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2015 NFL mock draft: Preston Smith to Arizona Cardinals at No. 24

With 21 wins in two seasons under Bruce Arians, what will the Arizona Cardinals need to do to take the next step and become serious contenders in the NFC?

Led by two-time NFL Coach of the Year Bruce Arians, the Arizona Cardinals are 21-11 over the last two seasons in the NFC West, arguably the best division in football, and made the playoffs as a Wild Card team in 2014. Their next step: advancing in the playoffs, after losing a road contest to the sub-.500 Carolina Panthers in the first round this past January.

Jess Root, who runs things over at Revenge of the Birds, is here to make the No. 24 overall pick in our 2015 NFL mock draft for the Cardinals. He's addressing a defense that managed to only rank 24th overall in traditional yards-allowed-per-game rankings, despite a top-5 finish in points allowed per game.

24. Cardinals: Preston Smith, DE, Mississippi State

Root: Here I was left with a good dilemma. There are three players all available I think could be the pick for the Cardinals at No. 24 if this scenario happens -- Jalen Collins, Cam Erving, and Smith, whom I selected.

Bruce Arians spoke recently of wanting to add a long, fast corner in the draft. Collins fits that mold, and he also comes from LSU, from where the Cardinals like to draft (Patrick Peterson, Kevin Minter, Tyrann Mathieu). After cutting Lyle Sendlein, they could use an elite center instead of the journeymen who will battle it out this year (Ted Larsen and A.Q. Shipley).

But getting a guy who can rush the passer is a bigger need, and since I like all three players more or less equally, need wins. Smith fits the type of player the Cardinals like at outside linebacker. They have looked at Mike Neal and Pernell McPhee in consecutive offseasons -- guys who are big enough to play end, but also play linebacker. Smith is that same sort of player. He "has the versatility and physicality to be a special player."

In addition to his play and physical traits, he also was a team captain, which is something the Cardinals value (almost all Steve Keim’s draft picks were captains in college). Add that up, and you get a guy who would be a great pick at No. 24.

Dan Kadar, On the surface, this is slightly a reach pick. But considering what’s mentioned above about Neal and McPhee, the logic is sound. Smith is the type of pass rusher the Cardinals just don’t have. They’ve gone a few drafts in a row needing someone to get pressure on the quarterback, and Smith can be that player. It’s also smart to target a pass rusher early, because the deeper you get in the draft, the harder it is to find a good one. The same can’t be said at cornerback, where there will be options later.

Dan's Top 5 players remaining

  • 13. Eddie Goldman, DT, Florida State
  • 17. Dorial Green-Beckham, WR, Oklahoma
  • 19. Eric Kendricks, LB, UCLA
  • 20. Arik Armstead, DE, Oregon
  • 24. Melvin Gordon, RB, Wisconsin

All picks from this mock draft

Cardinals picks

  • 1-24: Preston Smith, DE, Mississippi State
  • 2-55: (coming April 16)

Our trio of picks for today are all published. Coming up tomorrow: picks from the Carolina Panthers, Baltimore Ravens and Dallas Cowboys.

SB Nation presents: A breakdown of our latest mock draft