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Deep Class Could Help Cardinals Tackle Who To Pair With Paris

Team has need on offensive line, many options exist

Paris Johnson Jr., going into his second season, could play on the right or left side this year.
Paris Johnson Jr., going into his second season, could play on the right or left side this year.

INDIANAPOLIS – When the season ended for the Cardinals, rookie right tackle Paris Johnson Jr. was asked if he might move to the left side in his second season.

"I just want to be part of the best five," Johnson said, noting he would work on both sides in the offseason and let the coaches decide what they will.

Johnson will be part of it. But who is playing tackle on the other side – whatever side that might be – is an unknown. D.J. Humphries is going to miss significant time with ACL rehab. Veteran Kelvin Beachum is in the mix, although the Cardinals liked having him as a top reserve swing tackle. Free agency is an option, but in a draft where tackle is one of the best groups, finding someone young to pair with Johnson for years might be the Cardinals' best move.

"It's a loaded tackle class," NFL Network draft analyst Daniel Jeremiah said. "Just in terms of that top group, there's 10, 11 guys that are really interesting. I think we'll see a bunch of starters, a bunch of day one starters out of that tackle group."

Notre Dame's Joe Alt, Penn State's Olu Fashanu, Oregon State's Taliese Fuaga and Alabama's JC Latham top the tackle class. While the excellent wide receiver class grabs most of the headlines – coincidentally also a position the Cardinals need – a run on tackles could help set a record for most first-round tackles (currently seven).

The Cardinals could be in a great spot even if they didn't take a tackle at 4 (or a little lower if the Cards trade down), given they also have pick 27 and 35 overall.

"We're evaluating the totality of every position," Cardinals GM Monti Ossenfort said. "We never go into it saying, 'Hey we are going to target this position this high in the draft and with the next pick we're taking this position.'"

Ossenfort emphasized that versatility is important to him when it comes to offensive linemen. The Cardinals are in a good spot given that Johnson is willing and able to work either on the right or the left.

The high-end tackles usually work on the left side – that's what Johnson did his last year at Ohio State – but "you have to be ready for both sides of the ball," Fuaga said.

Given the way the Cardinals ran the ball in Jonathan Gannon's first season, it wouldn't be a complete surprise if the team took a tackle before a receiver as their first offensive player in the draft. Both Gannon and Ossenfort believe the trenches is where the game starts.

Gannon, in fact, brought up that when it comes to what is needed on offense, "offensive line, in my mind, that's where I look to first."

There is also nuance here. The Cardinals are looking for a left guard as well; it's possible they draft a college tackle who ends up at guard (although finding a solution for the tackle position is paramount.)

Whomever they might take, the Cardinals seek the same kind of player as they got in Johnson, a guy who will (and did) drive a defender deep downfield or out of bounds to finish a block. Such a player would be a fitting bookend for Kyler Murray protection.

"You have to enjoy imposing your will on someone." Washington's Troy Fautanu said.