Cardinals present major threat to 49ers after 2020 NFL Draft

Quarterback Kyler Murray #1 of the Arizona Cardinals (Photo by Ralph Freso/Getty Images)
Quarterback Kyler Murray #1 of the Arizona Cardinals (Photo by Ralph Freso/Getty Images) /

Like the San Francisco 49ers, the Arizona Cardinals had a very good 2020 NFL Draft, plugging some gaps on their rosters with some savvy selections. Niner Noise evaluates their draft class, and why they’re a threat to the Niners and the NFC West.

The San Francisco 49ers currently are the best team in a very tough division of football, the NFC West. The Seattle Seahawks came to within a yard of winning the division last season, the Los Angeles Rams regressed but still had a winning record and were in the Wild Card race, and the Arizona Cardinals showed progression while pushing the Niners hard in both near-upset matchups.

The Seahawks will always remain a threat as long as Russell Wilson is their quarterback, but the Rams are much weaker after having to discard a lot of important players for cap reasons. They seem destined to be mired in purgatory as well due to lack of selections for subsequent drafts.

The real dark horse in the division is Arizona.

The Cardinals had a remarkable draft, and they now need to be considered a major threat to the 49ers for divisional dominance in future seasons.

To see why, let’s first see the draft class for the Cardinals:

  • No. 8: Isaiah Simmons, LB, Clemson
  • No. 72: Josh Jones, OT, Houston
  • No. 114: Leki Fotu, DT, Utah
  • No. 131: Rashard Lawrence, DT, LSU
  • No. 202: Evan Weaver, LB, California
  • No. 222: Eno Benjamin, RB, Arizona State

Let’s not misrepresent this draft class, it is a very good draft class. To look at why this is and how it relates to the 49ers, let’s split this up into offense and defense.


The Cardinals made two additions to the roster, both of them were steals which should have been drafted ahead of where they were eventually selected.

Josh Jones inexplicably fell to the third round. He’s a talented tackle, and I had mocked him going No. 18 overall to the Miami Dolphins (right idea, but wrong tackle) given his ceiling. Quarterback Kyler Murray had a promising rookie season, and Arizona had to continue to protect its investment against the 49ers vaunted defensive line.

Eno Benjamin is a versatile back who can do it all. He can block, run and catch the ball serving as a versatile rotational runner for Arizona. He isn’t ever going to be an elite back, but the Cardinals got a player who can contribute right away in the final round, which is nothing but a win for them.


The Cardinals biggest flaw on defense was their inability to defend against tight ends. In 2019, Arizona conceded 96 receptions (equal third most in the league) for 1,148 yards (most in the NFL) and a whopping 16 touchdowns (by far the most in the NFL with the next worst record being the Cleveland Browns with 10 touchdowns conceded).

In addition, the team needed to devote resources to stopping the run of San Francisco and have any chance of competing for the NFC West. The 49ers won the division and made the Super Bowl off the back of their old-school power running.

Some teams didn’t do a lot to address their biggest concerns, but Arizona wasn’t one of them. In fact, every defensive pick will do a lot to help them solve these two issues.

Isaiah Simmons was a steal at No. 8, and he will be an absolute weapon at linebacker (or almost every position, given his versatility). He provides an instant and sudden upgrade to the Cardinals defense.

Leki Fotu is a two-down defender who can stuff the run effectively, while Rashard Lawrence is a defensive lineman, who never quite lived up to his potential at LSU, but still had 16 tackles for loss and 6.5 sacks the last two seasons.

Wrapping up the defensive picks is the very cerebral linebacker, Evan Weaver. Weaver is a very smart linebacker, albeit limited, athletically. However he’s not dissimilar a prospect to the 49ers’ own, Dre Greenlaw, so Niners fans are well aware a player such as Weaver can succeed.

dark. Next. 3 problems still facing 49ers after 2020 NFL Draft

Ignore them at their own peril, the Cardinals have become a very real threat to San Francisco repeating as divisional champions in the NFC West.