Arizona Cardinals 2022 NFL Draft Review

The Arizona Cardinals have their 2022 NFL Draft class. After somewhat of an underwhelming start to the 2022 off-season, the Cardinals had a number of significant spots to address. Through some unconventional means, Steve Keim and the front office went some way towards completing a roster that has suffered so far this year.

Arizona saw their most glaring holes addressed in the first two days of the draft, although their second-round selection was a bit of an eyebrow-raiser. Their first-round trade for Baltimore Ravens wideout Marquise Brown was a Keim masterstroke. The general manager leaned into his strengths by giving up Arizona’s first-rounder for the former Sooner. With a plethora of picks in the back end of the draft, the Cardinals sought depth at a number of spots. All in all, the Cardinals came out of the draft with the following players, eight total draft choices:

  • First Round, Pick 23: Traded to Baltimore in exchange for wide receiver Marquise Brown and Pick #100
  • Second Round, Pick 55: Trey McBride, tight end, Colorado State
  • Third Round, Pick 87: Cameron Thomas, defensive end, San Diego State University
  • Pick 100 (via BAL): Myjai Sanders, defensive end, Cincinnati
  • Sixth Round, Pick 201: Keaontay Ingram, running back, Southern California
  • Pick 215: Lecitus Smith, offensive line, Virginia Tech
  • Seventh Round, Pick 244: Christian Matthew, cornerback, Valdosta State
  • Pick 256: Jesse Luketa, linebacker, Penn State
  • Pick 257: Marquis Hayes, offensive line, Oklahoma

Arizona Cardinals 2022 NFL Draft Grade: 7/10

Arizona Cardinals 2022 NFL Draft Review

The Best Player in The Cardinals 2022 NFL Draft Class: Cameron Thomas

Arizona’s draft was unconventional, yet it was the most Steve Keim draft imaginable. No, not because he drafted an inside linebacker, but because he leaned on his ability to execute trades. Arizona’s true best player that they acquired in the draft wasn’t a draft pick at all; it was Marquise Brown, via trade with the Ravens. In terms of draft picks though, Arizona’s best player wasn’t their top choice, but rather their second choice. Trey McBride might ultimately be the more talented player in this class, but Arizona’s third-round choice, defensive end Cameron Thomas, was, collectively, the best player in the Cardinals 2022 NFL Draft class.

Thomas projects as a J.J. Watt-type player, a versatile defensive lineman that can line up anywhere across any given front. He’s going to generate pressure against the pass and has the motor to be effective against the run. He has the potential to be an immediate impact player for Arizona. There was some uncertainty about his position, as many predicted he would be a 4-3 defensive end as a pro. However, Keim confirmed that Thomas would stand up on the edge for Arizona initially. However, it would not be a surprise if the Cardinals choose to pack some weight onto him and deploy him as a 3-4 defensive end; he has the natural size to make that shift. It is that versatility, ticking multiple boxes for the Cardinals, that makes him such a good pick.

The Head-Scratcher: Trey McBride

Trey McBride is an excellent player. He’s the best tight end in this draft by a significant margin and, at #55, was likely the best player available in terms of true talent. When you get into the Xs and Os of it, picking McBride makes some measure of sense. Of all the things that torpedoed Arizona’s season in 2021, it was the inability of the offense to remain consistently productive down the stretch that ultimately saw the Cardinals flame out. Adding yet another versatile weapon gives Kliff Kingsbury further ability to evolve his offense and remain effective throughout the year. Fans should expect to see less reliance on an 11-personnel system; 12-personnel, tight end-heavy looks are going to have to feature prominently to justify this pick.

However, if there’s one position that no one expected Arizona to target, it was a tight end, at least at the top of the draft. In an off-season that saw Arizona tiptoe through free agency, the one position that saw significant reinforcement was a tight end. The Cardinals brought back both Zach Ertz and Maxx Williams, in addition to adding Stephen Anderson. Adding McBride is a luxury pick, a gamble that only paid off when Arizona aced the third round. Ideally, that pick would’ve been used elsewhere, in order to strengthen a more understaffed position. Even if the value wasn’t available at #55, Arizona could’ve moved back to pick up a missing fourth or fifth-rounder. McBride is a great player, but he might not be the great player Arizona needed at that spot.

The Surprise: Drafting A Tight End In Round 2

Not to keep beating a dead horse, but picking a tight end didn’t make much sense. The justification for adding another offensive weapon pales in comparison to Arizona’s needs at edge, interior defensive and offensive line, and cornerback at that point of the draft. Arizona was just fortunate that the right players fell to them in Round 3, because it allowed for the luxury second-rounder in McBride.

Okay, it’s mostly a question of value. At #55, Trey McBride was arguably the very best player available in the draft; the best at his position, perhaps, in the entire draft. You have to separate the player from the position. To get a player like McBride outside of the top fifty is excellent value. However, using your team’s de facto number one draft pick on a position that already has an All-Pro starter, in addition to serviceable backups, seems like a significant misallocation of resources. To be clear, McBride is the furthest thing from a bad pick. However, he will be by far the most scrutinized of Arizona’s draftees in 2022.

The Steal: Myjai Sanders

Myjai Sanders put a bow on what turned out to be Arizona’s best round of the draft in Round 3. Their second pick of the round was acquired from the Ravens in the Marquise Brown trade and added a further degree of success to that deal for the Cardinals. Cincinnati edge Sanders was the perfect pick to complement what the Cardinals gained with the Cameron Thomas pick; Thomas’ versatility across the line allowed Arizona to go after a pure speed edge like Sanders. While Thomas can go inside or out, Sanders was always going to be a stand-up edge rusher in the desert. He provides what the Cardinals are really lacking on the edge, which is that 4.67-sec speed.

What’s so impressive about Arizona’s third round is that they almost completely addressed their pass rush problem. They acquired quality in depth with skillsets that cover the breadth of the pass-rushing spectrum. Sanders at #100 was the double-down on addressing that need, and rounded out what was a great day for Arizona overall, despite the questions surrounding the McBride pick. Sanders may have chances to get on the field as a sub-package guy. Initially, though, with that pace, he can be a special teams demon while he works his way into the defense.

Most Likely To Turn Heads in Training Camp: Keaontay Ingram

Lost in the departure of Chandler Jones and Christian Kirk, the loss of Chase Edmonds will be huge for Arizona. James Conner will carry the load, as he proved he could in 2021, but his backup is far from decided. Eno Benjamin has the head start, but his position is far from locked in after failing to consistently appear for Arizona thusfar. Southern California running back Keaontay Ingram, Arizona’s top pick on Day 3, will have a fighter’s chance at earning a spot on the depth chart.

Ingram fits the mold for the type of back Arizona has found on Day 3 in recent years, Benjamin included. He’s got quick feet, sneaky speed as a ball carrier, and has the all-important ability to catch the ball that is vital for a role in this offense. Arizona will be looking for a change of pace back to replace Edmonds and backup starter Conner. Benjamin will have some stiff competition from Ingram, whose elusive nature at the second level could provide some highlight-worthy moments during camp.

The Rest:

On Offense:

Despite many expecting the Cardinals to consider reinforcing their offensive line at the top of the draft, it seems the franchise has enough faith in FA pickup Will Hernandez to make that less of a priority. However, what remained a priority was gaining depth on the line; a lack of depth crippled Arizona’s offensive live down the stretch last season, but two late-round interior linemen addressed that concern. Lecitus Smith, guard out of Virginia Tech, brings an athletic profile to Arizona that line coach Sean Kugler can develop into a genuine starting-level player. His heavy hands and notable core power are attractive traits.

The second guard taken, Oklahoma lineman Marquis Hayes is a stout, aggressive interior lineman that makes up for his slight immobility with true attacking strength. In lieu of exceptional technical players in the back end of the draft, Arizona picked up two powerful linemen that coach Kugler can technically refine into contributing players; their innate traits are excellent developmental bases.

On Defense

It’s a testament to what the Cardinals believe they have in Jeff Gladney and Marco Wilson that it took until the sixth round for Arizona to take a corner; corner was certainly in the conversation at #23. Out of small school Valdosta State, Arizona did eventually pick up a corner in Christian Matthew. A contender for training camp head-turner, Matthew’s physical profile offers Arizona some much-needed size at corner. Standing at 6’4″, Matthew is massive and uses his size well in his game. Understandably, this translates to a little lack of fluidity, but this is a good value pick, considering the unique profile he offers to Arizona’s defensive backfield.

The Cardinals 2022 NFL Draft class wouldn’t be complete without Keim taking a linebacker, selecting Penn State’s Jesse Luketa with Arizona’s penultimate pick. The pedigree of Penn State’s linebackers, the likes of Micah Parsons and Odafe Oweh, bodes well for Luketa’s potential. While not the same caliber, Luketa does profess a hybrid ability that gives Vance Joseph flexibility in his deployment. Getting that versatility on the edge is vital in a  system that does a bunch of unusual things with its linebackers.

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