TEMPE, Ariz. -- Call it a coincidence or call it fate, but the Cardinals are in need of a versatile safety who can play man with natural cover ability and this happens to be a year when there are ample options like that available in the draft.
Of the top 32 players ranked by ESPN, eight are either safeties or defensive backs, giving teams in need of secondary help plenty of scenarios to draft one.
“There is a lot of skilled safeties and corners,” Cardinals general manager Steve Keim said. “At the top of the draft, there are a lot of long corners who can play outside and have tremendous skills. I think this year, Coach [Bruce Arians] will agree, there is a unique set of safeties that not only can play the deep half, can play the nickel, who have natural cover ability in man situations.
“That is something we are looking for in our defense.”
The Cardinals have five safeties on their roster: Tyrann Mathieu, Tyvon Branch, Antoine Bethea, Christian Bryant and Trevon Hartfield. Harlan Miller entered the league last year as a cornerback but played safety in the last two games. Coach Bruce Arians said Arizona will leave Miller at safety, giving him the training he'll need to make the transition this season. Of that group, Mathieu, Branch and Bethea will likely see the most action. Both Mathieu and Branch can play nickel as well as roam, but, as Keim pointed out, the Cardinals could use another safety with that type of flexibility. The reason they need to add another safety is because they let both Tony Jefferson and D.J. Swearinger -- two safeties whose versatility came in handy late last season -- leave in free agency, putting a strain on the Cardinals’ depth at the position.
Safety isn’t as high of a priority this year as other positions but adding another long, athletic safety later in the draft could be more plausible for Arizona. And, as Keim pointed out, there will be options to find one in the second, third or fourth rounds.
One position Arizona may take a long look at in the first round, however, is cornerback.
Brandon Williams and Justin Bethel, two inexperienced corners, are slated to battle each other for the spot opposite Patrick Peterson. But the Cardinals could draft a talented rookie at the position who could win the job and start right away. And like safeties, the Cardinals will have plenty of options to draft from throughout the first few rounds.
“There are seven or eight 6-foot-plus corners who have long arms and can run 4.4 [seconds] or sub-4.4 [seconds],” Keim said. “It is pretty impressive.”
The top five cornerbacks, according to ESPN, all stand 6-foot or taller. Keim labeled the cornerback crop this year as “pretty good.”
“This crop of safeties and corners is really intriguing because they can do a lot of things from a versatility standpoint,” Keim said. “As well as your own man stuff that we play, you have got some longer guys who can fit the mold where they can press and trail and can really run.”