My Take: Draft Couldn't Have Gone any Better for Cardinals

Howard Balzer

It would be quite newsworthy if an NFL general manager spoke to the media after the draft and bemoaned his team’s selections, claiming they weren’t able to add anyone they wanted and “reached” for every selection.

Not going to happen.

It’s the mantra to hear the opposite, and A grades would probably be handed out like candy for every selection.

Now, Cardinals general manager Steve Keim obviously doesn’t give grades (which, of course, no one should do this quickly), but the reality is that it‘s difficult to imagine the three days going any better than they did for Keim and Co.

Selected were four defensive players and two on offense, and while there is a lot of time between now and the season (when and if that occurs), the six rookies should all help the team improve even if linebacker Evan Weaver (sixth round) and running back Eno Benjamin (seventh) are only special-teams contributors at the outset.

Weaver’s take-no-prisoners approach will help the kick-coverage units, while Benjamin as the likely third back on the roster could still see time from scrimmage in the team’s up-tempo offense that hopes to run more plays than the 62.5 they averaged in 2019.

On the front end, the only question about first-round choice Isaiah Simmons is how much time there will be to prepare him for everything the coaches want him to do, thanks to the expected absence of on-field offseason work. Even so, the quick study will still have enough in his arsenal to be the “eraser” the team expects.

When the players do hit the field, the competition at tackle will be intense following the acquisition of third-round choice Josh Jones.

The same will be true on the defensive line with the addition of fourth-round picks Leki Fotu and Rashard Lawrence.

What’s most glaring, however, is the passion for the game and work ethic embodied in each selection. That should always be paramount in evaluations but are more important this year because of the likely shorter preparation time there will be for the season.

It’s eye-opening to hear talk there might be only two weeks of prep time before the real games begin. Hopefully, that is just talk, but with so much uncertain, everything and anything is on the table.

Still, as Keim said, “I feel like we got really good football players who are productive and, most importantly to us, have the football IQ and character that we want inside our building. I really feel that all these guys bring leadership, they bring toughness, they’re productive and again, they’re guys we really felt fit the Cardinal way.”

Finally, to those that analyze the draft and note there were only six players picked, Keim made sure to remind everyone during the weekend that the team’s second-round pick was wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins and the fifth-round pick was running back Kenyan Drake, a choice the Cardinals first acquired from Miami last year in the Josh Rosen trade and then sent back to the Dolphins for Drake.

Taking it two steps further, Lawrence arrived with a pick acquired from Houston in the Hopkins deal, while the Cardinals’ own fifth-round choice was used in the 2019 supplemental draft for safety Jalen Thompson, who played 15 games with nine starts last season and tied for sixth on the team with 63 tackles, according to film review by coaches.

Coupled with the veterans added prior to the draft, a restrained Keim admitted Saturday, “Yeah, I’m excited. At the same time, I don’t want to get over my ski tips from the standpoint of we haven’t played yet. We still have to play football. I feel confident that we’ve done some good things, but I also don’t want to put us in a position where we don’t realize that there’s a lot of work still to be done.”

There surely is, but before long, there’s a strong sense the Cardinals will be viewed outside Arizona in the prism of a potential surprise team.

Of course, that’s how the Cleveland Browns were viewed last year and we saw what happened. It will be incumbent on the Cardinals to live up to whatever accolades are bestowed upon them.

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