The 2021 NFL Draft starts on Thursday, April 29. As a lead-up to the draft, we’ll be giving a team-by-team breakdown for positional needs. For each team, we’ll give an overview of the current depth chart and how big of a need each position in the upcoming draft. You can find the rest of the team needs (as they’re updated) and the rest of our draft content in the 2021 NFL Draft hub.
Arizona Cardinals 2021 DRAFT PICKS OVERVIEW
Round 1 (16)
Round 2 (49)
Round 5 (160)
Round 6 (223)
Round 7 (243)
Round 7 (247)
Arizona Cardinals Offense
By Rich Hribar
In year two, Kyler Murray lifted his completion percentage (67.2%), yards per pass attempt (7.1 Y/A), and touchdown rate (4.7%) over his rookie season numbers. Below league average rate in every category outside of interception rate as a rookie in rating index, Murray was at above base rate in completion rate, touchdown rate, interception rate, and overall rating while coming in just below the watermark in yards per pass attempt and adjusted yards per pass.
While there is still more of a passing ceiling for Murray to access, his rushing output skyrocketed in his season. After 5.8 rushes for 34.0 yards per game with four scores on the ground as a rookie, Murray averaged 6.2 rushes for 51.2 yards per game to go along with 11 rushing touchdowns in 2020.
Behind Murray, Arizona added veteran Colt McCoy on a one-year deal to go along with backups Chris Streveler and Cole McDonald.
Arizona backs handled 26.1 touches (16th) for 122.6 yards per game (20th) in 2020, coming in 22nd in the league in yards per touch (4.7 yards) as a collective group. The team let 264 of those touches leave via free agency this offseason in Kenyan Drake while tacking on a short-term addition in James Conner as a partial replacement for those touches to go along with a potential workload increase for Chase Edmonds.
Edmonds has gotten three opportunities to be a feature back in three seasons, with games of 31, nine, and 28 touches in those games for 150, 13, and 88 yards. But every time the Cardinals have turned to Edmonds as a workhorse has come out of full necessity while he has almost immediately been banged up afterward. By signing Conner, this allows Edmonds to remain in an extension of the role he was already effective in while also being able to pinch-hit if Conner continues to struggle with staying on the field.
After Conner’s 2018 breakout in which he tallied 1,470 yards and 13 touchdowns, Conner has posted 1,651 yards and 13 touchdowns combined over the past two seasons. After averaging 4.2 receptions per game in 2018, Conner has seen his receptions per game dip to 3.4 and 2.7 per game the past two seasons. Conner has yet to play a full NFL season.
The only back here Arizona has under contract beyond 2021 is Eno Benjamin, who the team selected in the seventh round last season, but failed to log a snap as a rookie. Arizona could definitely add a back here, but we know it won’t be with their first pick, leaving them with not much capital to work with afterward. Also, with such a limited amount of draft picks overall, Arizona may not be able to add anything more than a depth play if they bypass the position again in Round 2.
Arizona has used three or more wide receivers on 67% and 71% of their plays the past two years under Kliff Kingsbury, but still have yet to find wideouts to step up on their depth chart outside of DeAndre Hopkins.
In his first season in Arizona, Hopkins reeled in 115 passes for 1,407 yards to go along with six touchdowns. But Hopkins himself accounted for 29.7% of the team receptions (third in the league) and accounted for 34.3% of the team receiving yardage gained on the season, which was the highest rate of any wide receiver in the league last season.
Non-Hopkins wideouts for Arizona last season totaled just 1,477 yards on 143 receptions for nine touchdowns. As a group, they averaged 6.8 yards per target while Hopkins was at 8.8 yards per look.
The team is still waiting to see if Larry Fitzgerald (who would be 38 years old at the start of the 2021 season) will return while a number of recent rookie wideouts have just worked out here.
2020 may have put an end to us chasing a pending breakout from Christian Kirk after he totaled 48-621-6 in 14 games played. Kirk missed multiple games for the third straight season while his 3.4 receptions per game were his fewest in a season over his three years in the league.
2019 second-rounder Andy Isabella has accounted for just 30 catches for 413 yards and three touchdowns over his first two seasons in the league. Just Hopkins (through 2024), Isabella (2022), and KeeSean Johnson (2022) are currently under contract past this upcoming season.
The Cardinals also added A.J. Green on a one-year deal after the veteran wideout set career-lows with 2.9 receptions and 32.7 yards per game in 2020 despite receiving 104 targets. We can use “targets” loosely here as just 49.5% of his looks were deemed catchable, the lowest rate among all wideouts that received 30 or more targets a year ago, but Green also shares some of that burden as all of the other Cincinnati wideouts had a 71.1% catchable target rate.
On throws over 15 yards downfield, Green reeled in just 6-of-37 of those targets (16.2%) while all other Bengals options caught 27-of-70 targets (38.6%). Turning 33 years old this July, Green is a low-ceiling addition.
For as many misses in recent years at the position, Arizona still has a priority here to add a vertical pass catcher.
Arizona has not used their tight ends as pass catchers under Kingsbury and Arizona ranked 29th in the league in target rate (13%) to the position in 2020 after ranking 31st in 2019 at 10%.
When Arizona has thrown to the tight ends, it has been effective. In 2020, they ranked first in the league in yards per attempt (9.3 yards) and were fifth in success rate (62%) targeting the position after ranking first in yards per attempt (9.9 yards) and 14th in success rate (55%) targeting the position in 2019.
The team lost Dan Arnold this offseason, leaving the cupboard bare as far as pass-catching options go while all of Maxx Williams, Darrell Daniels, and Ian Bunting have expiring contracts after the 2021 season. Arizona has nothing here to offer and could use a viable downfield asset to at least cover what Arnold left behind, but with how little the team has used the position in totality paired with the limited amount of draft picks they have, they may not force the issue in the draft and look for an addition afterward.
LT: D.J. Humphries/Josh Jones/Joshua Miles
LG: Justin Pugh/ Max Garcia/Sean Harlow
C: Rodney Hudson*/Lamont Gailard
RG: Brian Winters*/Justin Murray/Shaq Calhoun
RT: Kelvin Beachum/Branden Bowen/Koda Martin/Marcius Gilbert
The Arizona offensive line measured well by ESPN Win Rate Metrics, coming out third in Pass Block Win Rate (67%) and sixth in Run Block Win Rate (72%). Per Pro Football Focus, Arizona came out of 2020 fifth in collective pass blocking grade, but were significantly lower in run blocking grade at 24th in the league. Kyler Murray went from an 8.1% sack rate as a rookie down to a 4.6% rate in 2020.
Left tackle D.J. Humphries continued to play well as he was the fifth-highest graded tackle per Pro Football Focus last season. Humphries is under contract through 2022. So is Justin Pugh, who allowed a pressure on just 2.53% of his pass blocking snaps in 2020, the seventh-lowest rate among all lineman last season.
Right tackle Kelvin Beachum is also signed through 2022 and was the 31st graded tackle in pass blocking a year ago per Pro Football Focus. Beachum will turn 32 years old this June and the Cardinals have already been linked to a few early offensive tackles such as Alijah Vera-Tucker, but Beachum was a solid starter for them in 2020. The team also selected Josh Jones in the third round last season as depth.
Arizona also added veteran Rodney Hudson via trade. Hudson will turn 32 years old this July, but has missed just one game over the past five seasons. Hudson only has 2021 left on his current contract.
The Cardinals also added veteran guard Brian winters on a one-year deal. Winters started nine games in each of the past two seasons for the Bills and Jets. As much as Arizona has been linked to a right tackle, right guard and center depth are much thinner positions that Arizona will have to address.
Arizona Cardinals Defense
By Dan Pizzuta
Interior Defensive Line
The Cardinals tried a number of options inside and not a lot of them will return for 2021. Angelo Blackson and Corey Peters each played at least 34% of the defensive snaps. Domata Peko and Rashard Lawrence each played 15%.
Zach Allen, a 2019 third-round pick, is the returner with the most snaps — 45.5%. Allen, at 281 pounds, is a smaller interior defender who played all along the line during his college career. In 13 games, with seven starts, Allen had five tackles for loss, six quarterback hits, and three passes defensed.
Leki Fotu was a fourth-round pick in the 2020 draft and played a quarter of the defensive snaps in his rookie season. Fotu, at 330 pounds, was a prototypical nose tackle who could see his role expand in that role during his second season
Last year, Jordan Phillips signed a three-year deal but only lasted seven games with hamstring issues.
J.J. Watt might not be J.J. Watt anymore but his presence should help the Cardinals both on the edge and inside. Still, Watt ranked eighth in ESPN’s Pass Rush Win Rate as an edge rusher last season. Watt played just over 20 snaps on the interior last season with Houston, but could revert back to that role more often given the difference in depth between the two positions.
The Cardinals will get Chandler Jones back after the top pass rusher tore his biceps midway through the 2020 season.
Markus Golden finished fifth among edge rushers in pressure rate last season, according to Sports Info Solutions, and he was second behind only Joey Bosa in pressure rate after he was traded back to the Cardinals. Golden re-signed for an incredibly team-friendly two-year/$5 million contract with another $4 million worth in sack incentives.
Even the depth here has flashed as rotational pieces. Dennis Gardeck had seven sacks on 10 quarterback hits last season and Devon Kennard had 14 sacks combined in 2018 and 2019 with the Detroit Lions before playing 32.6% of the snaps last season.
Arizona took a swing at Isaiah Simmons with the seventh overall pick and while it took a bit to find the right fit for Simmons in the defense, it started to click a bit as the year progressed. Though there were certainly struggles in coverage, where Simmons was supposed to excel. He ranked 49th in yards per target allowed among 59 linebackers with at least 20 charted targets. Among that same group, he was 57th in yards allowed per coverage snap. But that got better throughout the season and the hope is that translates into Year 2.
Jordan Hicks played 92% of the defensive snaps last season. 50.4% of his tackles came before a first down was gained, which was 12th among linebackers. He also 12 tackles for a loss to go along with average coverage ability.
Even with the high investment in Simmons last year, the Cardinals could still look to add. Few teams relied more on multiple linebackers on the field than Arizona. Last season they used base personnel on 31% of defensive snaps, which ranked as the ninth-highest rate in the league. They also used dime or lighter personnel on just 1% of defensive snaps, which left the rest for nickel with at least two linebackers on the field.
Picasso Nelson Jr.
Byron Murphy ranked 68th among 148 cornerbacks in adjusted yards allowed per coverage snap, which accounts for touchdowns and interceptions. The second-year corner made a healthy jump in performance from his rookie season, with more snaps as the team’s slot corner, and there is belief that could continue in Year 3.
Patrick Peterson was allowed to leave as a free agent and he was replaced by Malcolm Butler, who signed for just a one-year deal. Butler struggled in a poor Tennessee secondary last season and ranked 97th in adjusted yards allowed per coverage snap as one of the most targeted corners in the league.
Robert Alford was signed by the Cardinals during the 2019 offseason but has yet to play a snap for Arizona. Alford broke his leg in a practice prior to the 2019 regular season and tore his pec in August of 2020, which wiped out that season. Alford was released and re-signed to a one-year deal this offseason.
With Butler and Alford both over 30 years old and only signed through 2021, there is a high potential to upgrade this position group both this season and beyond.
Budda Baker got a massive extension last season and followed up with his best year as a pro. Baker lined up all over the secondary and made an impact from every spot. He’s signed through 2024.
The question is who will play next to him. Chris Banjo got that role mostly by default last season with 39.3% of the defensive snaps played. Jalen Thompson has been slated for that role but played in just five games last season due to ankle issues. The 2019 fifth-round Supplemental Draft pick flashed during his return at the end of the season.