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There is a buzz around the Arizona Cardinals that has not been present in quite some time. With their young quarterback Kyler Murray coming off his Offensive Rookie of the Year season, the living legend Larry Fitzgerald returning for at least one more year, and the red birds committing highway robbery after acquiring DeAndre Hopkins from the Houston Texans via trade.
The future is definitely bright for this squad, but going into the 2020 NFL draft, the Cardinals knew that there was still a lot of work to be done. So let’s take a look at how the brain trust of Kliff Kingsbury and Steve Keim attempted to fill out their roster.
No. 8 overall pick: Isaiah Simmons, LB, Clemson.
Although one of Arizona’s most glaring needs coming into the draft was at the offensive line, when a player like Simmons is available, you better take him. Simmons fell to the Cardinals at the number eight spot and it could not have been a better pick. Simmons was arguably the most athletic prospect in the 2020 draft class. He is a defensive unicorn. He has experience playing both the outside and inside linebacker positions, can play both corner and slot cornerback positions, as well as line up at safety. Any 6-ft, 4-inch linebacker that puts up a 4.39 40 is going to give offensive coordinators nightmares. Simmons will have veterans Patrick Peterson and Chandler Jones to lead him and help mold him into a defensive piece the team can build around for the future.
No. 72 overall pick: Josh Jones, OT, Houston.
After giving their second round selection to the Texans in the DeAndre Hopkins trade, Arizona had to be patient and hope for the best with their third-round pick. Luckily, another great player with tremendous upside fell in their laps. Jones is a top-50 type player that fell to Arizona at number 74, even though the Cardinals have D.J. Humphries at left tackle, they will most likely shift Jones to the right side of the offensive line once he has time to adjust to the pro level.
No. 114 overall pick: Leki Fotu, DT, Utah.
With their first of two 4th round selections, Keim felt the team needed to go out and get more defensive prospects, and they got just that with the selection of Leki Fotu. Fotu is a 6’5” 330-pound lineman who has potential to be an absolute force for the Cardinals front seven. Getting a lineman frees up Chandler Jones and Isaiah Simmons to be playmakers all over the field. They won’t have to always have a linebacker line up as an edge rusher to help out the D-line, they can just let the big fella from Utah wreak havoc on opposing quarterbacks and running backs.
No. 131 overall pick: Rashard Lawrence, DT, LSU.
Arizona decided to add another defensive stud to the list with their second 4th round selection, this time going with a player who just spent his final year in college with the undefeated and reigning national champion LSU Tigers. Lawrence’s build (6’2” 308 LBS.) as well as his combine scores (5.07 40) are not what you are hoping for from a D-line prospect, but his work ethic, his ability to stuff the run as well as being able to create opportunities for teammates to get to the quarterback elevate his potential.
No. 202 overall pick: Evan Weaver, LB, Cal.
Heading towards the back end of the draft, the red birds selected one of the best pure tacklers of the draft class as well as the nation’s leader in tackles (182) as a senior. Weaver had a very successful collegiate career for the Golden Bears, where he was a consensus first-team-All-American, and the Pac-12 Defensive Player Of the Year in his final season at Cal. Weaver has an unbelievable motor and will never quit on a play. He is the kind of player that will be in the opponent’s face in every play and leaves everything on the field. This is arguably the most underrated pick of the entire draft.
No. 222 overall pick: Eno Benjamin, RB, Arizona State.
With their final pick of the draft, the Cardinals selected a player that won’t have to travel far when it’s time to report to training camp. Eno Benjamin excels at getting to the outside parts of the field and turning on the jets. He has the elusiveness to create space from even the best tacklers at the college level, as well as moves that will keep any defender guessing on where he is going to go. Benjamin will join Kenyan Drake, Chase Edmonds and D.J. foster in the backfield, so he will probably have to compete in training camp and preseason in order to make the 53-man roster.
In a stacked draft class, the Cardinals did everything right in order to come out of the draft successful. If the rest of the stars align for Arizona, this team could very well collect it’s first winning season since 2015 and start making some noise in the strong NFC West division.