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Without Patrick Peterson, A Number One Priority Is Cornerback

Cardinals head into draft thinking about secondary help

Cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie returns an interception for a game-winning touchdown against the Texans in 2009.
Cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie returns an interception for a game-winning touchdown against the Texans in 2009.

It's been a long time since the Cardinals were searching for a No. 1 cornerback.

Patrick Peterson arrived with the fifth pick of the 2011 draft. He was replacing one-time Pro Bowler Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, who was traded for Kevin Kolb that offseason. DRC had shown up as the 16th pick in 2008, because the Cardinals needed to upgrade from starters Eric Green and Rod Hood.

All these years later, the Cardinals again have the 16th pick. Cornerback would be a logical selection.

That doesn't mean the right guy will necessarily be there.

When the draft process began, it looked like it was possible that South Carolina's Jaycee Horn could slip that far, as the third-ranked cornerback behind Virginia Tech's Caleb Farley and Alabama's Patrick Surtain II. Then Horn had a spectacular pro day, while Farley – who opted out of the 2020 college season – had to abandon his big plans for his own pro day because he needed back surgery for an old injury.

Now it looks like Horn and Surtain will be gone by 16. And Farley, because of his back, is a wild card.

"I do think it's a deep corner draft," said Cardinals GM Steve Keim, opening the door to a potential second-round cornerback as well. "Pick your poison, these guys are all a little different.

"For us to have a guy like Byron Murphy Jr. who can play inside or outside, it gives us tremendous value. But there are guys that can play inside and outside in this draft and some guys that can only play outside with their length and their movement skills. I really feel good about that position and the opportunities that may present themselves."

The Cardinals have signed veteran Malcolm Butler, who likely will be the No. 1 cornerback to start the season, regardless of how the draft turns out. Murphy would be ideal to leave inside in the Cardinals' perfect world. But beyond that, there is only veteran Robert Alford – who is driven to show he can still play after missing two years with injuries – as a legitimate option as of now.

If Surtain and Horn are indeed off the board – and the Cards remain at No 16 – choices will have to be made.

Oklahoma quarterback Kyler Murray holds up a jersey on stage after being selected by the Arizona Cardinals with the 1st pick of the first round during the 2019 NFL Draft on Thursday, April 25, 2019, in Nashville, Tenn. (Perry Knotts via AP)

2021 NFL Draft Notes

Farley originally hurt his back doing a deadlift before the 2019 season. He had an initial surgery to give him relief but left his S1 disc to heal on its own. It didn't, forcing a lesser surgery earlier this offseason. Doctors have told him he will be ready for training camp, but without playing in 2020 and not having a pro day – in addition to a back issue – leaves him in a sort of draft limbo.

"Whatever team drafts me, they're going to get the best corner of the draft," Farley said in March during Virginia Tech's pro day. "I say this from a humble position, I know I possess a very elite ability."

"If a team wants the best corner in the draft," he added, "they will come find me."

NFL Network draft analyst Daniel Jeremiah doesn't see the cornerback class nearly as deep as Keim, and besides, the Cardinals are currently hamstrung knowing they only have two picks before the fifth round. The next two cornerbacks most often mentioned after the top three are Northwestern's Greg Newsome II and Florida State's Asante Samuel Jr. Where Farley might fall, and if it would be behind Newsome and Samuel, is a storyline to watch.

"I think (Farley) is the most talented corner in the whole draft," Jeremiah said. "That's one of those decisions that's really not going to be made by general managers, it's going to be made by your doctor."

Keim said Farley's situation will be addressed through all the Cardinals' medical checks, but "as a player, he hasn't even scratched the surface yet."

"He's got tremendous upside and potential," Keim said. "For a guy who is as long as he is he's got tremendous stop-and-start ability and really is as sudden in transition as any corner in this draft. He's got a bright future."

So too do Surtain and Horn. The question is whether one of them joins Peterson and DRC as a Cardinals' draft pick.

"Those top three," Keim said, "are all very, very good."