Cardinals’ draft preview: Defensive line

A year after drafting Ole Miss product Robert Nkemdiche at the tail end of the first round, the Arizona Cardinals still have concerns about their overall depth on the defensive line.

Those concerns stem from the fact the organization was forced to allow nine-year veteran Calais Campbell to walk during free agency, and from the fact Nkemdiche was limited throughout his rookie campaign.

Still, the Cardinals have needs that are far more pressing than adding immediate impact contributors in the trenches in this week’s draft, which is why CardinalsSource has compiled a list of five prospects the team should have its eyes on in the middle-to-late rounds of the draft.

Though Arizona may not be in the market for help on the defensive line early, here are some prospects who the team might be able to find value with come Friday or Saturday.

Defensive linemen

Elijah Qualls: Qualls has the versatility to play on the inside and the outside in the NFL, but we think he could help the Cardinals as a three-technique because he’s got a quick first step and a fairly impressive motor which are qualities the team looks for in defensive linemen. Qualls may also have a future at nose tackle if he keeps weight on his 313-pound frame, and could provide a suitable backup to Corey Peters which would allow a player like Rodney Gunter to focus on playing the 3-tech or the 5-tech. Qualls is probably going to be off the board by the middle of the fourth round, so Arizona may have to reach for a lineman earlier than it wants to if it likes Qualls.

Isaac Rochell: Rochell is a run-stopper first and foremost, which is why he could fit into an Arizona scheme that already has plenty of pass-rushers. As far as players who will almost certainly be available on the third day go, the Cardinals could do a lot worse than Rochell, who was consistent for most of his career at Notre Dame but tailed off toward the end of last season. With the Fighting Irish, Rochell didn’t have much help around him in 2016, especially on the edge, so it would be intriguing to see how his game would be impacted by playing alongside the likes of Chandler Jones and Markus Golden. Rochell probably projects as a 5-tech and could back up Nkemdiche.

Eddie Vanderdoes: The UCLA product was touted as a potential early round draft choice near the start of his college career, but Vanderdoes battled injuries which hampered his effectiveness and limited his explosiveness. At this point, it’s uncertain how much Vanderdoes can impact the game from a pass-rushing standpoint, but he’s a big body who moves well laterally and could provide the Cardinals with good value as a nose tackle. Vanderdoes wouldn’t start right away, but if the Cardinals slow-played his development and were able to snag him in the fifth round or later, he could wind up turning into a nice pickup.

Vincent Taylor: Taylor probably left Oklahoma State a season too early, as he’s not projected to be selected until Saturday. Nevertheless, Taylor was a disruptive force for the Cowboys at the point of attack, which is increasingly uncommon for 3-4 defensive linemen in pass-happy conferences like the Big 12. We’re not sold on Taylor’s position yet because he might be best served streamlining his physique, but right now, Taylor looks like he might be best served playing as a 3-tech. One aspect of Taylor’s game we like: He blocked a pair of kicks at Oklahoma State and showed an impressive ability to penetrate immediately off of the snap. 

Jaleel Johnson: We like the value Taylor can provide to the Cardinals slightly better than Johnson’s, simply because Johnson is likely to go ahead of Taylor in the draft and we don’t think Johnson is a significantly better prospect. Nevertheless, we do like what Johnson brings to the table as a 3-tech because of his motor. Johnson is going to need to become more consistent and run his feet on contact better, but there are tools to work with and the Cardinals could find a use for Johnson as a rotational player. 

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