If you take a look to see what exactly the Arizona Cardinals top priorities for the 2014 NFL Draft are, you’d likely find the normal; OT, OLB, S, QB. All valid concerns on the current Cardinals roster, and all should be addressed in the draft. Quietly however, the defensive line has become an area of need and shouldn’t be neglected next month.
At first glance it doesn’t appear to be a need whatsoever. The Cards had one of the best defensive front seven’s in all of football last year, and the defensive line especially has been a team strength. DE Calais Campbell is one of the best 3-4 5-tech ends in the business, DE Darnell Dockett has been one of the best defensive linemen in franchise history and former first round NT Dan Williams is in the prime of his career at 26-years old. So why should the Cardinals target a d-lineman in the draft?
Well, if we peel back a layer of the onion we’ll find that Williams is in the last year of his contract and has been mentioned in numerous trade discussions, so the future for him in the desert doesn’t look too bright. If the Cards are convinced they’ll soon be parting way with him, they could look at NT Louis Nix (Notre Dame), who’ll be available at no. 20, and would be an upgrade over Williams. He’s the best 3-4 nose prospect since Vince Wilfork and should be a rock in the middle for a decade or so.
At DE, Dockett is soon to be 33 years old and will be owed north of $6.5 million in 2015, the last year of his contract. Factor that with the fact that his play has noticeably dipped in recent years and it’s clear he likely isn’t in the Cards long-term plans. As far as Campbell goes, his play on the field is excellent but he’ll be due north of $9 million dollars per year in 2015 and ’16. If anyone is going to be making that much money for the Cardinals defense in 2016, it’ll be CB Patrick Peterson.
There’s some excellent 5-tech end prospects out there who could potentially replace either Dockett or Campbell is the team decides to move on from them for financial reasons in the next year or two. Minnesota’s Ra’Shede Hageman is an outstanding 3-4 end prospect, and is arguably the best athlete amongst all defensive linemen in the draft not named Jadeveon Clowney. Kelcy Quarles (South Carolina) and Will Sutton (Arizona State) are two second round options who bear an awful lot of resemblance to Dockett at this stage in development.
Within two years a one-time team strength could be a team-weakness if it’s not addressed early enough. Defensive line may not necessarily have to be their top priority in the draft, but if the board falls away from their favor, defensive linemen will be ripe for the picking.