Cards get pass rusher, finish draft with needs filled

TEMPE, Ariz. – For a team that insisted it wasn’t
drafting for need, the Cardinals sure filled a lot of needs in the NFL
Draft.

Maybe it was just a happy coincidence, but
when the dust had settled on Saturday’s six picks, Arizona had grabbed
another offensive guard while adding a pass rusher, a running back, a
speedy receiver, another running back and a tight
end.

Add to that the first two days’ picks of guard
Jonathan Cooper, inside linebacker Kevin Minter and safety Tyrann
Mathieu and the Cards nearly completed their shopping list — with the
possible exception of a defensive tackle/nose tackle, which said they
intend to pursue in free agency.

“We filled needs
while feeling we got pretty good football players at the same time,”
said general manager Steve Keim, noting that all of the players the
Cardinals drafted were team captains. “We truly feel like every guy has a
chance to come in and make an immediate impact in some way or the
other, whether it’s come in as a starter, come in as a significant role
player or a guy that’s going to come in and help us on all our core
special teams.”

While this weekend’s picks reminded
us that you shouldn’t believe anything teams tell you before the draft,
the Cardinals should be commended for filling their needs with players
who, at least according to the experts’ grades, have the potential to
make significant contributions in the present and the
future.

The Cards opened the third day of the draft
by taking Texas defensive end Alex Okafor at the exact same spot (103rd
overall) where they selected outside linebacker Sam Acho two seasons
ago. The two played together at Texas, and Okafor is also expected to
play outside linebacker after the Cards asked him if he felt comfortable
at that position at the NFL Scouting Combine.

“I
looked at them dead in the eye and said I was confident in my athletic
ability,” Okafor said. “I know I can play that position for
them.”

Okafor’s best asset may be his ability to get
to the quarterback. As a senior last season, he had 68 tackles, 12.5
sacks, 16.5 tackles for loss and four forced fumbles while earning
unanimous All-Big 12 first-team honors. In the Alamo Bowl, he set a
bowl-game record with 4.5 sacks and totaled six tackles for loss in
Texas’ win over Oregon State.

With their second
fourth-round pick (acquired in a trade), the Cards took their second
offensive guard of the draft, James Madison’s Earl Watford. It was the
first time in the franchise’s history that it had selected two guards in
the first four picks, another possible coincidence considering Keim is a
former guard.

Watford said he was celebrating with a
large group of teammates after going in the fourth
round.

“JMU?” he said. “That’s a big deal
here.”

In the fifth and sixth rounds, the Cardinals
got Stanford running back Stepfan Taylor, a short but physical, hard
runner; Texas A&M receiver Ryan Swope, who ran a 4.34 40 at the
combine but likely dropped in the draft due to the four concussions he
suffered in college; and Clemson running back Andre Ellington, who, like
Taylor, is an excellent pass protector while also providing an element
of speed and elusiveness in the run game.

Swope said
he never missed a game (he left in the first quarter of a game against
Louisiana Tech on Oct. 13) due to his concussions, adding that neither
the school’s training staff nor doctors are concerned with the
concussion history moving forward. He was originally viewed as a
possession receiver when he reached the combine, which he admitted put a
chip on his shoulder.

“It was my chance to kind of
shine and turn heads and showcase my speed that people were kind of
sleeping on,” Swope said.

The final pick, D.C.
Jefferson, who is primarily a blocking tight end, may be a candidate for
the practice squad, but he was perhaps the most entertaining interview
of the day, offering this quip: “I expected to be the first pick in the
first round, but it didn’t work out that way.”

When
asked if he could play quarterback due to his arrival at Rutgers as a
highly touted QB, Jefferson said: “I can play any
cat.”

Quarterback was, in fact, the one conspicuous
absence from Saturday’s selections. The Cards even had a chance to take
Syracuse’s Ryan Nassib but traded their fourth-round pick to the Giants
for an extra pick, and New York promptly took
Nassib.

“I know that early on in the process I had
talked about subscribing to the theory of taking a quarterback every
year, and I really still believe in that,” Keim said. “The difference is
our two draft choices came through free agency with Carson Palmer and
Drew Stanton, so we didn’t feel like that was a necessary move that we
needed to make. And quite frankly, the way the board shook out, the
quarterback at no point was the top player on our
board.”

The final breakdown on the draft was this:
three defensive players (with three of the top four picks) at positions
of definite need and six offensive players. Keim and coach Bruce Arians
were predictably pleased with their draft (when have you ever heard a
coach and GM say otherwise?), but the real proof and accurate grades
won’t come until two or three years down the line.

“I
don’t think we reached. I think we got great value at every pick,” Keim
said. “It’s not ultimately what you shoot for when you set your board
up, but if you have confidence in your draft board and your scouts and
in your scouting system, you have an opportunity to reap the benefits,
which we did this past weekend.”