The Arizona Cardinals have spent the last two drafts building around their young talent, specifically around franchise quarterback Kyler Murray. Would that trend continue during the 2020 NFL Draft? Or would management instead opt to work on retooling the NFL’s worst statistical defense from 2019? Handing out draft grades before we even see a prospect touch an NFL field is always tough, but we can still base our decisions on value and potential. When all was said and done, did Arizona do enough to merit a passing grade?
Who did the Arizona Cardinals Draft?
- Round 1, Pick 8: Isaiah Simmons, LB, Clemson
- Round 3, Pick 72: Josh Jones, OT, Houston
- Round 4, Pick 114: Leki Fotu, DT, Utah
- Round 4, Pick 131: Rashard Lawrence, DT, LSU
- Round 6, Pick 202: Evan Weaver, LB, Cal
- Round 7, Pick 222: Eno Benjamin, RB, Arizona State
Best Player: Isaiah Simmons
Steve Keim and Kliff Kingsbury must have been licking their lips with anticipation as first the Detroit Lions, then the New York Giants passed on Isaiah Simmons. With the Carolina Panthers on the clock immediately before them, and with the Panthers having some very similar needs, that anticipation will have turned to elation when Carolina opted to take Derrick Brown at pick seven.
Simmons fell into the Cardinals laps with the eighth overall selection. There can be no mistaking that Simmons was one of the best players in the 2020 NFL Draft. He’s a unique athletic specimen and an outstanding football player. Not only is he the best player, but he could have easily fit into the “Best Value” section of the Cardinals 2020 Draft grades.
Simmons will be a day one starter for the Cardinals. He immediately upgrades a defense that gave up the most yards in the NFL. He excels in coverage, as well as bringing an explosive pass rush presence. In a division that features one of the most mobile quarterbacks in the league, Russell Wilson, his athleticism will be invaluable.
Best Value: Josh Jones
My initial reaction to the Simmons selection wasn’t as glowing as the one above. One of my disappointments with last year’s Cardinals draft class was that they never adequately drafted protection for Murray. With a top-heavy class of offensive tackles in this year’s class, I presumed that one of those would be a perfect fit in Arizona. When they selected Simmons, I saw history repeating itself.
However, some 64 picks later, they selected Josh Jones in the third round.
Should Jones have been drafted earlier?
Jones was my fifth overall tackle in the 2020 NFL Draft class. I had anticipated him going in the first round, with the Miami Dolphins the likely fit. When the Dolphins selected Austin Jackson ahead of him, I was surprised but still expected Jones to hear his name called either late on the first day or early on the second. To get him in the third round is excellent value.
Jones developed through 2019, despite a tough year for the Houston Cougars, and continued to develop through the draft process, with an impressive showing at the Senior Bowl. He has some fantastic traits as an offensive tackle, and his athleticism is a good fit for a Cardinals offense.
There are several “Best Value” picks for the Cardinals, and that is one of the reasons that they score so highly in the overall draft grades for 2020.
Biggest Reach: Rashard Lawrence
In all honesty, the Cardinals didn’t reach for any player, in my opinion. They drafted players either at or below their pre-draft expectations. It is one of the reasons why the Cardinals get such high draft grades for their 2020 class. There isn’t one player that you look at from their draft and think that they picked him too high.
My reasoning for selecting Rashard Lawrence as the biggest reach is purely positional. After selecting Leki Fotu with their previous selection, the Cardinals decided to double down on defensive tackles in the fourth round.
Don’t misunderstand me, I’m not averse to taking multiple players at the same position, but they could have filled another need with equal talent at this pick. Despite a need for cornerback depth, the Cardinals ignored players like Josiah Scott and Amik Robertson, who were still available at this point.
Biggest Sleeper: Eno Benjamin
The slide of Eno Benjamin to the seventh round will be one of the great mysteries of the 2020 NFL Draft. He was a productive running back at Arizona State, with consecutive 1000 yard seasons. Benjamin also demonstrated his pass-catching ability in his time as a Sun Devil, providing a threat out of the backfield that is increasingly coveted in the NFL. With no obvious character or injury concerns, he seemed destined to be drafted around the fourth round.
However, as the rounds progressed, Benjamin was still there. His name sat near the top of the best available projections for many analysts, and yet the slide continued.
We may never know why so many teams passed on Benjamin, but with the Cardinals, he will have the opportunity to prove why they were wrong to do so. The Arizona running back room is particularly sparse, and Benjamin will compete for playing time right away with Kenyan Drake and Chase Edmonds.
Benjamin is a competitive runner, with elusiveness and a killer spin move thrown in for good measure, and he finds a perfect landing spot for his skill set in Arizona.
Draft Grade: A
Coming into the 2020 NFL Draft, the Cardinals had needs on the defensive and offensive lines, at linebacker and cornerback, and needed to add depth at running back room.
Not only did they manage to tick off all of those needs, except cornerback, but they also did so without reaching for any player. The Cardinals took the best player available at the time they filled that need in most occasions, a feat that is almost impossible to achieve.
Trades impacted draft capital
The Cardinals have basically managed to pull off the complete opposite of the Houston Texans. Both teams have made trades that impacted their draft capital. However, the Cardinals were a clear winner in those trades, providing Murray with a game-changing play-maker in DeAndre Hopkins, while off-loading a running back in David Johnson, who has battled injury and a lack of production in recent seasons.
Unlike the Texans, the Cardinals turned their limited draft capital into a small haul that can all make contributions, with several pieces set to make an immediate impact when the NFL season begins, whenever that may be.
Arizona had one of the best weekends of any team in the NFL, and that’s reflected by the Cardinals receiving one of the highest draft grades in 2020.