The Arizona Cardinals need a left tackle to anchor the offensive line. But the Cardinals are a team with many needs.
The ubiquitous question of every NFL draft is this: Should teams address a position of need or take the best player available? That question is nonsense because everything is based on that team’s specific circumstance and what players are left on the board.
For instance, if the Kansas City Chiefs are on the clock and the best player available is a quarterback, I assure you they are not taking the best player available. The Chiefs are pretty comfortable with Patrick Mahomes.
Of course the opposite situation can also be true. If a team has a gaping hole at wide receiver, but edge rushing powerhouse Chase Young of Ohio State falls in its lap, that team takes Young every time. Can’t pass on a generational talent.
The consensus on the Cardinals is they need a left tackle, and that’s the position they will address with the No. 8 overall pick in Thursday night’s draft, which begins at 5 p.m. Arizona time.
Let’s assume the Cardinals are taking a left tackle. There are several other teams that need to address the same position, so it’s unclear who will be on the board at No. 8. But perhaps more importantly, there is no consensus on who is the best left tackle — or just offensive lineman in general — in this draft class.
There are four players at offensive line who will be taken highest in the draft. That group includes Jedrick Wills of Alabama, Tristan Wirfs of Iowa, Andrew Thomas of Georgia and Mekhi Becton of Louisville.
One of the few knocks on Wirfs is that he might not be a left tackle, but rather best suited to right tackle or even guard.
Becton is massive at 6-foot-7, 365 pounds, but he is not a great athlete. And at that size, scouts have expressed concern that he could have trouble maintaining optimal weight.
Arizona should take Wills or Thomas if they are available. Both played against the best competition in the SEC, and both were dominant players.
Thomas was a five-star recruit out of high school and made an immediate impact with the Bulldogs as a freshman, earning freshman All-American honors. Thomas isn’t the biggest guy (6-5, 315) or even the best athlete, but his production in college was outstanding. He was a first team All-American last season.
He is considered a safe, solid choice who will be a good player for many years.
Similar to Thomas, Wills was a five-star recruit — no surprise since he played at Alabama. He’s nearly identical in size to his SEC counterpart (6-4, 312). However, scouts and draft analysts prefer Wills.
Greg Cosell, who has broken down film at NFL Films for more than 40 years, likes both SEC guys, but he says Wills is clearly the best offensive lineman in this class.
If Wills is available at No. 8, that is the pick for Cardinals GM Steve Keim.
But the draft is unpredictable. Expect to see some trades inside the top 10, with some teams moving up to take a quarterback like Tua Tagovailoa of Alabama or Justin Herbert of Oregon.
So there is a possibility, albeit remote, that a player such as linebacker/safety Isaiah Simmons of Clemson, cornerback Jeff Okudah of Ohio State or defensive tackle Derrick Brown of Auburn could fall to No. 8.
While the Cardinals certainly need to solidify their offensive line, their defense is a mess. Edge rusher Chandler Jones and cornerback Patrick Peterson are great, but Arizona was dead last (32nd) in total defense and 28th in scoring defense last season.
If Simmons or Okudah are available, Keim should take either one of them over an offensive lineman. Those players are simply to good to pass up for a team that needs major help on defense.
Brown could be a very good NFL player, but I don’t see him having the same impact as Simmons or Okudah. Arizona would be wise to improve the offensive line instead of taking Brown.
There’s also a possibility Keim could trade down. But if he trades, he takes the risk of all the top offensive linemen being gone after the top 11 or 12 picks.
My prediction is the Cardinals stand pat at No. 8 and take Wills, unless Simmons or Okudah miraculously drops in their lap.
The fact that we are having a draft at all — virtually, of course — during this pandemic is great news. The drama of draft night never disappoints, so get ready for the show.