Each year before the NFL Draft kicks off, we pick five players with the belief — based on a couple months of research, a gazillion conversations and some analysis — that one of themwill be the pick for the Arizona Cardinals.
A lot of this is just based on process of elimination, because it’s easier for me to find out who they don’t like sometimes more than who they do.
So with the process of elimination, I determine that I can eliminate cornerback Caleb Farley because he is just too much of a risk.
Also eliminated heading into Thursday are Penn State linebacker Micah Parsons, Clemson running back Travis Etienne, Northwestern cornerback Greg Newsome, Minnesota receiver Rashod Bateman, Ole Miss receiver Elijah Moore, Miami edge rusher Gregory Rousseau, Miami edge Jaelan Phillips and Alabama defensive tackle Christian Barmore. The Cardinals either like somebody better at each of those players’ respective positions, that player is not worthy of the No. 16 overall pick or that player is not a fit.
What I can’t determine ever is if they make a trade. And if they do, all bets are off. I can only do this with the thought that they are picking at No. 16. No magic eight-ball here for predicting them moving up or down. If they do make a move, I think they could trade down and possibly get a guy in the above list like Bateman — that would be a whole new list, so this is just for Arizona sticking at 16.
The other thing that is extremely hard to determine is which players will fall. I would very likely put one of the top three wide receivers (Ja’Marr Chase, Jaylen Waddle and DeVonta Smith) or one of the two top cornerbacks (Patrick Surtain or Jaycee Horn) in my Gambo 5 if I thought they would be there.
Most indications are that those five players are all gone by the time the Cardinals pick at 16. I’m not so sure, but I just can’t figure out which guy would be there at 16. So do we guess at one that may fall and put them in or choose another player?
We have had a lot of success with this, correctly spotlighting Haason Reddick, Isaiah Simmons — and Josh Rosen as an honorable mention. We’ve even nailed second-round guys like Budda Baker and Christian Kirk. However, I wouldn’t advise you to go to Vegas with your paycheck. While we have quite a bit of information, we certainly don’t have it all.
This is not a guess — it never has been. But again, we cannot determine who will drop and usually someone always does. And there may be a player we just don’t have a lot of information on that the Cardinals love. So have fun with this because if you do, I do.
So anyways, here we go:
1) Tulsa LB Zaven Collins
Collins is the choice here because, unlike Micah Parsons, he can play the mike linebacker spot. He can lead the defense and would be a logical future replacement for Jordan Hicks. Freak athlete who can do it all. I’ve seen Collins on some boards as the fourth-best linebacker, but I would expect he is at the top of the Cardinals’ board at this position and fits a great need.
2) TCU S Trevon Moehrig
Very good player. The Cardinals could use a free safety with Budda Baker playing the strong safety spot. Moehrig has the best cover skills of any safety in the draft. He has made 28 plays on the ball since 2019, which is five more than any other Power 5 safety. And he has forced an incompletion on 25% of targets since 2018 — the highest rate in the draft class.
3) Michigan DE Kwity Paye
This is a late, late addition to my Gambo 5 as I was not really considering him until today. While this is not a good class of edge rushers, Paye may be the best. He played four seasons at Michigan but only four games this past season. He had 19 starts in his career. In 2019 he had 6.5 sacks and 49 tackles. He is a good player and would be a safe pick.
4) USC OG Alijah Vera-Tucker
Probably the safest play in my five. I think he will be there. He is an outstanding offensive lineman who could play some tackle for you if needed. And you can never go wrong taking an offensive lineman. He played right and left guard and some tackle, so extremely versatile. Was a team captain. Is a great athlete. Great pass-blocker.
5) Alabama RB Najee Harris
Now we get down to the toughest choice. I had Farley here until recently. But I have taken Farley out — I just do not believe there is any chance the Cardinals take a player with that injury history this high in the draft. So Farley is out. I could go with the next best cornerback, which is Newsome. But I don’t think he will be the best player on their board at 16. So he is out.
The decision comes down to Najee Harris or someone dropping. Chase is gone. Surtain is gone. The other three — Farley, Smith and Waddle — are probably gone but I’m not betting a house payment on it. So now we are down to Harris, Farley, Smith or Waddle. I would say if any wide receiver falls, it will be Smith, but I still doubt that will happen.
So decision time and the pick is Harris.
Taking a running back at No. 16 could be risky. Harris has a chance to be the best offensive rookie in this draft class. If the top three wide receivers are gone and head coach Kliff Kingsbury wants a big-time weapon for his offense, Harris makes a ton of sense. You can’t count on running backs getting a second contract with a team these days so maybe he is just a four- to five-year guy. But he can be dynamic for those years. Harris gets the nod here over Etienne.