Cardinals: Horton's Impact on the Draft

Ray Horton was brought in to turnaround a dismal Cardinals defense, but will he be rewarded in the draft?

Ray Horton finally got his wish. Horton, who learned under the legendary Dick Lebeau with the Pittsburgh Steelers, became the third defensive coordinator for coach Ken Whisenhunt since his arrival in Arizona in 2007. Horton will be expected to make a major impact on the defensive side of the ball next year with a defense that may be in store for somewhat of a facelift.

The Cardinals' core players will remain. Names such as Adrian Wilson, Darnell Dockett and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie aren't going anywhere. Up and coming players such as Calais Campbell, Dan Williams, Daryl Washington and Greg Toler will be counted on to continue their growth under the direction of Horton. There will be some casualties, however, and also areas that will be addressed in the draft and free agency.

Of the players most likely to leave the desert, Gerald Hayes and Joey Porter are at the top of the list. The performance of both veterans took a major hit in 2010 and their lack of impact negatively affected Arizona's defense. Hayes and Porter are under contract next season (Porter until 2012) but both a subject to be released in the near future.

If Porter is released, a handful of candidates will attempt to replace the once dominant pass rusher. O'Brien Schofield will likely get the first shot with Will Davis also in the mix. The addition of a potential draftee such as Von Miller of Texas A&M is also a good possibility. Even with Schofield and Davis on the roster, adding another edge pass rusher will remain a priority as veteran Clark Haggans' contract is set to expire following 2011, which could end his tenure in Arizona.

The safety position might be considered the most stable area of the Cardinals' current roster. Wilson should return as the centerpiece of the team's defensive attack after being underutilized for the better part of last season. Kerry Rhodes proved to be an outstanding playmaker alongside Wilson and that trend should continue for at least another year or two.

Cornerback could be a area to watch heading into the draft. With the draft board set to shape up with more uncertainty than it has in recent years, there's a chance a game-changing cornerback falls to Arizona at pick No. 5.

There are few scenarios running now that would provide the Cardinals value with the fifth pick, but LSU's Patrick Peterson could be the ultimate get. Peterson's physical nature teamed with the cover skills of Rodgers-Cromartie would be a dynamic duo on the perimeter. The move would also push Toler out of the starting lineup, making him one of the top backups in the league.

Horton will certainly have an impact come April's draft but how much remains to be seen. Although Horton didn't appear to be Whisenhunt's first choice, he was in demand by other organizations in addition to Arizona. Would Whisenhunt have promised a new weapon on defense with the team's first-round pick? Probably not, but it can't be ruled out of the question.

Horton has his work cut out to bring back faith in the Cardinals defense, particularly in a division that appears to be improving rapidly. Building blocks are in place for a quick resurgence but other key decisions will be necessary from now until the beginning of the 2011 campaign.

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