Arizona was the surprise team of 2014. They saw their top running back struggle with injuries and started three different quarterbacks, yet still managed an 11-5 record and a trip to the playoffs. Andre Ellington has an offseason to heal up while Carson Palmer is doing the same as they both attempt to last a full season. The defense propped up this team, but the Cardinals paid the price of that success with the loss of defensive coordinator Todd Bowles to the Jets. Bruce Arians is still around, however, and should be looking to continue his spread offense and utilize his receiver depth and pass catching options out of the backfield. This draft was largely used to fortify the lines but a few intriguing offensive weapons were added in the middle rounds.
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First Round – D.J. Humphries, OT, Florida
At first glance, this does not look like a sexy first round pick, but it fills a huge need for the team and should reverberate throughout the offense. The team averaged just 3.3 yards per rush (worst in the NFL) and while Humphries is more known for his pass blocking ability, he offers some options for the Cardinals. They could decide to move Jared Veldheer to the right side or have Humphries start there (either is a massive upgrade over Bobby Massie).
The biggest winner here is Ellington. Any improvement to the run blocking will be beneficial for a runner who has his breakaway speed but limited ability to force missed tackles. Palmer can’t complain either as Humphries provides another talented player into the offensive line rotation. While the team allowed just 28 sacks in 2014, they were fortunate as all five starting linemen had at least 900 snaps. Hoping for another injury-free season would have been risky and hurt the offensive output.
Second Round – Markus Golden, DE, Missouri
IDP owners are likely hoping Golden maintained DE status, but in the Cardinals 3-4 system, he is competing for one of the outside linebacker spots. He is a tenacious pass rusher but does not have the explosiveness or technique that typically defines an elite sack artist. Golden could have some value in big play leagues that reward heavily for sacks but he won’t be a tackle dependent scorer and likely will be removed on most running downs. He helps the team defense, but is no more than a waiver watch in most IDP leagues.
Third Round – David Johnson, RB, Northern Iowa
Johnson has a lot of intriguing athletic traits. His size (6’1”, 224 lbs) makes his 4.50 forty yard dash even more impressive. Add in a burst score of 134.1 (via PlayerProfiler) and that places Johnson in elite territory and highlights his short area quickness and balance. In short, he is an impressive athlete.
As for his college resume, he had 200+ touches in all four seasons at Northern Iowa with double digit touchdowns in each. Johnson showed great receiving skills with 30+ catches every year and may be the best pass catching back out of this year’s draft class. What he also showed was a lack of inside running ability, dancing and trying to make jump cuts instead of keeping his momentum, which leads to Johnson being tackled far too easily.
The early rumors have Johnson being a strict backup to Ellington while also being a candidate for short yardage work. There are some duplicative characteristics between the two running backs but let’s remember, Stepfan Taylor and Kerwynn Williams had 116 carries in 2014.
Fourth Round – Rodney Gunter, DT, Delaware State
With the losses of Darnell Dockett and Dan Williams, the Cardinals needed to add depth to a depleted defensive line. Gunter has the size (6’5”, 305 lbs) to be disruptive on the line and great upper body strength to avoid being jammed at the point of attack. Like most small school prospects, Gunter lacks polish and will need time to develop. Where he ends up along the line will determine if he has any long-term value in the Arizona 3-4 defense.
Fifth Round – Shaquille Riddick, DE, West Virginia & J.J. Nelson, WR, UAB
Much like Golden, Riddick was drafted in an effort to improve the pass rush. He has potential long-term as a 3-4 outside linebacker if he adds muscle to his frame and improves on disengaging from blockers. Riddick is likely spending his rookie year on the practice squad.
Nelson is probably more well-known for his 4.28 forty yard dash and his svelte frame (5’10”, 156 lbs) than anything he did in college. A dangerous returner, Nelson will likely take off kickoff and punt duties in his rookie season while trying to polish his route running. He could eventually play some slot receiver as Larry Fitzgerald leaves and John Brown ascends to split end opposite Michael Floyd’s flanker.
Seventh Round – Gerald Christian, TE, Louisville
Sadly, Bruce Arians has never been a particularly positively influence on tight ends. Christian has good size (6’3”, 245 lbs) but marginal athleticism for the position. Despite that, he gains separation and has large hands (10 ¼ inches) to corral tough catches. Unfortunately, Christian is more likely to serve as a blocking tight end with the occasional catch in the red zone. Move along, nothing to see here.
UDFA to Watch – Jaxon Shipley, WR, Texas
The UDFA barrel was pretty barren for the Cardinals but they may have a keeper in Shipley. The former Longhorn was a solid possession receiver, managing three seasons of 50+ catches. He attacks the middle of the field and makes the contested catch in traffic. However, Shipley was an undrafted free agent because he lacks explosiveness and is a thin receiver (6’0”, 190 lbs) who has failed to add strength to his frame. With Larry Fitzgerald currently occupying the underneath role, Shipley could have a nice mentor and eventually challenge to be that option soon. Early reports also has Shipley impressing in minicamp and could stick on the roster if he is able to carve out a special teams role early.