Cardinals’ draft dilemma: Take Marvin Harrison Jr. or trade down for more picks

In his first time overseeing an NFL Draft, Arizona Cardinals general manager Monti Ossenfort showed an ability to maneuver around the board last year. 

He executed five trades, including a blockbuster deal with the Houston Texans. For the No. 3 and No. 105 picks, the Cardinals got Houston’s No. 12 overall selection last year, the No. 33 pick in this year’s draft and the Texans’ first- and third-round selections in next year’s draft. Then Ossenfort traded back up the draft board, giving the Detroit Lions the No. 12 and No. 34 picks for No. 6 overall, which he used to select offensive tackle Paris Johnson Jr.

With two first-round picks at No. 4 and No. 27 in a 2024 draft laden with quarterback talent, Ossenfort has another opportunity to trade down and collect more picks. However, he would do so at the expense of potentially losing out on a generational talent at No. 4 in Ohio State receiver Marvin Harrison Jr., the son of the Hall of Fame receiver.

On the other hand, the receiver position is loaded in this year’s draft, with players like LSU’s Malik Nabers and Washington‘s Rome Odunze projected to go in the top 10. So Ossenfort could trade down, but he would have to be careful to stay in position to select the receiver he wants.

While Johnson had a solid rookie season, trading the No. 3 overall pick last year meant the Cardinals missed out on taking Alabama defensive lineman Will Anderson Jr., who earned Defensive Rookie of the Year honors with the Texans.

That’s tough for an Arizona defense in need of pass-rush help. Making matters worse, the Texans were much better than expected in head coach DeMeco Ryans’ first season, reaching the playoffs and giving the Cardinals a much lower first-round pick than expected this year. 

With the Bears, Commanders and Patriots expected to take quarterbacks with the first three picks, QB-needy teams like the Giants (No. 6), Vikings (No. 11), Broncos (No. 12) and Raiders (No. 13) could potentially eye Arizona’s No. 4 pick to grab a QB like Michigan‘s J.J. McCarthy or LSU’s Jayden Daniels if one of them is still on the board.

“I think it’s good to be Monti today at Arizona,” Broncos coach Sean Payton said at the NFL owners meetings in Orlando this week when asked about potentially trading up.

Like last year, Ossenfort wants the rest of the NFL to know he’s open for business.

“There will be a big neon sign that says ‘Open,'” said Ossenfort, joking with local reporters last week. “I don’t like it blinking because that kind of messes with my eyes. But yeah, we’re always going to be listening. We’re always going to have the conversation.” 

Ossenfort said he has already fielded preliminary interest from teams looking into moving up.

“I’d say those phone calls are starting to pick up a little bit,” he said. “Most teams are in a similar spot to us, starting to finalize their boards. The pro day piece is kind of the final piece for evaluation purposes. 

“So, I would imagine some of those conversations will continue to pick up. But honestly, they probably will not get real serious until we get right up to the week of the draft, similar to last year.” 

Because a few teams are looking to move up to select a quarterback, that could create even more value for Arizona’s No. 4 selection. 

Three years ago, when the San Francisco 49ers traded up to take Trey Lance, the 49ers had to move up from No. 12. They traded three first-round picks to the Miami Dolphins for the opportunity to take the North Dakota State product. The Dolphins used those picks, along with others, to secure receiver Tyreek Hill and edge rusher Bradley Chubb via trade, along with moving up to No. 6 in the 2021 draft to select receiver Jaylen Waddle

The Cardinals could do something similar with draft compensation to accelerate the rebuilding process around Kyler Murray

In 2018, the Cardinals were the ones moving up for a quarterback. They traded a third-rounder, a fifth-rounder pick and the No. 15 overall selection to the Raiders to move up five spots to select UCLA quarterback Josh Rosen. He lasted just one season with Arizona before being traded to Miami for a second-round pick. Three years later, Rosen was out of the league. 

With Arizona’s pick at No. 15, the Raiders selected offensive tackle Kolton Miller, who eventually turned into a Pro Bowler. In addition to Miller, game-changers like Derwin James, Tremaine Edmunds, Jaire Alexander and Frank Ragnow were still on the board at No. 15 in 2018. 

Predicting which players will succeed and which won’t is always a risky proposition. The Cardinals currently have 11 draft picks, and several needs still remain as Ossenfort and head coach Jonathan Gannon continue to build in their second season together. It will be up to Ossenfort to decide if there’s more value in taking a player like Harrison at No. 4 or moving down for more bites at the apple. 

But Ossenfort says he feels more comfortable heading into his second draft.

“Last year we felt like we were on a treadmill at about 45 degrees at 10 miles per hour. We were going, and we could never catch up,” he said. “We were constantly trying to get to the point where we felt caught up. So, I think the difference this year is there’s still a huge amount of work to do, and that work doesn’t go away. But the timeline of that work is where it’s supposed to be.”

Eric D. Williams has reported on the NFL for more than a decade, covering the Los Angeles Rams for Sports Illustrated, the Los Angeles Chargers for ESPN and the Seattle Seahawks for the Tacoma News Tribune. Follow him on Twitter at @eric_d_williams.

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