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At First In Draft, Do The Cardinals Lean Offense, Or Defense?

Arguments to be made for both sides of the ball with No. 8 pick

Will the Cardinals spend their first draft pick on an offensive piece to aid QB Kyler Murray (left) and offensive-leaning head coach Kliff Kingsbury?
Will the Cardinals spend their first draft pick on an offensive piece to aid QB Kyler Murray (left) and offensive-leaning head coach Kliff Kingsbury?

Kyler Murray would like the Cardinals to draft wide receiver CeeDee Lamb, you say?

Yeah, Steve Keim has heard from his quarterback this draft season, and the general manager acknowledged it hasn't just been about Lamb.

"Kyler has lobbied for CeeDee Lamb, he's lobbied for four or five offensive linemen, a running back and a tight end," Keim said. "And he hasn't once said anything to me about a defensive player, so I'm not really sure he's a guy I'm going to hang my hat on when it comes to draft day."

Murray might not hold influence in the draft room, but he does – indirectly – bring up a debatable notion as the Cardinals try to plan on what do with the eighth pick in Thursday's NFL draft. Do the Cardinals draft offense, and further build not only on the strength of the team but also around their rising signal caller? Or do they go defense, and get a playmaker on the side of the ball that had too many hiccups last season?

The past two seasons that first selection has been spent on offense. Quarterback specifically, as the Cards tried to revamp the team in the aftermath of Carson Palmer's retirement.

But it was, with Murray in place, the offense that made the greatest strides in 2019. It was the offense that got the biggest prize of the offseason thus far, when the Cards traded for wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins. It was the offense that got benefited from the in-season trade last year with running back Kenyan Drake, who was subsequently re-signed.

Yet most mock drafts believe the Cards will likely take another offensive player – in this case, a right tackle – with that first-round pick. There are also analytical arguments, given it is easier to predict offensive rather than defensive success, that "investments on offense are better long-term bets for stability.”

Even the acquisition of Hopkins hasn't quelled completely the idea the Cardinals would push all their chips to the center of the table and draft one of the better wideouts at No. 8. Larry Fitzgerald's status as year-to-year at soon-to-be 37 would be a factor there. But so too could the idea the Cards would just have so many weapons on offense they could simply outscore opponents.

"Not only the DeAndre Hopkins acquisition but you also want to look at the long-term contracts you have in place, whether guys can play inside or outside at those positions (of wideout)," Keim said. "If there is a player at the right spot and someone we are high on, we'll certainly take advantage of that. I say this every year, your needs are always changing. Just because it may look like on the surface we are not as needy at wide receiver that could change pretty quickly."

Perhaps the Cardinals' push on defense in free agency points to a plan of going offense in the first round. Signing an edge rusher like Devon Kennard, a lineman like Jordan Phillips and a linebacker like De'Vondre Campbell might have had a purpose beyond their immediate roles.

Then again, maybe the Cards don't see the top three defensive studs – cornerback Jeff Okudah, lineman Derrick Brown, linebacker Isaiah Simmons – dropping to No. 8. Perhaps that means an offensive pick by default.

Maybe it's as simple as the right tackle being the biggest need, and it just happens to be on that side of the ball.

"I don't think they've been able to run the offense the way they want to with Coach Kingsbury because they haven't been able to protect," NFL Network analyst Daniel Jeremiah said. "Getting a right tackle to come in there opposite of D.J. Humphries, I think that would allow them to get more guys out into the route and all of a sudden now they've got a stacked receiver room, allow you to get more of those guys on the field and get them out on the route. That makes a lot of sense to me.

"But if Isaiah Simmons for some reason falls, all bets are off."