Position: Offensive Line
Draft Need: Moderate to High Priority
The Skinny: Arizona enters the 2016 NFL draft with the opportunity to address needs along the defensive line and in the defensive backfield, but perhaps no position group could use an infusion of talent more than the offensive line.
Even if the Cardinals ultimately upgrade their personnel at those three positions, it's reasonable to expect the unit to struggle during the first few weeks of the season as players get a feel for working alongside one another.
The Cardinals have already announced their intentions for filling Larsen's vacant left guard spot with the signing of 10-year NFL veteran Evan Mathis to a one-year contract. Mathis was contemplating retirement after winning the Super Bowl with the Denver Broncos, but came back to play at least one more season which helps shore up the right side of the line.
Additionally, the Cardinals will likely rely on 2015 first round draft pick D.J. Humphries to slide into the starting spot at right tackle. The Florida product essentially took a redshirt season during his rookie year, but his frame and college film reflect immense potential.
With two of the vacated positions seemingly accounted for, that leaves a position battle at center. Fourth-year lineman A.Q. Shipley would likely start if the season started tomorrow, but the Cardinals still have the draft and free agency to attempt to add a center who projects as a long-term answer at the position.
The conventional wisdom is that the Cardinals will use the draft to add at least one offensive lineman, and it's possible the team could elect to use its first round selection on a player it could plug into the starting lineup right away.
The Cardinals were fortunate to have Sendlein lock down the starting center role for eight seasons, and the team could secure a similar type of stability with a smart draft pick this year.
Furthermore, the team needs at least one more lineman for depth purposes, as backups Earl Watford and Taylor Boggs are interior linemen. Whether the Cardinals add a tackle through the draft or free agency remains to be seen, as the obvious priority is finding a center. However, general manager Steve Keim said the team is looking at the overall versatility of draft picks, which means Arizona could try to find a lineman who can fill multiple roles as a backup during his first season.
In their three years working together, Keim and head coach Bruce Arians have selected three offensive linemen through the draft, with two of those players being first round selections.
Keim's first draft pick as the Cardinals' general manager came in 2013, when he selected guard Jonathan Cooper out of North Carolina. Cooper never materialized into the player Arizona hoped he would become, and in March, the team dealt him to New England in the Chandler Jones trade.
Cooper was the seventh overall pick in 2013 and was the highest offensive guard drafted since 1982, but started just nine games a season ago and relinquished his starting job to Ted Larsen in December of last season.
In the same draft, the Cardinals also selected Watford out of James Madison, who has become a reasonable option as a backup, but will likely never become a regular starter at the NFL level.
The most interesting offensive line draft selection made by Keim is the most recent one, as he selected Humphries in the first round in 2015. Humphries disappointed the Cardinals during fall camp last season, but late in the year, Arians talked with the media about the improvements Humphries was making at practice.
Though Humphries didn't play in a single game last season, the Cardinals appear content, at least for the moment, to pencil him into a starting spot at right tackle, which could be a vote of confidence in his development.
The current regime's track record of drafting offensive linemen appears spotty at best, but Keim and Arians could change the narrative in a major way if the team finds a dependable center in this year's draft.
Potential Early Selections
Ryan Kelly, Alabama: If Kelly is still on the board at No. 29, we think the Cardinals should take the center who served as a team captain for the Crimson Tide during their National Championship run this season. Kelly is smart, athletic and most importantly, plays low to the ground. At 6-foot-4 and 311 pounds, Kelly also has a great frame for a center and has the agility to play guard if called upon. That type of versatility is valuable to the Cardinals, but is also a reason why he may not be available when the team is finally on the clock.
Max Tuerk, USC: We loved what Tuerk brought to the table for the USC Trojans and believe if his season wasn't cut short by a knee injury, his stock would be much higher. Tuerk wasn't able to fully participate in pre-draft workouts, but if he's able to return to the same form he played with at USC, Tuerk could be an excellent value pick in the third or fourth round for Arizona.
Matt Skura, Duke: Skura is a player who shares a handful of similarities with Kelly, but will likely be available about 30-60 picks after Kelly is selected. Skura anchored Duke's running game in the ACC, but the conference lacked elite defensive linemen for Skura to play against. There's risk involved with this pick, but if the Cardinals pursue a defensive player in the first round, Skura could be a nice option in the third or fourth.
Potential Mid to Late Round Selections
Graham Glasgow, Michigan: Some experts project Glasgow as a guard while others like his ability to play center, and we think Glasgow's background playing under Jim Harbaugh at Michigan will help ease his transition to the NFL. Glasgow was a leader in a rugged Wolverines' offense last season, but the main concern about Glasgow's ability to fit as an NFL center is his size at 6-foot-6. If Glasgow is available late, he's at least worth looking at for the Cardinals.
Joe Dahl, Washington State: The first true offensive tackle on our list, Dahl brought stability throughout his college career to a Washington Cougars' front that doesn't traditionally produce NFL linemen. Mike Leach's Air Raid offense is predicated on quick passes and an aerial attack, so Dahl's run blocking abilities are somewhat in question. However, we think a year with the right strength and conditioning coach as well as an NFL offensive line coach could greatly benefit Dahl's potential.null