The NFL added a player-assessment test to the famed Wonderlic test this year in order to better gauge players’ “non-physical capabilities, aptitudes and strengths.”
The league has added regional and super regional combines to the long-running NFL Scouting Combine so that general managers, coaches and scouts can further dissect a player’s physical and mental strengths and weaknesses.
There are college pro days, there are interviews with friends, family members, coaches and peers, there are scores of websites devoted to statistical analysis and there is more and more film, aided by greater and greater technology, to examine every facet of players’ games for flaws and hidden strengths.
And yet, the NFL Draft remains a crapshoot; a highly inexact science where the misses are just as common as the hits. Try as they might, the NFL cognoscenti can’t create a foolproof method of grading draft prospects. And no matter how deep they delve, statisticians cannot reduce human beings to reliable mathematical formulas and probabilities.
By the time the NFL Draft commences on April 25, the Cardinals will have constructed their top 120 board, they will have spent countless hours in meetings, discussing their approach and sharing their opinions. They will have held a series of mock drafts to play out various scenarios, and they will approach the draft with confidence, knowing they have done their due diligence.
Over the next few years, we’ll find out if that confidence is warranted. No player will fall under greater scrutiny than the man the Cards select with the No. 7 overall pick.
In 25 seasons in the Valley, the Cardinals have selected 26 first-round picks. Here’s a look at five times the franchise really got it right.
1. Larry Fitzgerald, WR, Pittsburgh, 2004, No. 3 overall
He’s a future Hall of Famer, he’s a genuine humanitarian, his work ethic is unquestioned, his pass-catching skills – even upside down — are eye-popping and he’s here for the long haul after signing an eight-year, $120 million extension. He has 10,413 yards, 77 touchdowns, six Pro Bowl appearances, he is the first player to catch 700 passes before turning 30, he owns a litany of franchise receiving records, and he owns NFL records for most touchdown receptions in a postseason (7), most receptions in a postseason (30) and most receiving yards in a postseason (546). This one is a no-brainer.
2. Patrick Peterson, CB/PR, LSU, 2011, No. 5 overall
Peterson struggled in his rookie year at corner, but nobody seemed to mind when hetied an NFL record with four punt returns for TDs in an otherwise disappointing season for the Cardinals. Last season, Peterson didn’t have much impact as a return man with teams angling punts to minimize his chances, but he emerged as one of the top cover corners in the league. In two seasons, Peterson has nine interceptions and seven fumble recoveries, but the feeling around this confident, hard-working player is that the best is yet to come.
3. Simeon Rice, DE, Illinois, 1996, No. 3 overall
Rice recorded 12.5 sacks as a rookie, and in 1998, he helped the team reach the playoffs where it defeated Dallas in the first-round, giving the franchise its only playoff win in Arizona until Ken Whisenhunt became the coach. It’s hard to say how much more Rice could have accomplished had he stayed in Arizona, but since he viewed it as “the armpit of the NFL,” he signed a free-agent deal with Tampa Bay in 2001, won the Super Bowl with the Bucs in 2002 and was just edged out of the MVP voting by his teammate Dexter Jackson.
4. Eric Hill, ILB/MLB, LSU, 1989, No. 10 overall
Hill played nine highly underrated seasons with the Cardinals in Arizona, posting at least 83 tackles in seven separate seasons, missing just six games in his first eight NFL seasons while earning a reputation as a heavy hitter. In an interview on the Dan Patrick Show, former Cowboys fullback Daryl “Moose” Johnston was asked who was the toughest player he ever faced. Without a moment’s hesitation, Johnston’s answer was Hill. After he concluded his career playing for San Diego in 1999, Hill returned and signed a ceremonial contract that allowed him to retire as a Cardinal.
5. Ken Harvey, OLB, California, 1988, No. 12 overall
Harvey had a better career than many remember. In six seasons in Arizona, he had 47.5 sacks, and he posted a career-high 120 tackles in 1989. He played in all 16 of the Cardinals’ games in five of those six seasons. Of course, like many other Cardinals draft picks – Thomas Jones, Garrison Hearst, Antrel Rolle, Rice – he went on to bigger and better things elsewhere, posting 13.5 sacks and 80 tackles in his first season in Washington in 1994.