For the next week, Indianapolis will be the epicenter of the NFL.
More than 300 college prospects will converge on the Circle City with hopes of impressing teams with their physical attributes, football skills and interview tactics. All 32 teams will be on hand, poking, prodding, judging, gauging, measuring, taping, timing and asking every question that comes to mind.
The college kids are put through the wringer, and for those who are left standing, the NFL is only a couple short months away.
But what are the Arizona Cardinals looking for in Indy? It’s no secret they have their needs, especially when it comes to a left tackle, safety, tight ends and speedy receivers. But general manager Steve Keim hasn’t wavered from his philosophy of taking the best player available, regardless of position.
So, with all that being said, here’s the Cardinals’ 2013 NFL combine primer:
Bruce Arians and Steve Keim
Keim is scheduled to address the media at 11:30 a.m. ET Thursday, or 9:30 a.m. Phoenix time.
Arians will be at the podium addressing the media at 10:15 ET Friday, or 8:15 a.m. local.
The Cardinals will pick 20th in every round and don’t have a seventh-round pick this year.
Group 1 (PK, ST, OL), Group 2 (OL), Group 3 (TE)
Media availability: Thursday
On-field workout: Friday (PK/ST), Saturday (OL, TE)
Left tackle -- Arizona will study the left tackles in this draft relentlessly, with the hopes of finding a cornerstone on the offensive line at 20th. Of course, all the work this week could be for naught if they sign a left tackle in free agency, but the Cardinals may be better off drafting the left tackle of the future instead of signing someone in their late 20s.
Among the group they’ll focus on: Zack Martin, Cyrus Kouandjio, Morgan Moses, Brandon Thomas and Jack Mewhort. According to NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock one name that could surprise some people is Nevada’s Joel Bitonio, but Mayock doesn’t expect the 6-foot-4, 315-pound Californian to get drafted until the second or third round.
Tight end -- One of the showcase pieces of Arians’ offense didn’t live up to its billing in 2013, but it’s also not a high priority in the draft. There aren’t any must-have tight ends in this year’s class, which makes the likelihood of the Cards choosing one before the third round very unlikely.
Because there are so few talented tight ends this year, they could become a hot priority.
Group 4 (QB, WO), Group 5 (QB, WO), Group 6 (RB)
Media availability: Friday
On-field workout: Sunday
Quarterback -- While finding a quarterback is not high on the Cards’ to-do list in Indianapolis, they’ll most definitely be keeping their eyes on a select few slingers. As I’ve written before, Arians has a type: Tall with a big arm, there’s a few of those in this year’s class.
Virginia Tech’s Logan Thomas, LSU’s Zach Mettenberger and Fresno State’s Derek Carr are the three quarterbacks that could really draw Arizona’s interest, but it may not spend a first or second day pick on a quarterback considering Carson Palmer will be back in 2014. But there are a few other quarterbacks who could play their way into the Cards’ psyche and they include Cornell’s Jeff Mathews and Pittsburgh’s Tom Savage.
Wideout -- Some analysts are saying this is the deepest wideout class in a few years, and that could bode well for the Cardinals later in the draft. During the combine, Keim and Arians will be looking for one thing: speed. If they can identify a few receivers who are fast enough to take the top off defenses that they can pick in the fifth or sixth rounds, they will gladly let Andre Roberts go to make room for a cheaper version of him.
Group 7 (DL), Group 8 (DL), Group 9 (LB)
Media availability: Saturday
On-field workout: Monday
Defensive linemen – Also not a high priority for the Cardinals, but drafting a defensive lineman could fall under Keim’s “best player available” philosophy. The middle of Arizona’s defensive line is set for the future with Dan Williams and Calais Campbell, but with Darnell Dockett approaching the sunset of his career, Arizona would be wise to start the process of finding his long-term replacement. If the Cardinals find a left tackle or safety in free agency, there’s a distinct possibility they could draft a defensive tackle at 20th, so Arians and Keim will be scouting a gamut of players this week.
Group 10 (DB), Group 11 (DB)
Media availability: Sunday
On-field workout: Tuesday
Safety -- Another position that could be decided in free agency, safety has a deep class in the draft. Arizona needs a tall, fast safety to replace strong safety Yeremiah Bell and younger may be better for the Cardinals in 2014. The top-rated safety by ESPN is Ha Ha Clinton-Dix out of Alabama, but don’t expect him to be there at 20th if the Cards go with a safety in the first round.
Mayock feels like there’s a slew of safeties who could go in the middle rounds such as Deone Bucannon, Terrance Brooks, Ed Reynolds and Jimmy Ward -- all possibilities for the Cards if they wait that long. Arizona may also look at Jason Verrett or Lamarcus Joyner, who has been listed as a safety and cornerback. Mayock compared Joyner to Cardinals safety Tyrann Mathieu, who is expected to miss the first few weeks of the season with an ACL and LCL injury.