With the NFL Draft close to a month away, the Arizona Cardinals are taking inventory of their roster and determining the best possible approaches for one of the most critical weekends of the offseason.
Arizona holds three of the first 77 selections in this year's draft, as the team has the 13th overall pick, the 45th selection and the 77th pick.
With one week remaining in the month of March, Arizona still has needs it can address during free agency, but the Cardinals are unlikely to find high-caliber players that will plug the existing holes left on its roster on the free agent market.
That's why this year's draft --and particularly the first three rounds-- will be so critical for Arizona. Aside from hoping to address the franchise's long-term future at the quarterback position, Arizona also has concerns about its depth at receiver, linebacker and in the defensive backfield, which makes the Cardinals' war room a fascinating chamber.
With a handful of different strategies to choose from for Arizona, CardinalsSource has broken down the different options the Cardinals may pursue in the first round of this year's draft and determined how it would impact the team's next few selections.
Option 1: Draft a quarterback: If the Cardinals use the 13th overall selection to take a quarterback, the team immediately needs to think about pursuing a wide receiver and a defensive back with its next two selections. With Karlos Dansby in the fold, Arizona can afford to wait until 2018 to select an inside linebacker early, and instead focus on patching up more immediate needs with their next two selections.
For the Cardinals to take a quarterback with the 13th overall pick, Arizona would likely have to feel extraordinarily confident about the potential of the quarterback and that signal-caller's fit within the team's offense. One factor that could steer the Cardinals toward choosing a quarterback is the fact this year's draft class is particularly deep at cornerback, which would allow the team to select a first or second-round-caliber talent in the third or fourth round.
Option 2: Trade back, draft a quarterback: This move makes a world of sense for Arizona, especially when considering what teams in the 10-20 range of the first round will entertain the prospect of drafting a quarterback and which teams won't. If Arizona knows a player is falling out of the top 10 and wants to surrender its spot at 13 to move a few slots back, the Cardinals can probably do so and still end up with the signal-caller they want in the 15-20 range of the draft as opposed to the 13th spot.
If Arizona decides it really likes a player like Texas Tech's Patrick Mahomes, then Arizona can trade back, pick up an extra second or third round selection and take care of all of its needs in the first three rounds of the draft. This should be an obvious option for Arizona, but it would become more complicated if there's a run on passers in the first 10 picks.
Option 3: Draft a wide receiver or defensive back: It doesn't really matter if the Cardinals take a receiver or defensive back with the 13th overall selection, because it's unlikely Arizona would go beyond the third round of the draft without picking a player at the position it didn't select a prospect at in the first round. The Cardinals needs in the secondary and at the receiver position are clear, and taking a wide receiver or defensive back in the first round would suggest Arizona isn't sold on a quarterback prospect in this year's draft unless the team feels it can get the player it wants when it's on the clock in the second round.
Drafting a receiver or defensive back seems like a rather conventional route for Arizona to take, and would indicate the team would likely be fine waiting until next year when a different crop of quarterbacks will become available that could include USC's Sam Darnold. This would also allow the Cardinals more flexibility in the middle rounds of the draft, as the team could take a lineman on either side of the ball in the third or fourth round.
Option 4: Draft an inside linebacker: One of the more intriguing approaches the Cardinals could take in this year's draft is selecting an inside linebacker in the first round who would likely bid his time behind Dansby as a rookie before emerging as the go-to player in the middle of Arizona's defense in 2018. Alabama's Reuben Foster is a potential candidate for Arizona, and if the franchise moves in this direction, it could cause a shakeup with their plans for the later rounds.
If the Cardinals chose a linebacker and then still wanted a quarterback in the second or third round, then things get tricky for Arizona. At some point, if the Cardinals prioritized a linebacker, Arizona would likely have to hit upon a middle or late round selection of a wide receiver or defensive back, because the franchise has needs to address at those positions in the short-term. This option may appear unlikely, but it would allow the Cardinals to build for the future at a key position on a defense that has already lost four starters to free agency.