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Cardinals Could Pounce If Pass-Catcher Slips In Draft

Four premium prospects expected to go early in first round

Alabama WR DeVonta Smith (6) and WR Jaylen Waddle (17) could be intriguing options at No. 16 if either is on the board when the Cardinals pick.
Alabama WR DeVonta Smith (6) and WR Jaylen Waddle (17) could be intriguing options at No. 16 if either is on the board when the Cardinals pick.

The draft has a Fab Four of pass-catching prospects this year.

There is elite tight end prospect Kyle Pitts and the wide receiver triumvirate of Ja'Marr Chase, DeVonta Smith and Jaylen Waddle.

All of them have a chance to go the top-10, but there are also a lot of quarterbacks expected to go early, as well as other top prospects like tackle Penei Sewell, linebacker Micah Parsons and cornerback Patrick Surtain II.

Beyond DeAndre Hopkins, the Cardinals don't have any blue-chip pass-catchers under contract beyond 2021, so if any prospect among that quartet dropped to No. 16, it could intrigue General Manager Steve Keim.

Is that realistic? Well, Jerry Jeudy (No. 15 overall) and CeeDee Lamb (No. 17) went a bit lower than projected a year ago, and mock drafts have intermittently pegged one of the four to the Cardinals.

"This is a big-time steal if Waddle falls this far down the board, but we've seen some talented receivers slip a bit in recent draft," Jeremiah wrote on April 6. "He would be electric in Arizona's offense."

Waddle and Smith, who were teammates at Alabama, formed a devastating combination when on the field together in 2020. Waddle missed a chunk of the season due to injury but compiled 28 catches for 591 yards and four touchdowns in six games.

Smith won the Heisman Trophy after catching 117 passes for 1,856 yards and 23 scores in 13 games.

"It's great knowing the guy across from you is as good as you," Smith said. "It brings a lot more fun to the game, knowing you're both out there and you're going to see some things he's going to do that are going to be mind-blowing. It makes you want to go out there and do the same things."

At 5-foot-10, Waddle isn't a prototypical outside receiver, but can line up in a variety of spots. The only real knock on Smith, who is 6-foot-1, is his 170-pound frame, as critics wonder if that slenderness will be a detriment against physical NFL cornerbacks.

"I feel like it's not going to be any different than college," Smith said. "I played against some of the best in college. I played in the SEC. I feel like that's the toughest conference there is. I know a lot of people bigger than me that have more problems than me. So I'm not worried at all."

The hype surrounding Pitts continues to rise. The Florida star had 43 catches for 770 yards and 12 touchdowns in only eight games in 2020. Tight ends don't generally get taken in the top-10, but his elite skillset could trump any positional concerns.

When Pitts gets to the NFL, he has the goal of becoming the best tight end in history.

"I want to start at a high level and keep increasing every year," Pitts said. "Being able to do things that other tight ends aren't doing, which would make me special. I feel like at the end of the day, with all the preparation through the years, I feel like at the end I'll be the best to ever do it."

Chase opted out in 2020 after catching 84 passes for 1,780 yards and 20 touchdowns the year prior at LSU. The biggest question mark for him was speed, but Chase believes he answered it by running an unofficial 4.38-second 40-yard dash at his Pro Day.

"I kind of surprised myself," Chase said. "I was going for a low 4.4."

Even though Chase didn't play this past season, he has been training hard in preparation for his pre-draft workouts.

"I just want to be great," he said. "There's no way for me to sit down outside, be lazy and get passed up."

There is a lot to like about each of the four prospects, and it's easy to envision any of them slotting into the Cardinals' offense this year and beyond. Each player, of course, is hoping to go as high in the draft as possible.

"Wherever the chips fall is where they fall," Pitts said. "If I do happen to go top-5, that would be something crazy for me and my family."

If Pitts or an elite receiver falls to No. 16, it could be Cardinals fans on the brink of delirium when the team is on the clock.