The 2013 Arizona Cardinals’ offense was a drastically improved unit over those to which we bore witness the three years prior. This season, we watched as quarterback Carson Palmer led the offense, moving up from dead last in total yards in 2012 to 12th—an overall improvement of greater than 83 yards per game.
But Arizona’s offense had its issues still, dealing with a struggling offensive line, tight end inconsistencies and a stable of running backs that was supposed to be led by veterans but instead saw a rookie burst onto the scene.
One of those veteran running backs, Rashard Mendenhall, is a free agent after playing out his one-year deal; it would be a surprise if general manager Steve Keim re-signed Mendenhall regardless of head coach Bruce Arians’ affection toward the back.
But running backs are not part of this discussion. Not today—not this draft season. Here are three offensive players the Cardinals must have from the 2014 draft.
Austin Seferian-Jenkins, TE, Washington
- Height: 6’6”
- Weight: 276
- Draft Projection: Round 2
He’s a rare breed. Tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins is a blend of blocking tight end and red-zone nightmare that comes around once every decade or so. He has been compared to the Jacksonville Jaguars’ Marcedes Lewis, and while that’s not exactly a great compliment, it makes sense because Lewis is a tall, lengthy tight end who blocks well and is known for being a weapon in the red zone.
Jenkins is far and away the best blocking tight end in the 2014 draft. That title is usually reserved for an athlete who lacks top-notch receiving ability, but Jenkins breaks the mold because he won the John Mackey Award this season as the nation’s top tight end—in part because of his blocking ability, but also because of his 36 receptions, eight went for touchdowns.
The Cardinals are in dire need of a difference-making tight end; not only in the passing game, but in the run game as well—Jenkins overpowers linebackers at the point of attack. Though he can struggle at times against pass-rushers when called on to stay in and protect his quarterback, he holds his own enough to be left alone with an edge-rusher.
Bruce Ellington, WR, South Carolina
- Height: 5’9”
- Weight: 196
- Draft Projection: Round 3-4
If the surname sounds familiar, it should. Wideout Bruce Ellington is the cousin of Cardinals rookie standout running back Andre Ellington.
As a redshirt junior at South Carolina, Ellington hauled in 49 receptions for 775 yards (15.8 yards per catch) and eight touchdowns. He also threw a touchdown pass in the Capitol One Bowl against Wisconsin.
He will be a slot receiver at the next level, which is just what the Cardinals need. They could lose Andre Roberts to free agency, leaving a hole that could be filled by Ellington immediately. The short-but-speedy receiver is like his cousin in that he has a knack for big-time performances that help his team win.
In two seasons as a starter, he had 84 receptions for 1,324 yards and 14 touchdowns in 22 wins. In three losses, he notched just five receptions for 51 yards and one score.
His production is not eye-popping, but he was productive enough from the slot and would be a nice piece to add.
Weston Richburg, OC, Colorado State
- Height: 6’4”
- Weight: 300
- Draft Projection: Round 4-5
When we look back on the 2014 draft in a decade, Weston Richburg will have been one of the best centers to come out of this class. He needs to work on pass blocking, but he’s a mauler in the run game who succeeds at the point of attack.
Richburg started 48 games in four years with Colorado State. He has the experience at center, but he is also athletic enough to move out to guard if needed. We know Arians fancies a versatile offensive lineman, so that fact will come in handy when making the decision on whether to draft Weston or to pass.
Roster situation: Starting center Lyle Sendlein has two years remaining on his deal, but he is getting older. Centers tend to last longer in the trenches than guards and tackles do, so it’s possible the soon-to-be 30-year-old can play out his contract and earn an extension on top of it.
But if Richburg were waiting in the shadows, an extension for Sendlein might not be necessary.