Cardinals Name Late-Round Pick Who Can Be a Pro-Bowler

Lecitus Smith


Getty

The Cardinals believe one of their late-round draft picks can be a Pro-Bowler.

Unearthing stars from the late rounds of a draft is what turns a solid class into a great one. The Arizona Cardinals think they found a future Pro-Bowler in the penultimate round of the 2022 NFL draft.

This prospect, if he’s as good as advertised, would fix an obvious weakness on the Cards’ roster. The offense is stacked at the skill positions, but quarterback Kyler Murray, running back James Conner, tight end Zach Ertz and wide receiver Marquise ‘Hollywood’ Brown should worry about the line.

Arizona’s front five allowed 39 sacks last season, while Conner and his fellow running backs combined to average 4.2 yards per carry. The numbers don’t look terrible, but performances on the ground and through the air suffered behind deteriorating blocking late in the season.

Vice-President of Player Personnel Quentin Harris believes those problems could be solved by the fifth player drafted by the Cardinals this year.

ALL the latest Cardinals news straight to your inbox! Join the Heavy on Cardinals newsletter here!


Sixth-Rounder Tipped for Big Things

During an appearance on The Dave Pasch Podcast, via Alex Sutton of Cards Wire, Harris identified guard Lecitus Smith as the late-round pick who could become a Pro-Bowler: “I really like Lecitus Smith. This guy is athletic, he’s an excellent puller. He’s tough, he’s physical.”

Harris also thinks the Cardinals stole some hidden value when they took Smith off the board 215th overall: “This guy is everything. He was a steal, in my opinion. He’s one guy that once he gets his opportunity, it’s going to be tough to remove him from the seat.”

The idea of Smith going from late-round obscurity to starting as a rookie in the NFL isn’t unique to Harris. It’s a view also shared by ESPN’s Josh Weinfuss, who noted how, “with a bit of refinement, Smith could find himself competing for a starting guard position. Arizona doesn’t have a bonafide right guard with the likes of Josh Jones and Justin Murray expected to battle it out for the job.”

Weinfuss’ reference to Josh Jones and Justin Murray is telling. It shows there’s a clear path to the starting lineup for Smith, provided the former Virginia Tech standout can handle switching sides, after he made “37 career starts (36 at LG, 1 at LT)” for the Hokies, per Bleacher Report’s Brandon Thorn.

Smith’s physicality in the running game was highlighted when Thorn described a blocker who “explodes into contact with low pad level and good aiming points to cover up, fit and latch defenders in the run game with excellent grip strength to sustain and control blocks.”

That’s good news for Conner, who struggled late last season to earn consistent gains on the ground. He averaged a mere 3.5 yards a carry during the 38-30 loss to NFC West rivals the Seattle Seahawks in the regular-season finale.

It was also a game where Murray was sacked five times. Protecting Murray became a frequent problem toward the end of the campaign, as he suffered 13 sacks in his last six starts.

Fortunately, as Cardinals beat reporter Johnny Venerable pointed out by referencing PFF College stats, Smith also excelled in pass protection at the collegiate level:

Smith’s steady and effective performances earned him some of the best marks among guards in the ACC. The Cardinals’ other late-round guard, seventh-rounder Marquis Hayes, also graded highly, according to PFF College:

All signs point toward Smith being a player to watch during OTAs. He could save the Cardinals a fortune if he defies his draft status.


Big Decisions Looming Along Cards’ O-Line

A quick look into the future shows Harris and general manager Steve Keim why they should prepare to overhaul the offensive line. Key figures like Pro-Bowl left tackle D.J. Humphries, center Rodney Hudson, along with guards Justin Pugh and Will Hernandez, are all set to be free agents in 2023, per Spotrac.com.

Fortunately, Smith has already put his name on a contract set to run for the next four years. The deal was reported by Darren Urban of AZCardinals.com, who named running back Keaontay Ingram and linebacker Jesse Luketa as fellow draft picks who also put pen to paper.

If Smith does make the grade in his first year, he’ll save the Cards a pretty penny under next year’s salary cap. He can provide insurance against Hernandez struggling the way he did for the New York Giants in 2021, with Alex Wilson of Empire Sports Media outlined the veteran’s biggest problem:

A second-round pick in 2018, Hernandez still needs to prove he can dominate at this level after moving to Arizona in free agency. If not, Smith should be waiting to take over.

Smith’s emergence would also make it easier to say goodbye to Pugh, who carries a cap hit worth $7.5 million for 2022. He’ll also be 33 next season and it’s hard to see the Cardinals offering Pugh a new deal unless they’re desperate.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.