The Arizona Cardinals could use some help at the running back position. Rashard Mendenhall is set to be a free agent and Andre Ellington looked solid in his rookie season. Ryan Williams was a healthy scratch for all 16 games this season while Stepfan Taylor and Alfonso Smith saw limited work.
It should be clear that Arizona doesn’t have a workhorse running back that it can count on to carry the ball 20 or more times per game. Thankfully, the NFL draft in May has plenty of talent. We published our Top-10 list earlier today and it oozes with talent. Let’s focus on a couple of players who can stand out and help Arizona find a complimentary piece to Ellington.
The good news is that even the best running backs are projected to be second-round players according to CBS Sports.com’s Prospect Rankings.
Tre Mason of Auburn sounds like he would be a perfect fit for the system Bruce Arians runs. He wants his running backs to run the ball and his receivers to catch the ball. Mason does exactly that. Last season, he rolled up 1,816 yards and 23 touchdowns on 317 carries. He also added 163 yards on 12 catches. His stats are a little bloated by the SEC title game against Missouri when he ran for 304 yards and four touchdowns on 46 carries but the fact still remains that he can produce. He would be that protoypical back in the mold of LeSean McCoy but with less involvement in the passing game.
On a more local level, there is a trio of Pac-12 standout players who would all be solid contributors to the Cardinals.
Ka’Deem Carey of the University of Arizona has been a standout player the last two seasons. He racked up 3,814 yards and 42 touchdowns rushing in to seasons. He added two more scores and nearly 500 receiving yards through the air. There’s little doubt that a player who can produce like that would be a huge asset to the Cardinals.
Washington’s Bishop Sankey is another player in the same mold. He’s another one of these backs who has taken a lot of touches in the last two seasons (653) which is both a pro and a con. He’s agile and has a nice burst to get through the line but the high number of carries will leave people wondering how much he has left in the tank.
Arizona State’s Marion Grice was on pace to be another Pac-12 hammer of a running back before a late-season knee injury. His offensive numbers were solid (996 rushing yards and 14 touchdowns) before getting hurt. Add in 50 receptions for 432 yards and six touchdowns and Grice becomes a complete back. When you factor in he’s a willing blocker, he looks like a solid player to target in the middle rounds.
The decision Arizona makes on Mendenhall will drive the situation at this position. He had a sub-par season with 687 yards and eight touchdowns. His longest run was 24 yards and he had the worst yards-per-carry average of any running back with at least 200 carries in the league last season at with 3.2 yards.
Williams is also a big question mark too. The Cardinals kept him on their roster and paid him $1.4 million to basically do nothing. He has only played five regular-season games in the NFL and is about to enter his fourth season in the league. A decision needs to be made on him and Arizona needs to make it with certainty.
Arizona has not been a big threat in the ground game in the last decade so an upgrade is needed. Any of these three could provide it but will they hold up if they get a heavy work load in the NFL? It’s a fair question to ask. The Cardinals have a total of a dozen seasons with a 1,000-yard rusher in their entire franchise history, Finding another one would be a big help to giving Arizona offensive balance that has been lacking.
Check out our piece from last week on quarterbacks in the draft.