Depth at ILB a Cardinals' draft priority


In a perfect world, the NFL would have handed down Daryl Washington's suspension by now.

The world, even that of professional football, is far from a perfect place, and the Arizona Cardinals can't wait around.

The Cardinals enter this week's NFL draft uncertain about how many games Washington will be suspended for after violating the league's personal conduct policy a month after violating its substance abuse policy for the second time. He could miss a game, maybe two -- perhaps even more, depending on if commissioner Roger Goodell judges the recent transgressions in totality or separately.

Regardless of if Washington will miss the Cardinals' season opener or possibly longer, Arizona needed to move ahead with their draft plans, which now may include an inside linebacker.

"Here's the way I look at it: I think it's why you always try to create talent and depth because whether it's Daryl and it's a suspension or if it's another player and it's an injury or a contract issue," Cardinals general manager Steve Keim said. "That's why I always say, so many times when people talk about so-called needs, your needs in April are never the same as they are in October. Whether it's injuries or contracts or suspensions, you always have to have the right kind of depth where you have (Cardinals head coach) Bruce (Arians') philosophy (of) next man up.

"If you don't look at it from a depth standpoint, you're going to be put in a tough situation in the fall."

And it's not like Arizona is overflowing with inside linebackers this spring.

With the defection of Karlos Dansby to the Cleveland Browns, the Cardinals were left with a shortage inside. Washington occupied one starting spot while second-year linebacker Kevin Minter was slotted as Dansby's replacement. That leaves Kenny Demens and JoJo Dickson as the only listed inside linebackers on Arizona's roster. Lorenzo Alexander, who started at outside backer until he suffered a season-ending Lisfranc injury in Week 3 last year, could play both inside and outside, Arians has said.

"We feel like we have good depth in there," Arians said. "We're always looking for more speed on defense."

While the first half of Arians' statement may be coach speak, the second shows what the Cards are looking for throughout the draft. And if the right cards fall ahead of them in the first round, Arizona may find the kind of depth it's looking for at 20th.

The highest-rated inside linebacker -- and most likely the only one to go in the first round -- is C.J. Mosley out of Alabama. But Arizona may find its inside linebacker among the three top outside backers: Ohio State's Ryan Shazier, UCLA's Anthony Barr and Buffalo's Khalil Mack.

Of the trio, only Barr is likely to remain outside.

Keim believes Shazier can be inside or outside.

"He's got a skill set where he can (play inside), sub packages and third down, play off the edge," Keim said. "He's got a natural rush ability or (he can) play inside. His production speaks for itself -- 143 tackles and six sacks -- that's amazing."

Keim then addressed one of Shazier's top critiques: his size.

Shazier measured at 6-foot-1 and 238 pounds at the NFL scouting combine in February, similar to another NFC West linebacker -- San Francisco's Patrick Willis, who was the same height and just 4 pounds heavier when he entered the league in 2007.

"So, really the differences in size are very minimal," Keim said. "And (Shazier's) bigger than the other kid in San Fran, (NoVorro) Bowman, so size is not an issue with Ryan Shazier."

Without being able to control what happens to Washington, the Cardinals will have to attack the draft looking to continue to build for the future and that could begin with depth at inside linebacker in the first round.