Keim on Cardinals’ unheralded picks: ‘No risk it, no biscuit’

TEMPE, Ariz. — If you are looking for an overriding theme from the Cardinals’ 2015 NFL Draft, you might be left scratching your head. A few of Arizona’s picks had fans doing just that.

Three of their seven picks hail from Northern Iowa, Delaware State and Alabama-Birmingham, so it’s hard to get a good read on what the Cardinals accomplished this weekend, other than filling some holes.

"No. 1, we added several players who are passionate and love the game and are going to be great for our locker room," general manager Steve Keim said. "At the same time, we added some guys that a lot of fans probably don’t know a lot about, but we see a tremendous amount of upside.

"Coach says all the time: ‘No risk it, no biscuit. I don’t think it’s any secret in this room that I like biscuits." 

Keim made it clear a week before the draft that the Cardinals would not be shy about drafting small-school players. He followed through on that promise once again.

"When you’ve had some success on small-school guys there are certain criteria that make those guys special," he said. "It starts with their physical traits. Adding to that is their commitment and passion for the game."

After bolstering their offensive line with tackle D.J. Humphries on Thursday, and adding edge rusher Markus Golden and big running back David Johnson on Friday, the Cardinals picked up a versatile defensive lineman, another outside linebacker and a receiver/kick returner on Day 3. They added a tight end with the last pick in the draft: Mr. Irrelevant.

Cardinals coach Bruce Arians predicted the third day of the draft would be rife with trades and he was right. Arizona got in on the action when it swapped fourth-round picks with Cleveland (123 for 116) and gave the Browns their sixth-round pick (98th) and their original seventh-round pick (241st).

With that fourth-round pick, the Cardinals added versatile defensive lineman Rodney Gunter from Delaware State, a player that area scout Zac Canty first discovered who can play multiple positions along the line. Gunter (6-4, 298 pounds) had seven sacks and 13 tackles last season for the Hornets, who play in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference.

CARDINALS FILL NEEDS IN DRAFT

"In this business enough people talk that occasionally you get some intel that tells you where a guy is going to potentially go," said Keim, who loves Gunter’s combination of size, length and movement skills. "I had a little birdie tell me where he was going to go if we didn’t take him and I got a call that confirmed that from the GM afterward. I won’t name any names but I was glad that we did what we did."

Gunter played just one year of high school ball. His mom raised him alone so he had to get a job to help support the family. He believes that impacted the interest he garnered from colleges.

"I was the oldest boy out of three boys so I had to get a job as a dishwasher and I was a waiter; I had to make ends meet," Gunter said. "I was very underrated coming out of high school — just had one offer (Delaware State)."

With consecutive picks in the fifth round (158th and 159th overall), Arizona took West Virginia outside linebacker Shaq Riddick and Alabama-Birmingham receiver/kick returner J.J. Nelson.

Riddick played just one year at West Virginia (at defensive end) after transferring from Gardner-Webb. The switch to outside linebacker doesn’t concern him.

"I just feel like at outside linebacker, I’ll be more of a bully compared to where I was with my hand in the ground," he said. "At West Virginia, I was a in a 3-technique and a 4-technique playing against double-teams against guards and tackles and still holding my own. When it comes to standing up on the edge, I’m going to be able to manhandle whoever I want to manhandle out there."

THE GRADES ARE IN ...

Nelson, whose alma mater eliminated football after this season, ran a 4.28 40-yard dash at the Scouting Combine and is a strong candidate to return kicks for the Cardinals. Arians first saw him while attending a high school track meet four years ago in Birmingham because his granddaughter was running.

"He is a dynamic kick returner," said Arians, whose son, Jake, played at UAB. "It’s very rare to have a guy this fast (who is) able to cut."

Three areas the Cardinals did not address in the draft were inside linebacker, cornerback and center, so those could become priorities as the team looks to sign undrafted free agents. Keim said immediately after the draft that he already had commitments from three to four undrafted free agents.

At linebacker, Daryl Washington is likely facing another lengthy suspension for a domestic incident — if the NFL reinstates him from his current suspension. Larry Foote is contemplating retirement and a spot with the coaching staff and Arians has already labeled Kevin Minter a situational run defender, so Arizona appears to have a need alongside free-agent acquisition Sean Weatherspoon. Arians said he’d like to add more speed at the position.

Arians insists cornerback Justin Bethel is ready to step into the starting role vacated by Antonio Cromartie’s departure in free-agency, and Arizona also has veteran Jerraud Powers as an insurance policy. But Powers fits better in the slot and Bethel has no experience or resume as a starter. It’s a big leap to expect him to assume the kind of one-on-one duties the Cardinals regularly throw at their corners because of the pressure they like to bring.

The Cardinals signed veteran A.Q. Shipley to compete with Ted Larsen for the starting spot, but the team could bring in more competition and it has left the door open for veteran Lyle Sendlein to return on a smaller contract after the team released him this spring.

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