"You're on the Clock": 2019 NFL Draft (Part 1 of 6)

"You're on the Clock": 2019 NFL Draft (Part 1 of 6)

The “You’re on the Clock” segments are draft analysis series that are put together by HTN contributor Matthew Watson to provide you with some preparation and intrigue before the big night for your favourite sports. In this series, Matt provides his thoughts on the top 5 draft slots in the 2019 NFL draft, including depth chart analyses, prospect reviews and team strategies. The series begins on April 15th with the Arizona Cardinals and the #1 draft selection and finishes on April 25th with a summary and final thoughts. Feel free to leave your own comments on the post with your own thoughts about each pick!

First Pick: Arizona Cardinals

All the signs point to: QB Kyler Murray, Oklahoma Sooners

Matt’s Maneuver to consider: Trading the first overall pick

2018 Season Recap

Well, there isn’t a whole lot to say about the Arizona Cardinals and their 2018 season. It wasn’t pretty to watch. With the 32nd ranked offense and the 26th ranked defense Arizona dragged themselves to a 3-13 record that was buoyed by 2 wins over the Jimmy Garoppolo-less San Francisco 49ers.

The year started in disaster as the coaching staff chose perennial disappointment Sam Bradford to lead the team and he promptly rewarded them with 3 consecutive losses and 4 interceptions in 3 games. Probably with some false hope that this was simply Sam being Sam, the switch was made to rookie 10th overall pick Josh Rosen who wasn’t much better, finishing with a completion percentage under 60%, 11 touchdowns and 14 interceptions over parts of 14 games. When evaluating the season it is easy to point fingers at Rosen’s disastrous campaign, but to be fair to the poor kid he had sparse talent around him. With the rapidly aging Larry Fitzgerald and 2nd round deep threat Christian Kirk as the only viable options in the passing game and standout running back David Johnson stuck trying to run behind an injury riddled offensive line, Mr. Rosen did not have a lot of help.

The Cardinals had clearly seen enough and fired head coach Steve Wilks after just a single year at the helm, bringing in offensive passing guru Kliff Kingsbury for the upcoming season.

Offseason Moves

Arizona made some impactful moves to try an address obvious weaknesses this offseason. They traded for big right tackle Marcus Gilbert from the Pittsburgh Steelers to try and shore up the offensive line. In addition, they signed veteran linebackers Terrell Suggs and Jordan Hicks to embrace an apparent shift back to their classic 3-4 defense and Robert Alford to play cornerback opposite the shut-down Patrick Peterson. While all these acquisitions certainly address pressing needs they all come with some associated risk. T-Sizzle can still bring the heat, but at 36 years old it’s only a matter of time before age catches up with the man behind the tinted mask. Hicks and Gilbert are both incredibly injury-prone and Alford has struggled over the past few seasons. All these players are veterans who will provide a needed boost for the next few years; however, they will need additional support and none of them are sure-fire success stories. If Arizona wants to commit to the rebuild they will need a strong draft.

The Pick

According to literally every sportscaster, blogger or draft guru on the planet, all signs are pointing towards Arizona taking Kyler Murray with the #1 pick in the 2019 NFL draft. Kliff Kingsbury is planning to institute a dynamic offense and he wants the best available quarterback to implement it. The case to draft Murray is well founded as he was a dynamic game-changer in college. From watching tape of his game you can clearly see that he has an excellent combination of elusiveness, vision and quick decision-making ability; not to mention a strong arm. The biggest knocks against Murray coming out of college were his height and physical durability, however after seeing the success of Russell Wilson and Drew Brees defying quarterback stereotypes, I am less inclined to be concerned. He’s dynamic and willing to improvise on the spot, and even when a play breaks down or the pocket collapses he uses his mobility to escape, and then often still manages to find an open receiver down the field. Kliff Kingsbury coached Patrick Mahomes, one of the most impressive improvisers at the quarterback position, from 2014 until 2016, so you can imagine his excitement that Kyler chose to enter the NFL draft.

The biggest question I have for the Cardinals here is how much do they dislike Josh Rosen? Taking a quarterback in back-to-back years is a clear sign of accepting defeat for drafting the first guy, and the optics would not look good for the Cardinals brass. In addition, I don’t believe last season was a good representation of what Josh Rosen can do. He is a classic pocket passing quarterback which means that he tends to stay in the pocket and deliver more stable direct throws down the field, but does not react well if you ask him to move and throw on the run. If you were to patch up the offensive line and add another playmaker or two I believe that we could see a very different Josh Rosen out on the field in 2019. There is also some question as to Rosen’s locker room presence and personality, but fortunately we have yet to see any signs that would indicate a serious issue at the pro level.

There has been another permeating theory which is that the Kyler Murray hype is just a smokescreen and the Cardinals will in fact draft a top defensive talent with the number one pick such as Quinnen Williams or Nick Bosa. However, there are two items here that don’t make enough sense to me. The first is the fact that the Cardinals have so many issues on both sides of the ball that choosing a single defensive player with their only first round pick seems like a waste of resourcing. Compound that with the fact that Kingsbury loves to run a dynamic passing attack and has limited resources, and this draft selection would end up as a significant opportunity loss. The second is why would you put up a smokescreen for the first overall pick in the draft if you are planning to pick a defensive player. The Cardinals don’t have another pick until the second round, so the whole idea of a smokescreen does not help them… unless…

… One option that would explain the smokescreen theory and the option that I think is the most intriguing for the Cardinals management is trading the number one draft selection to a quarterback-needy team.

Arizona has a number of areas on their roster that are in need of an upgrade, more specifically the defensive line and pass rush, a star pass catcher or two and considering how injury prone it is, depth in the offensive line. If they trust Josh Rosen enough and there aren’t any blatant intangibles that have set off a warning signal, then I see no reason to not trade the number one pick and use the assets to build around Rosen. Just how much could the Cardinals get back for the number one overall pick do you ask? Let’s compare:

The Browns sent the #2 overall pick in the 2016 draft (Carson Wentz) and another pick to the Eagles for their first, third and fourth round picks as well as a future first and a future second round pick.

The 49ers sent the #2 overall pick in the 2017 draft (Mitchell Trubisky) to the Chicago Bears for the #3 overall, third, and fourth round picks as well a 3rd round pick the following year.

Given the separation between Kyler Murray and the rest of the quarterback class, the amount of quarterback needy teams in the top 10 (Giants, Broncos, Raiders), as well as the multitude of areas of need on their own team, I believe that Arizona should seriously consider moving the #1 pick if a tantalizing offer becomes available. One team I would take a look at is Jon Gruden’s Raiders. I wouldn’t doubt that Jon would be licking his chops at a chance to grab a talent like Murray and given how aggressively the Raiders have pursued star players through trade and free agency, I wouldn’t put it past them to pull off one more blockbuster. The Raiders have three picks in the first round (including #4 overall), so the question is whether Arizona could convince the Raiders brass to cough up two of them for the number 1 overall selection. Regardless of the other team involved, considering the haul for the #2 overall selections earlier, this trade would allow the Cardinals to invest in some quality players who could be the foundation of the team moving forward on both sides of the ball.  

Time’s Up

All eyes appear to be set on Kyler Murray and there are strong indicators that the Cardinals will draft him 1st overall on April 25th. However, I wouldn’t be surprised if the Cardinals strongly consider moving the #1 overall selection if the opportunity becomes available. Regardless of this maneuver, if the Cardinals don’t draft a playmaking pass catcher somewhere in the first 3 rounds and make smart selections for the lines on both sides of the ball, it looks to be another long year in the desert under the Arizona sunshine. What do you think? What will the Cardinals do with the #1 overall selection?

 

Statistics courtesy of: ESPN (http://www.espn.com) and Pro Football Reference (www.pro-football-reference.com)

 

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