- Josh Weinfuss, ESPN Staff Writer
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Arizona addressed its most pressing needs in free agency, giving the Cardinals the rest of the offseason, including May’s NFL draft, to fill the rest of the areas that require attention.
First on that list is a tie between safety and right tackle. The Cardinals will also focus on tight end, defensive line and linebackers -- both inside and outside.
Scout Inc.’s Steve Muench pegged Arizona’s needs during his prediction of the team’s first three picks.
While Muench believes Arizona will draft Washington State strong safety Deone Bucannon, he qualified the pick with the idea that Arizona may take a tackle at 20th in the first round, and if the Cards do, he believes it’ll be either Notre Dame’s Zack Martin or Virginia’s Morgan Moses. I tend to agree more with the idea that Arizona will take a tackle in the first round. The right side is up for grabs since the Cardinals haven’t re-signed last year’s starter, Eric Winston. Muench offered the idea that Arizona will start Bobby Massie at right tackle, where he started all 16 games during his rookie season in 2012. The Cardinals weren’t sold on Massie during training camp last season because of a slew of mental errors and an inability to fully grasp the playbook. Unless that’s changed, don’t expect the Cardinals to call Massie’s number, instead opting to draft Martin or Moses.
While a safety is a necessity at this point, a right tackle carries a higher value in the first round.
As we saw last season, however, general manager Steve Keim isn’t shy about using his draft picks to leverage position. If a safety like Bucannon is available for the Cardinals late in the first or early in the second rounds, don’t be surprised if Keim maneuvers a trade to land him. Bucannon fits the size requirements to defend the big, tall tight ends around the NFC West, and even if he’s not as talented as the Cardinals would hope, their secondary around him will be talented enough to mask any deficiencies.
In the second round, Muench predicted Arizona choosing Notre Dame tight end Troy Niklas.
At 6-foot-6, Niklas fits the blueprint head coach Bruce Arians likes out of his tight ends and Niklas will be a good fit for Arizona behind Rob Housler, Jake Ballard and John Carlson – if he’s around. At that size and with that talent, I wouldn’t expect Niklas to be sitting around late in the second round but if he is, I like this pick for the Cardinals.
In the third round, Muench has Louisville outside linebacker Marcus Smith going to the Cardinals. While Arizona will need to stock up on outside linebackers with John Abraham in the twilight of his career and Sam Acho in the last year of his rookie deal, if Smith is the best player available at this spot, Keim will grab him without thinking. However, if there’s a defensive tackle who’s the best player available, look for the Cardinals to start looking for Darnell Dockett’s replacement.
In defensive coordinator Todd Bowles’ scheme, outside linebackers are crucial since they provide the edge rush that forces quarterbacks to step up right into the hands of Dan Williams, Calais Campbell and Dockett. And Smith fits that need.