The Arizona Cardinals came into the 2021 NFL draft with needs at cornerback, wide receiver and the defensive line. Five of their seven picks were spent on the defensive side of the ball, with hopes of improving a unit that struggled at times, though was much improved from 2019.
With that being said, let’s recap each of the team’s selections.
With the pick of Collins, there is hope that he and 2019 first-rounder Isaiah Simmons can form a tandem to anchor the defense for years to come. K.J. Wright and Bobby Wagner in Seattle, Devin White and Lavonte David of the Buccaneers, or Luke Kuechly and Thomas Davis in Carolina earlier this decade come to mind.
Cardinals general manager Steve Keim said that Collins will play the Mike inside linebacker spot next to Simmons. When asked by reporters what caught his eye about Collins, Keim said all of his traits.
“What I liked about him was everything,” Keim said. “Size, football acumen, instincts, cover ability. This guy has got rare and unusual movement skills for a guy who’s almost 6-foot-5 265 pounds.”
Collins is listed at 6-foot-4 260 pounds. In an eight-game shortened season his redshirt-junior year with Tulsa, he had 54 total tackles, including 7.5 for a loss, four sacks, four interceptions (two pick-sixes) and two forced fumbles.
This season, he also won some of college football’s most prestigious awards: the Chuck Bednarik Award, and the Bronko Nagurski Trophy, which are presented to the best defensive player in the nation.
Jordan Hicks is currently the starter inside, so it is not certain how much Collins will be mixed in at the beginning of the season. But head coach Kliff Kingsbury said to Collins as they entered the pick to “get ready to come in and get going, there ain’t no redshirting.”
In the second round, the team grabbed Purdue speedster Rondale Moore with the 49th pick. At 5-foot-7, Moore is not the tallest receiver in the world, but is listed at 180 pounds.
Moore originally opted out last year, before opting back in when the Big 10 created their shortened fall schedule for the 2020 season. In three games, he made 35 catches for 270 yards. He missed all but four games in 2019 with a hamstring injury.
As a freshman in 2018, Moore was electric. In 13 games, Moore caught 114 passes for 1258 yards and 12 touchdowns. He also rushed 21 times for 213 yards and an additional two scores. Additionally, he can be a threat on special teams returning kickoffs and punts.
For that effort, he received the Paul Hornung Award, which is given to the sport’s most versatile player.
Moore’s selection also raises a few questions. Larry Fitzgerald has not given an answer on whether he is retiring or returning for another season. Keim told Sirius XM’s Adam Schein that the team will have a spot for him if he says he’s ready. Third-year receiver Andy Isabella has a similar build to Moore, and it is unclear how this will affect his playing time.
The team did not have a third-round pick, as they traded it to Las Vegas as part of the Rodney Hudson deal. They did not have a fourth rounder either. To address the cornerback need, they traded their fifth-round pick this year and a fourth-round pick next year to the Baltimore Ravens.
Wilson, listed at 6-foot-1, 191 pounds, is an unbelievable athlete. He ran a 4.35 40 yard dash and had a 43.5-inch vertical jump at his pro day.
But what his college career will likely be remembered for is a shoe. Last season, Wilson threw an LSU player’s shoe 20 yards down the field. The unsportsmanlike conduct penalty gave the Tigers a first down, and would lead to a game-winning field goal.
In his last year with the Gators, Wilson had 29 total tackles but no interceptions.
He has experience starting in the SEC, which could benefit him coming into the NFL. Wilson told azcardinals.com’s Kyle Odegard, “that threw me into a leadership position at a young age, at 18, in the biggest conference in college football, it made me grow up really fast.”
The Cardinals have Malcolm Butler, Byron Murphy and Robert Alford as their top corners, so Wilson may not see much action right away. But, Alford is coming off two straight season-ending injuries, so it could be sooner rather than later.
With the first of two sixth-round picks, the team grabbed Dimukeje, who’s second on the Blue Devils’ all-time sack list, with 21.5. Last season, the 6-foot-2 265 pound defender recorded 39 tackles (eight for a loss) and 7.5 sacks, while also forcing two fumbles. He was also an honorable-mention selection on the All-ACC team. During his junior season in 2019, Dimukeje had a career-high 8.5 sacks, which led Duke and was fourth in the ACC. That season, he was named to the All-ACC second team. With a good showing in camp, Dimukeje could break into the rotation on the defensive line.
With their second sixth-round pick, Arizona selected another cornerback to add depth to the position. Gowan only played one season at Central Florida due to opting out of last season. In 2019, Gowan played in 12 games, making 31 tackles and two interceptions. According to Pro Football Focus, Gowan has allowed a 26.6 passing rating in single coverage since 2019, which is the second lowest in college football. With the selections of Gowan and Marco Wilson, the Cardinals have two young corners to develop behind veterans Butler and Alford.
The team continued to bolster the secondary with the pick of Cincinnati Bearcats safety James Wiggins in the seventh round. In 2020, Wiggins was playing in his first action since tearing his ACL in 2019. Playing in nine games last year, Wiggins recorded 32 tackles, had an interception and forced a fumble. He had his best season with the Bearcats as a sophomore in 2018, finishing with 54 tackles and four interceptions (one touchdown) in 13 games. With the Cardinals having a lot of depth at the safety spots, Wiggins could see more playing time on special teams.
Keim said to the media that Wiggins caught the coaching staff’s eye with what he can on special teams as well as defense.
“I know Jeff Rodgers, our (special) teams coach, thought that the safety from Cincinnati was one of the better special teams core players in this draft,” Keim said.
The Cardinals added depth to the offensive line with their final selection in this year’s draft. Menet was a two-time team captain with the Nittany Lions, and was a Third-Team All-Big 10 selection in 2020. Rodney Hudson is entrenched as the starter at center, and though Mason Cole is switching spots, he also started numerous games at the position. It is not a guarantee that Menet will make the team, so he may end up on the practice squad to start the season.