Stopping the run was the bane of the Arizona Cardinals’ defense in 2021. The unit allowed 1,952 yards and 4.6 per carry on the ground.
Fortunately, there’s a quick fix available in the 2022 NFL draft. The Cardinals can use their first-round pick, the 23rd selection overall, to take a player described as “a run defense unto himself.”
This rookie wouldn’t do much to boost the Cards’ pass rush, but he’d still be a force on early downs. That’s something the Cardinals need in the NFC West, where the San Francisco 49ers and Los Angeles Rams still design their offenses around heavy doses of stretch running and play-action passing.
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Cardinals Take National Championship Anchor
In his latest mock draft, published April 18 by The Athletic, Diante Lee has the Cardinals taking the player who anchored Georgia’s national championship-winning defense.
Nose tackle Jordan Davis is Lee’s answer to Arizona’s problems repelling the run: “Arizona had a woefully poor defense against the run throughout the season, and Davis could step in and allow Vance Joseph to stop the run without having to bet the house on over-aggressive blitz schemes. Davis has the potential to be a run defense unto himself, and for the concerns over his ability to play on third down, Arizona runs a complex package in those situations and wouldn’t require much of the nose tackle as a pass rusher.”
Whichever team selects Davis will land the most high-profile natural run-stuffer in this draft. He earned a reputation as an immovable force for the Bulldogs.
Davis used his 6-foot-6, 341-pound frame to anchor against double teams and fill rushing lanes. More than just size, Davis routinely won thanks to aggressive and flawless hands technique, like on this play against Alabama in the title game, broken down by The Athletic’s Nate Tice:
Stops like this deterred teams from trying to boss Georgia on the ground. The Cardinals need a similar deterrent to combat the run-first offenses of Niners head coach Kyle Shanahan and Rams head coach Sean McVay.
Both teams had success keeping the ball on the ground against Arizona last season. The Rams rushed for 121 yards in Week 4, while San Fran runners amassed 152 a week later.
The Cardinals actually won those games, but their struggles against the run proved a lot more costly in the season’s final week. Rashaad Penny’s 190-yard effort helped the Seattle Seahawks tally 202 on the ground in a 38-30 road win that condemned Arizona to a wild-card game against the Rams in the playoffs.
Putting Davis at the heart of the front seven could prevent a repeat of days like these next season.
Davis a Perfect Fit for Cardinals’ 3-4
Defensive coordinator Vance Joseph may not find a better scheme fit for Arizona’s 3-4 front in this draft. Davis is the prototypical zero-technique lineman, able to play over centers and demand extra attention.
Having Davis in the middle of a defensive line that features a healthy J.J. Watt would put offenses in a bind. Creating more one-on-one matchups for Watt is one of the ways the Cardinals can boost a tepid pass rush that lost dominant edge Chandler Jones in free agency.
Davis wouldn’t be expected to pick up the slack created by Jones’ departure, but he could surprise a few thanks to his underrated athleticism. He showcased unlikely quickness for his size during the Combine, per ESPN’s Field Yates:
The Cardinals still need extra bodies on the edge, but this is a class deep in skilled outside pass-rushers. By contrast, there aren’t many other defensive linemen like Davis on the board.