Of the Arizona Cardinals needs they’ll have to address this offseason, upgrading the secondary position is right up there at the top.
That’s the takeaway from Pro Football Focus’ Anthony Treach, who made the case Tuesday that the Cardinals should focus on adding to their defensive backfield.
Looking at the best- and worst-case scenarios for all 32 teams, Treach has two scenarios for the Cardinals’ secondary situation.
Best-case: Patrick Surtain II falls to Arizona at the 16th overall pick, and they work to patch up the secondary in free agency with a low-budget pickup like Gareon Conley.
Surtain led all cornerbacks in PFF’s grading system, with an 89.7 rating to go with 117 tackles and four interceptions during his three-year career at Alabama.
Conley could potentially aid the Cardinals’ pass defense, as the former Houston Texans corner has the highest forced incompletion rate in the NFL (22.2%) since he was drafted in 2017. He’s registered 94 tackles and four interceptions with the Texans (2019) and Oakland Raiders (2017-19).
The CB did, however, miss the 2020 season due to complications following an ankle surgery last offseason.
Getting Surtain in April after grabbing a cheap option like Conley in free agency would be a huge win for Arizona. … If neither occurs, they may have one of the worst secondaries in the NFL in 2021.
Another option — if he falls in the 2021 NFL Draft — could be Virginia Tech cornerback Caleb Farley.
Before opting out of last season due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the sophomore tallied 20 tackles, four interceptions — one returned for a touchdown — and 12 passes defensed. He was named to the All-ACC First-Team for his efforts.
And the worst-case scenario?
They are on the outside looking in on the cornerback market.
The Cardinals have a lot of decisions to make in the defensive backfield this season with four cornerbacks, highlighted by Patrick Peterson and Dre Kirkpatrick, set to hit free agency in March.
That leaves just three cornerbacks — Byron Murphy, Robert Alford and Jace Whittaker (futures) — still under contract heading into the offseason.
Arizona’s coverage unit was suboptimal in 2020, especially on the outside. Patrick Peterson and Dre Kirkpatrick manned the starting roles, but both players are impending free agents who produced sub-60.0 coverage grades on the outside last season. Defensive coordinator Vance Joseph called man coverage at an above-average rate in 2020.
Depth is key in the NFL, as we saw his past season with the plethora of injuries that hit the Cardinals last season. Addressing the secondary needs could pay off down the road.