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


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


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


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.


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


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


“JMU?” he said. “That’s a big deal


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.”


asked if he could play quarterback due to his arrival at Rutgers as a

highly touted QB, Jefferson said: “I can play any


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


“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


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.


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.”