TEMPE, Ariz. (AP) The Arizona Cardinals traded away three picks to move up seven spots in the fourth round on the final day of the NFL draft.
Then they used the selection to pick Delaware State defensive tackle Rodney Gunter, a player many had forecast to go much later, if at all.
The Cardinals wanted him so bad they weren’t taking any chances, apparently suspecting someone else was about to take him.
Article continues below ...
The 6-foot-5, 305-pound player was the 17th selection in the fourth round on Saturday, the 116th overall.
To move up, the Cardinals gave Cleveland the 24th pick in the fourth round (123rd overall), the 22nd pick in the sixth round (198th overall) and the 24th pick in the seventh round (241st overall).
”A lot of fans are probably going to say `Who is Rodney Gunter?”’ Cardinals general manager Steve Keim said. ”I have a pretty strong conviction, coach (Bruce Arians) has a pretty strong conviction, that in the next couple of years our fans are going to know real well who Rodney Gunter is. It’s no different from the way we felt about John (Brown) last year coming out of Pittsburg State and Justin Bethel coming out of Presbyterian (in 2012).”
Thanks to a second-round trade with Baltimore, Arizona had consecutive picks in the fifth round. The Cardinals used the first to select defensive end/outside linebacker Shaq Riddick of West Virginia and the other to choose wide receiver J.J. Nelson of UAB.
With the very last pick of the draft, the so-called ”Mr. Irrelevant,” Arizona selected Louisville tight end Gerald Christian, the 256thh player chosen overall.
Gunter, a cousin of former Cardinals tight end D.C. Jefferson, acknowledged that he was drafted sooner than he had expected to be.
”I’m just very surprised,” he said in a conference call. ”I was projected to go in later rounds, around five, six, seven, but God blessed me with the positions to go fourth round. It’s a dream come true.”
Others may have doubted him, but Gunter aimed high when comparing himself to another player.
”I’m very versatile,” he said. ”I’m a hard-working guy. I potentially can be the next J.J. Watt.”
While Gunter was forecast to go much lower, Keim said the Cardinals had information that they had better make a move when they did.
”In this business enough people talk that occasionally you get some intel that tells you where a guy is going to potentially go,” he said, ”and I had a little birdie tell me where he was going to go if we didn’t take him. I got a call from the GM that confirmed that afterward.”
Gunter played only one year of high school football, saying he worked as a waiter and dishwasher to help ends meet at home, where he was one of three sons to a single mother.
As a senior, Gunter had seven sacks and 13 tackles for loss.
Riddick, 6-foot-6 and 260 pounds, played one season at West Virginia after transferring from Gardner-Webb, where he was a dominant FCS (Football Championship Subdivision) player and had earned his degree in business administration in three years.
He said he looked forward to playing as an edge rusher rather than playing in a three-point stance.
”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. ”…I’m going to be able to manhandle whoever I want to manhandle out there.”
Nelson had the fastest 40-yard time at the NFL combine at 4.28 seconds and could be a leading candidate to return kicks for Arizona. He stands 5-foot-10 and weighs just 156 pounds, the lightest player to participate in the combine in 13 years. He said he wants to get up to 165 to 175 pounds.
”I feel like if I do gain weight that it’s not going to hurt my speed at all,” he said.
Nelson is part of UAB’s final football class. The school disbanded the program after last season.
Arians said he was watching his granddaughter compete in the Alabama state track championships several years ago when he first saw Nelson, whom he called the fastest player he’s ever coached, even faster than Brown.
AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org and www.twitter.com/AP-NFL