Mel Kiper sees an NFL draft stocked with positions the Cardinals need

TEMPE, Ariz. -- The Arizona Cardinals are in need of a wide receiver who can be a foundational piece of their offense for the foreseeable future, and according to ESPN NFL Draft Insider Mel Kiper Jr., receivers are plentiful this year.

Kiper projects 37 pass-catches -- slot receivers, wide outs and tight ends -- who could be drafted in the first five rounds of this year's NFL draft, including 14 wide receivers with first- and second-round grades.

The Cardinals, of course, have a WR1 in DeAndre Hopkins, but need a WR2. And even though they signed veteran A.J. Green this offseason, they only gave him a one-year contract. At 32, the end of Green's career is closer than the beginning. That, coupled with the uncertainty of Larry Fitzgerald's future, puts receiver near the top of the Cardinals' draft priorities this year.

That doesn't mean Arizona needs to take one in the first round, though, when they pick 16th.

Kiper believes the Cardinals at No. 16 are in a good spot to take either a cornerback or a running back, as well. And whichever positions the Cardinals don't go with in the first round, Kiper thinks they should find plenty of options later.

Arizona has five picks in this year's draft, one each in the first, second and fifth rounds and then two in the seventh.

Kiper broke down how this year's draft class stacks up at wide receiver, running back and cornerback for Cardinals.

Wide receiver

Kiper thinks drafting a wide receiver not named Ja'Marr Chase, DeVonta Smith or Jaylen Waddle at No. 16 is too high.

Kiper included Louisville's Tutu Atwell, Minnesota's Rashod Bateman, Ole Miss' Elijah Moore -- who Kiper said fits coach Kliff Kingsbury's offense the best in this year's receivers class -- and LSU's Terrace Marshall Jr. in the group behind the top three but who would be a stretch at 16.

If Waddle, the Alabama wide receiver, is there at 16, Kiper said it's a no-brainer type of pick for a player who can also be "an elite punt returner."

"If he's there, to me it's easy," Kiper said.

Waddle missed significant time last season because of a fractured ankle, which could potentially lead to him dropping to the Cardinals, but Kiper doesn't think Waddle would get past the New York Giants at No. 11. If he's on the board after No. 10, Kiper thinks the Cardinals could take a shot at trading up to grab him.

The Cardinals could land a receiver like Bateman, Moore or Atwell in the second round, but even if they don't, Kiper said there is a laundry list of receivers who could go in the second round. That list includes Oklahoma State's Tylan Wallace, South Carolina's Shi Smith, Clemson's Amari Rodgers, Tennessee's Josh Palmer and Western Michigan's D'Wayne Eskridge. Kiper also said the likes of Michigan's Nico Collins, North Carolina's Dyami Brown and USC's Amon-Ra St. Brown are all "true wideout" options.

"First, second, third rounds, you would have to believe that there's going to be a receiver in one of those three rounds," Kiper said. "If they came out of the first, second or third round without a receiver, to me, they're missing the boat on what the strength of this draft is."


In his most recent mock draft, Kiper has the Cardinals taking South Carolina cornerback Jaycee Horn with the 16th pick.

With Arizona's need for a long-term answer at the position, it's a distinct possibility that the Cardinals could opt for a cornerback in the first round. And there's a distinct possibility that the best cornerback on the board at No. 16 is Horn, the son of former NFL receiver Joe Horn. Kiper thinks there's a chance that Virginia Tech's Caleb Farley could drop to Arizona because of his recent back surgery. If that were to happen, Kiper said the Cardinals would be rolling the dice but added that Farley is "slightly higher rated" than Horn.

"I like Horn because he tackles a little bit better than Farley, but in coverage Farley's the best cover corner in this draft, in terms of ball skills, locating the ball down the field," Kiper said. "The tackling's an issue. You could make an argument that Jaycee Horn is the more complete corner of all the guys."

Running back

Kiper also believes the Cardinals can "hit" on a running back this draft, which could help build depth in a room depleted by the loss of Kenyan Drake in free agency.

"The depth at running back is really good," Kiper said.

If Arizona doesn't want to wait for the second round to take a running back, Kiper said the Cardinals could go with either Alabama's Najee Harris or Clemson's Travis Etienne. But, Kiper added, the second round could be where Arizona finds its running back.

"The second round is going to be a great opportunity for somebody to get a really good running back, as it always is," Kiper said.

Among the running backs Kiper thinks can be value picks in the second or third rounds are North Carolina's Javonte Williams and Ohio State's Trey Sermon.

"There's a lot of running backs that you're going to find this year at bargain points that can help you," Kiper said.

Tight end

With Arizona letting Dan Arnold go in free agency, tight end has become an area of need for the Cardinals. Kiper said there are a handful who could be available on Day 3 of the draft who could be instant contributors such as Georgia's Tre' McKitty and Boise State's John Bates.

"Bates is a great athlete who was a high school kid out in Oregon, didn't catch a ton of balls of Boise State but goes down to the Senior Bowl, he puts on a show," Kiper said.