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Deep cornerback draft class suits Cardinals

The Arizona Cardinals need to find a capable starting cornerback opposite Patrick Peterson, and this year's draft class is loaded with options.

With an opportunity to bolster its defensive line in the first round of the 2016 NFL Draft and no second round draft choice to work with, the Arizona Cardinals waited until the third round of last year's draft to select a cornerback.

By the time the Cardinals pulled Texas A&M product Brandon Williams off the board near the end of the third round, most NFL teams had already plucked the draft's most capable cornerbacks off the board.

When the Cardinals selected Williams, they did so hoping special teams ace Justin Bethel was prepared to take over the starting cornerback role opposite superstar Patrick Peterson after the team allowed Peterson's former partner Jerraud Powers to walk in free agency.

By the middle of training camp, however, Bethel had yet to return to form after offseason surgery and Williams was in position to push for a starting spot. The issue? With just 14 months of experience playing cornerback under his belt, Williams was nowhere near ready to defend against NFL-caliber receivers.

By the third week of the season, the team was in dire straights, and free agent acquisition Marcus Cooper entered the starting lineup for Arizona just weeks after looking like the odd man out in Kansas City's defensive back rotation.

Though Cooper played well at times and Cardinals' head coach Bruce Arians lauded his efforts, Cooper wasn't nearly consistent enough in his starting role and Arizona entered the 2016 offseason with a need to find a player who represents an improvement.

And while Arians and the rest of the Cardinals' organization insists it wants Cooper back, Arians also claims the price tag on the free agent market will likely be too high, which is somewhat surprising considering Cooper's ups and downs from a season ago.

Fortunately for the Cardinals, they have plenty of options to pursue a replacement for Cooper, with one of the best opportunities to find a player coming in this April's draft.

While Arizona watched what happened when it waited until the third round to draft Williams last season, if the Cardinals wait until the third round in this year's draft to find a corner, the organization should have much better luck.

This year's cornerback class is one of the deepest in recent history, with quality prospects with various skill sets lining teams' draft boards. 

In fact, some of the most consistent corners at the college level on the west coast last season, players the Cardinals had ample opportunities to scout, are considered mid-round material.

In a different year, Washington's Kevin King and Colorado's Chidobe Awuzie might be second round prospects, but in the loaded 2017 class, both players could be available in the third or fourth round of this year's draft. 

There's no shortage of options for Arizona, which could use its second round pick on a first round talent at cornerback, or a third or fourth round pick on a small school player general manager Steve Keim views as his next diamond in the rough.

With proven cornerbacks out of the Big 10 like Michigan's Jourdan Lewis and Iowa's Desmond King likely to be available in the second round, Arizona doesn't necessarily need to use its first round pick to find a budding star to fill Cooper's shoes and start immediately.

Instead, with a pressing need in the defensive backfield and a deep draft class to count on, Arizona can take care of another roster hole (perhaps wide receiver or inside linebacker) in the first round, while using a second or third round selection to find a plug and play option prepared to step in across from Peterson. 


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