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Drafting an inside linebacker could help ease Cardinals' depth concerns

Jarrad Davis has good pursuit skills as a sideline-to-sideline inside linebacker. Mark LoMoglio/Icon Sportswire

TEMPE, Ariz. -- One of the Arizona Cardinals' priorities this offseason will be to build depth at inside linebacker, regardless of whether incumbent starter Kevin Minter returns for 2017.

That process might start with free agency, but it could continue by drafting linebacker Jarrad Davis out of the University of Florida. That’s the player ESPN NFL draft insider Mel Kiper projected the Cardinals taking with the 13th overall pick in this year’s draft in his NFL Mock Draft 2.0. Davis is 6-foot-2 and 238 pounds, with 4.75-second speed in the 40-yard dash. Kiper believes Davis has the talent to play as a rookie -- a projection that the Cardinals might need to come to fruition.

If Arizona doesn’t re-sign Minter, its depth at inside linebacker will be even thinner than it was to close last season, when Alani Fua and Gabe Martin were both on injured reserve for the final seven weeks. That left Arizona with starters Minter and Deone Bucannon, and Zaviar Gooden and Sio Moore backing them up. Moore is one of Arizona’s 19 unrestricted free agents come March 9.

Regardless of who Arizona signs in free agency at inside linebacker, whether it be a slew of backups who would compete for a starting job or a veteran whose starting job it would be to lose, drafting a linebacker like Davis or Alabama’s Reuben Foster will help solve the Cardinals’ depth issues. But they won’t be the lone solution.

What a rookie like Davis or Foster would do, however, is help transform the athleticism of the Cardinals’ inside linebackers.

Davis has been described as explosive and fast from sideline to sideline. He can be overly aggressive at times, but under the tutelage of inside linebackers coach Larry Foote, that’s something Davis could correct.

Pairing an athletic Davis with an even more athletic Bucannon could give the Cardinals the type of interior presence to match the talent they already have at outside linebacker, making Arizona’s front seven more dangerous than it was in 2016.