys that I mentioned as a standout this week. Soft hands.
— TURRON DAVENPORT (@TDavenport_BSN) January 25, 2014
He can be a safety blanket for a QB with those consistent hands and he runs good routes with fluid motion that seems very natural despite his 6’6, 260 lb. size and has enough athleticism to make Bruce Arians (and his QB) very happy.
Observe at :34 seconds into this video a great example of Gilmore’s ability as a receiver as he secures the ball, turns and makes an athletic after-the-catch dive for the TD.
(video via Aaron Aloysius) Gilmore will be a steal for some team on Day 3 and gives a Quarterback a consistent, reliable target who won’t drop easy catches. (Yes, that was directed at you, Rob Housler). Look for Arizona to possibly take another offensive lineman around this range on Day 3 if they take a Tight End early, or a deep threat WR if they haven’t already; it’s a deep class for that.
NFL COMPARISON: Heath Miller, Pittsburgh
Round 6. Jeremy Hill, RB, LSU
Here’s perhaps the “shocker” pick of my mock draft. While at first glance it might not seem that Arizona needs a running back, especially after Bruce Arians remarked that he was going to “build his offense around [Andre Ellington]” that still does not mean that he is going to run Andre up the middle 10 times a game.
Arians likes a power run game to bring safeties down, and that’s one big reason he still gave Mendenhall so many carries. With Mendenhall likely gone, that role now falls to last year’s 5th round pick Stepfan Taylor. However, there’s a sizable difference in both the running style and size of Mendenhall and Taylor. Mendenhall is an athletic bruiser who has tacklers bounce off of him at 5’10, 225 lbs and has the burst to gain 5 yards through the hole, while Taylor is a patient runner who follows his blocks and usually averages closer to 2-3 YPC and has no big play ability. Compare that to one Mr. Jeremy Hill’s explosiveness and speed below…
We’ve seen Steve Keim take some chances on players in the 6th round in the past: just last year he took concussion prone WR Ryan Swope and a RB who fell due to a poor combine workout named Andre Ellington despite already drafting a running back.
One pick worked out, the other did not. Risk, and reward. That’s what the 6th round is for Steve Keim, and there’s no short of risk when talking about LSU RB Jeremy Hill.
Hill was an excellent between the tackles and outside runner, showing burst, power and even ability as a receiver for LSU in a power-run scheme. He ran for 1400 yards (averaging 6.1 YPC for the Tigers) with 16 TD’s. He might be as high as a 2nd round talent at RB in this draft, and he has breakaway speed and the ability to break multiple tackles that Stepfan Taylor simply does not have.
See below for a great example of Hill’s ability to follow his blocks, make cuts and use his size and quickness to break tackles on his way to the end zone:
Bruce Arians brought in Rashard Mendenhall in the first place to get a power back with speed (not to mention pass-protection). Hill isn’t exceptionally good at pass protection, but he can be groomed and improved in that area while in a running back-by-committee role with Ellington, Taylor and potentially even Ryan Williams.
But for all his on-field production, (and the fact that LSU backs haven’t really worked out on average in the NFL) Hill has had some MAJOR off-the-field baggage issues, including 2 arrests and other concerns. However, much like fellow former LSU Tiger Tyrann Mathieu, Hill is being proactive about his past struggles with teams.
LSU RB Jeremy Hill mailed a letter to 32 teams, being proactive & detailing his 2 arrests. Package includes pages of character references
— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) February 21, 2014
If Hill interviews well, if he falls to the 6th round he’s definitely a player who’s talented enough and fits a need that Arizona should be able to take a chance on him. Running Backs in this day and age shouldn’t probably be selected before Day 3 anyways, no matter how talented.
For Hill, having fellow LSU alums like Patrick Peterson, Kevin Minter and even Tyrann Mathieu there to mentor him should help keep him on the right track as well, which will hopefully make Steve Keim’s decision easier should he draft him.
The risk is great, especially for one of Hill’s past, but in the 6th round I’d argue it’s well worth the reward being so late in the draft. Outside of taking a Running Back, Arizona could possibly take a late round linebacker, inside or outside, to develop and possibly pay off.
PRO COMPARISON: LeGarrette Blount, New England.
-Phoenix Sports-Kings Contributor Blake Murphy @blakemurphy7