Arizona Cardinals NFL Draft preview: Quarterback

With a run on quarterbacks expected at the top of the draft, the Cardinals may need to reach earlier than they would like to if the team is intent on drafting a signal-caller.

Position: Quarterback

Draft Need: Moderate Priority

This year's NFL Draft represents just the third time since 2000 that quarterbacks figure to be selected with both the first and second overall picks. 

Though the Cardinals' division counterpart, the Los Angeles Rams, won't tell quarterbacks Jared Goff and Carson Wentz which player the team will select first overall on Thursday, the Rams pulled off a blockbuster trade with the Tennessee Titans to put themselves in position to draft a franchise quarterback.

Most experts presume Goff will end up in Los Angeles with Wentz heading to the Philadelphia Eagles at No. 2, but regardless of which player is selected with each pick, the run on quarterbacks at the top of the draft impacts a significant number of draft boards around the league. 

The Cardinals figure to be one of the teams affected by the early selections, especially considering many believe Arizona might be in the market for a quarterback of the future in this year's draft. 

Quarterback play has long been at a premium in the NFL, and the financial commitments franchises have made in recent years reflects not just the importance, but the necessity of having a player teams can trust under center. 

Of the top 20 highest-paid offensive players in the NFL, 17 are quarterbacks, and the top 15 is comprised solely of signal-callers. Arizona's Carson Palmer ranks 13th on the list, as the $17.875 million he's due to receive in 2016 ranks behind the likes of Kirk CousinsMatthew Stafford and Joe Flacco.  

At the age of 36, Palmer is one of the NFL's elder statesmen, and has just two seasons remaining in which his contract calls for him to be paid among the league's best quarterbacks. Though Palmer is signed through 2018, he will make upward of $20 million in 2017 before the team has a club option to pay Palmer just north of $4 million the following season. 

Palmer's age and durability are concerns for the Cardinals heading into this season, but the team resigned backup Drew Stanton to a two-year deal this offseason as insurance. 

It's likely Palmer wants to play at least two more seasons, but with a well stocked roster, the Cardinals have the opportunity to use a draft pick on a young quarterback they can develop and mold to be the face of the franchise in the future.

The issue? What quarterbacks have the potential to become stars in the NFL, and what rounds will these quarterbacks be available? 

With Goff and Wentz almost assuredly off the board after the top two picks, there could be an early run on quarterbacks as teams attempt to stockpile their depth chart with players who have the potential to be the next great passer. 

It remains to be seen how high players in the next tier of quarterbacks like Paxton Lynch and Connor Cook will be selected, but if they do come off the board in the first round, options could be slim for the Cardinals if they plan on using a mid-round pick on a quarterback. 

Recent Draft History

The Cardinals have only drafted one quarterback during the Steve Keim-Bruce Arians era, but that player didn't end up panning out. 

Arizona used its fourth round selection in 2014 to draft Logan Thomas out of Virginia Tech, and though Thomas has the 6-foot-6, 250-pound frame ideally suited for the position, Thomas struggled mightily during his developmental process with Arizona. 

The selection of Thomas was never made with the intent of having him become an immediate contributor, and if the Cardinals drafted a quarterback this year, that player would also have the benefit of taking what NFL teams consider a "redshirt season" to learn an NFL system and benefit from the tutelage of a player like Palmer. 

Unfortunately for Thomas and the Cardinals, his redshirt season came to an abrupt end, as injuries thrust the quarterback into action before he possessed the tools to deliver at the professional level.

Thomas was a gamble as a fourth round pick, but it's a risk many NFL teams take as they search for a diamond in the rough. If the Cardinals elect to draft a quarterback this year, it's possible the team will take on a similar project in a player that will need one-to-two years of development before he can take the field. 

Potential Early Round Selection

Connor CookMichigan State: We watched Cook quite a bit last season and though we don't favor the idea of the Cardinals taking a quarterback in the first round, he possesses great accuracy on down-the-field throws which fits Arizona's offense. Palmer takes more deep shots than just about every quarterback in the league, and Cook often made impressive throws into tight coverage during his time with the Spartans. 

Potential Mid Round Selections

Cardale Jones, Ohio State: Jones is one of the most polarizing quarterback prospects in the draft, with detractors citing accuracy issues and inexperience. However, Jones has many of the same qualities the Cardinals saw when they drafted Thomas two years ago, and Jones' inexperience could become a plus as the team has the ability to shape his future before he develops bad habits. 

Nate SudfeldIndiana: We've watched Sudfeld on film and in person, and we like the system he played in at the college level under Kevin Wilson. Sudfeld threw 24 touchdowns compared to just five interceptions last season and was a primary reason the Hoosiers played so many close games in the Big 10 last season. The main question surrounding Sudfeld is his slow delivery, but that's the type of project an NFL team like the Cardinals can take on if they're committed to giving him one-to-two years to develop. 

Jeff DriskelLouisiana Tech: Driskel is another prospect with a number of scouts who like his arm strength and intangibles, but he also has detractors because Driskel managed a mess of an offense during his career at Florida. If a quarterback isn't making the proper reads at the college level, we tend to think the transition to the professional ranks is even tougher because of the complexities of defensive schemes. 

Potential Late Round Selections

Matt Johnson, Bowling Green: Johnson doesn't have many of the qualities the Cardinals look for in quarterbacks in terms of size (He's only 6-feet), but it's hard to argue with his production at the college level. Johnson was a great decision maker for a Falcons' offense that tormented MAC opponents, and it would be intriguing to see how he would fare in a pro camp if a team used a seventh round pick on him or signed Johnson as an undrafted free agent.

Vernon AdamsOregon: Adams is a quarterback who will be left off a bunch of draft boards because of his size, and it's possible he may not even be on the Cardinals' radar. However, Adams plays bigger than his 5-foot-10 frame, has solid arm strength for his size, and possesses the desire to prove detractors wrong. The NFL favors size and athleticism over players with chips on their shoulder, but Adams believes in himself and will enter a camp with loads of self-confidence. 


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