TEMPE, Ariz. -- Even though it's four months away -- to the (last) day, actually -- it's never too early to start thinking about the NFL draft.
In his assessment of what positions teams in the NFC West need to focus on in May's draft, ESPN NFL draft analyst Kevin Weidl believes the Arizona Cardinals' three top priorities are an offensive tackle, outside linebacker and cornerback.
There's no denying that tackle should be the Cards' main goal in the first round of the draft, in which they pick 20th. Right tackle Eric Winston is a free agent and depending on what teams pursue him or who the Cardinals can sign in free agency, he may not be back. And left tackle Bradley Sowell is still young and learning, but if Arizona can improve on the left side, it will.
Weidl listed Alabama's Cyrus Kouandjio, Notre Dame's Zack Martin and Virginia's Morgan Moses as potential first-round picks. On the second day, the Cardinals could target Ohio State's Jack Mewhort, Tennessee's Ja'Wuan James or Miami's Seantrel Henderson.
While Weidl's needs for the Cardinals are different than what I've estimated, he does make a couple of good points. But while the contracts of three reserve cornerbacks -- Javier Arenas, Antoine Cason and Bryan McCann -- will expire in March, the three of them rarely saw time at corner with the exception of Cason, who replaced rookie Tyrann Mathieu after his knee injury in Week 13. Once Mathieu returns, Cards coach Bruce Arians would rather use the Honey Badger as the third cornerback in nickel because he'll already be on the field as a safety.
According to Weidl, Arizona should key in on Oklahoma State's Justin Gilbert or Michigan State's Darqueze Dennard in the first round, or Florida's Marcus Roberson and Loucheiz Purifoy, or TCU's Jason Verrett on the second day.
The Cardinals, in my opinion, need a taller, faster safety more so than a cornerback, to replace veteran Yeremiah Bell, who'll be a free agent this year.
Weidl also made the case for Arizona to draft an outside linebacker because Pro Bowler John Abraham is 35 and will be 37 when his contract expires in 2015. He's singled out Missouri's Kony Ealy and Clemson's Vic Beasley as potential first-round choices for the Cards, and Texas' Jackson Jeffcoat and South Florida's Aaron Lynch potentially as second-day picks. But the Cardinals have outside backers Sam Acho, Lorenzo Alexander and Alex Okafor returning from injuries next season.
However, Weidl does also believe Arizona will go after a quarterback to learn under and begin the process of replacing Carson Palmer. LSU's Zach Mettenberger is a popular choice for this role, and Weidl lists Virginia Tech's Logan Thomas and Eastern Illinois' Jimmy Garoppolo as two potential suitors, as well.