After an exciting 4-0 start, the Arizona Cardinals went 1-11 in their final twelve games and finished last in the NFC West. Needless to say, they need drastic improvement if they plan on competing in the division.
Many mock drafts believe that the Cardinals will look at a quarterback in the first round to replace the duo of Kevin Kolb and John Skelton. That notion has became slightly more plausible following Wednesday's report of a trade that will send Alex Smith from the San Francisco 49ers to the Kansas City Chiefs. The Chiefs are now highly unlikely to draft a quarterback with the top pick, and if West Virginia quarterback Geno Smith is available at No. 7, Arizona may take him.
Sports Illustrated's Don Banks thinks differently. In his first mock draft, Banks projected the Cardinals to take USC quarterback Matt Barkley. But in his latest mock, he advises the Cardinals to overlook Barkley and Geno Smith and address a much bigger hole on their roster — the offensive line. With the seventh selection, Banks predicted offensive tackle Lane Johnson from Oklahoma.
Upon further review, I'm not buying the notion of Arizona investing a first-round pick into Southern Cal quarterback Matt Barkley. Not because of its Matt Leinart experience, because this is a partially new regime in Arizona and head coach Bruce Arians trusts his expertise when it comes to quarterbacks. But nobody helped themselves at the combine more than Johnson, who showed top-10 athleticism and would help shore up the Cardinals' glaring need at tackle. Without a passable offensive line, an Arizona quarterback doesn't have much of a chance anyway.
At the combine, Johnson proved he was athletic as advertised. He was one of the top performers among offensive lineman in the 40-yard dash, vertical jump, broad jump, three-cone drill and the 20-yard shuttle. He posted a vertical jump of 34 inches and tallied 28 reps on the bench press.
Matt Fairburn of SB Nation's Mocking the Draft differs in opinion from Banks. He also believes the Cardinals will address the offensive line, but thinks they will pass on Johnson and instead select offensive tackle Eric Fisher from Central Michigan.
The offensive line in Arizona is a mess, and Fisher could be plugged in to prove an immediate upgrade. Mike Mayock recently noted that the gap between Joeckel (the draft's top tackle) and Fisher isn't as large as some think.
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