2021 NFL Draft: Teams who must be in the rookie running back market

Trey Sermon, San Francisco 49ers (Photo by Ken Ruinard-USA TODAY Sports)
Trey Sermon, San Francisco 49ers (Photo by Ken Ruinard-USA TODAY Sports) /
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Arizona Cardinals, 2021 NFL Draft
Oct 25, 2020; Glendale, Arizona, USA; Arizona Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray (1) and head coach Kliff Kingsbury look on against the Seattle Seahawks during the first half at State Farm Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports /

Arizona Cardinals

In the second year of the Kyler Murray era in Arizona, the Cardinals progressed in the right direction despite not making the playoffs. Arizona started the year 5-3 and looked to be primed for a playoff run, but a shoulder injury to Murray limited the Cardinals’ offense late in the season and resulted in the team finishing 3-5 down the stretch (8-8 overall).

Already this offseason the Cardinals have started making major moves signing J.J. Watt to a two-year $31 Million deal. The Cardinals’ defense was one of the better units in the league last year and should be recognized as such with Watt on their roster. If Arizona wants a chance of winning the division in 2021-22 they need to play great defense against Sean McVay’s offense, Kyle Shanahan’s offense, and a Russell Wilson-led Seahawks offense.

The Cardinals have a couple of players who can become cut candidates and help the team’s cap situation. But if they do not make any changes to their roster they will be pressed against the cap after the Watt signing. Before the teamed signed Watt they had just under $17.3 Million in salary cap space according to Spotrac. They would have $1.8 Million to resign major free agents like star cornerback Patrick Peterson and starting running back Kenyan Drake.

Arizona Cardinals
Arizona Cardinals /

Arizona Cardinals

It was reported earlier this offseason by FanSided’s Matt Verderame that the Cardinals and Peterson could part ways this offseason. It appears the same could be likely for Kenyan Drake. Last offseason, the Cardinals put a transition tag on Drake after a late-season breakout performance. Arizona traded for Drake right before the 2019 Trade Deadline. During his first eight games in Arizona, he was one yard short of tying his season-high 644 rushing yards.

This past season, Drake had career highs with 955 rushing yards and 10 touchdowns. But Drake did not have the same explosiveness he had at the beginning of his tenure in Arizona. He was a nonfactor in the passing game and was only used between the tackles. Despite having the best performance of his career Arizona could be hesitant to signing Drake to a long-term deal. He has been inconsistent throughout his entire career. Also, Arizona may not want to pay top dollar to a running back that will be splitting carries. Especially since they have very little cap room to work with. Last season Drake split carries with Chase Edmonds almost right down the middle. If Drake is resigned that won’t likely be changed.

Arizona needs to draft a running back that could not only be reliable between the tackles but can be dangerous during RPO plays. The Cardinals should add a running back that will take attention away from Kyler Murray. That will open up more running lanes for Murray and put a safety in the box and away from DeAndre Hopkins.

Running Back options for the Arizona Cardinals from the 2021 NFL Draft:

  • Draft Travis Etienne (Clemson) with pick #49
  • Draft Kenneth Gainwell (Memphis) with pick #80