How Cardinals can use draft capital to maximize 2024 selections

TEMPE, Ariz. -- When the Arizona Cardinals go on the clock with the No. 4 pick during the NFL draft on Thursday night, it'll be their first of six picks slotted in the top 100, a stretch rarely seen in the league's annual selection process.

If Arizona keeps all of its picks, it will be the fifth team -- and one of two this year, joining the Washington Commanders -- in the past 10 drafts with that many picks in the first 100, according to ESPN Stats & Information, giving the Cardinals a chance to continue to reshape a roster that's been overhauled during the last year. The Cardinals have two first-round picks (Nos. 4 and 27), one second-round pick (No. 35) and three third-round picks (Nos. 66, 71 and 90) -- part of 11 total picks.

Arizona general manager Monti Ossenfort is tempering his expectations for what those possible six picks can produce.

"I think it's unfair to say, 'Hey, we're going to come out of there with six starters or two starters,'" he said. "I think that's all situation based."

The Cleveland Browns had six picks in the first 100 in 2016, the Miami Dolphins did in 2020 and the Detroit Lions did in 2023. Of those three, only the Browns' record declined the season after, going from 3-13 in 2015 to 1-15 in 2016. The Dolphins improved from 5-11 in 2019 to 10-6 in 2020, but missed the playoffs.

However, the Lions went from 9-8 in 2022 to 12-5 in 2023 and advanced to the NFC Championship Game, where they lost to the San Francisco 49ers. Their draft last year may be a model for teams with a significant amount of capital in the first three rounds.

Like the Cardinals this season, the Lions had two first-round picks last year. Of their six picks in the top 100, four played in at least 15 games, and two -- running back Jahmyr Gibbs and tight end Sam LaPorta, who scored 10 touchdowns -- were named to the Pro Bowl.

"They did what we expected them to do," Lions general manager Brad Holmes said. "Those players that we selected, those were our favorite players in the draft. I know it was a big thing about tight end. Yeah, I mean, I think it's been on record that Sam LaPorta was our number one tight end. No, he was one of our favorite players the entire draft."

In order for the Cardinals' top six picks to have the same kind of impact next season, Ossenfort said Arizona will need to "get the right guys." Arizona has just seven of their own draft picks on the roster from before Ossenfort was hired.

"The best way, at least in my belief, to build a roster, to build a core and to build a foundation is through the draft," Ossenfort said. "We think we took the right steps last year in doing that with the group that we added last year and that's the goal for this year is to add another group like we did last year that can continue to add to our group, carve out a role, be the right type of people and be the right type of leaders."

Ossenfort is also open to adding more picks, but has said it comes down to one thing: the opportunity to trade. And for that to happen -- regardless of what round -- Arizona will need a trade partner. Having as many picks as Arizona does gives the Cardinals "a lot of flexibility," Ossenfort said.

He's already talked with "multiple" teams about potential trades, with other teams checking in on Ossenfort's thinking. Arizona is projected to take former Ohio State wide receiver Marvin Harrison Jr. with the No. 4 overall pick -- though Ossenfort said he was "listening" to calls on their first selection slot at the annual owners' meetings.

Ossenfort will always listen. That doesn't mean he'll always make a move.

"Listen, I think the way I look at it is, I love my house," he said. "I love where I live. My wife loves where we live. If, all of a sudden, there's a knock on my door and someone's going to offer me something, I'm going to look and see what they're offering me. If I open that up and it's something I'm not expecting, 'Hey, Shannon [Ossenfort's wife], let's go. Pack up. It's time to roll.' I think that happens beforehand. It happens on the clock. I think different teams have different motivations but we'll see how this one plays out [this] week."

If a team offered three first-round picks for the Cardinals' No. 4 pick, would Ossenfort move out of his house?

"You might have to talk to Shannon on that one," he said with a smile.

Arizona's draft board was 95-to-98% done as of late last week. This week will be spent finalizing the last 2-to-5% and going through various scenarios -- essentially mocking the first round.

It is the third time in the common draft era that the Cardinals have six picks in the first 100, along with 1970 and 1978, when the draft had 17 and 12 rounds, respectively.

Ossenfort was direct, saying none of the players he drafts will be handed anything.

"We want to come out of here adding the right players and talented players who fit what we're trying to do," he said. "Then, really, it's going to be come in here and see what they can do."