<
>

Deion Jones shows athleticism to fit Cardinals' defensive scheme

BRISTOL, Conn. -- For the past two years, the Arizona Cardinals have been looking for their next Daryl Washington.

Not in the sense of a direct replacement, however. In the impact sense.

Former LSU outside linebacker Deion Jones could have that type of impact. At about 6-foot-1 and 222 pounds, Jones might be a bit undersized, but he has the speed and athleticism to complement Arizona’s bevy of outside pass-rushers immediately. But where Jones can stand out is his ability to cover receivers and tight ends on the edge. That’s why I picked him 29th in the ESPN NFL Nation mock draft.

Arizona’s pass-rush room is getting crowded. The Cardinals traded for Chandler Jones in March. They drafted Markus Golden last year and Alex Okafor in 2013. They also converted Kareem Martin to an outside linebacker last offseason. So the obvious question is why do they need Deion Jones? He’ll help solidify a pass-rush corps that needs all the help it can get opposite Chandler Jones. There’s a chance Okafor, who’s entering the final year of his rookie deal, might not be back in 2017 and Martin, while he has the size most defensive coordinators can only daydream in their offices about, is still developing as an edge rusher.

At 29th, I had options.

Alabama center Ryan Kelly was still on the board, as was Ohio State safety Vonn Bell. Both were intriguing picks.

Regardless of how well A.Q. Shipley plays in organized team activities, minicamp or against the Philadelphia Eagles, Arizona’s front office will keep looking for another option at center. Kelly is one of the few -- or maybe the only, depending on who you ask -- ready-made centers in this draft. He went to Alabama, which has proved it can produce NFL-quality prospects, and he has the football IQ to fit in coach Bruce Arians’ offense.

Then there was Bell. While Arizona is more in the market for a cornerback than a safety in the first round, Bell has Tyrann Mathieu -esque versatility, which, right there, made him a possibility. He’s a safety who can play nickel corner -- and a team can never have too many of those. One of Arians’ and general manager Steve Keim’s personnel tenets is position flexibility. Bell has that.

But I didn’t pick either for good reason. Arizona hasn’t had good luck with drafting offensive linemen in the first round. Guard Jonathan Cooper, whom the Cardinals traded to the New England Patriots in March, can be considered a bust after not being able to overcome the mental hurdles associated with a broken leg suffered in 2013. And the Cardinals drafted tackle D.J. Humphries in last year’s first round and he redshirted the season.

On top of past personnel decisions, Keim’s and Arian’s offseason-long narrative that college offensive linemen aren’t immediately ready for the NFL because of the types of spread offenses common in college kept ringing in my head.

And while Bell could play cornerback, he’s not a true corner, which is what Arizona needs right now. The Cards have enough talent at safety to last them a few seasons, and while depth is important, the Cardinals are legitimately sitting without a true starting corner opposite Patrick Peterson. And there weren’t any corners worthy of being a first-round pick at that point in the mock draft.

Which led me to Jones. Sure, there were other pass-rushers on the board -- some of whom both ESPN NFL draft experts Mel Kiper and Todd McShay felt in the past year fit the Cardinals -- but Jones’ athleticism, versatility and size made him the right pick for Arizona.