GM Keim Confident; Believes Forced Changes Resulted in Better Evaluations

Howard Balzer

When the final name was announced in the NFL Draft at 6:53 pm ET Saturday, it culminated a frenetic six weeks that felt a lot longer, as the NFL and its 32 teams navigated an unprecedented set of circumstances that led to an attempt at business as close to usual as possible amid a pandemic that closed team offices, resulted in a virtual draft and that will now have teams trying to accomplish some semblance of offseason work with players that still won’t come close to mirroring what normally happens in the weight rooms and on the field from April through mid-June.

Through it all, Cardinals general manager Steve Keim, just like his 31 counterparts, knew how crucial it was to go about their business knowing that if things go south down the road, no one would care to hear, “Well, we had that pandemic to deal with.”

As Keim said Saturday afternoon, while feeling confident about the six players the team drafted, “It says a lot about our scouts and our coaching staff and the work that those guys put in making sure that our board was set up the right way. I really can’t tell you how proud I am of both of those groups for all of the hard work that they put in from the film evaluations and time that they spent with these prospects.”

Keim came away from it all believing that several things forced upon teams in the last month of preparation will now become commonplace moving forward.

“I think 100 percent,” he said. “I said this many times in the last couple days, I really feel like there’s a number of things we’ve learned from this, as unfortunate as it is, that we can build upon. Again, a lot of it is the virtual part of it that I think there are things that we can accomplish on our side that minimizes travel and lets you work a little smarter so to speak with the time management standpoint.

“When we’re talking about X amount of prospects that we’re trying to get our coaches in front of, some of the virtual conversations can be done this way vs. having to do it in person. Now, again, you can’t replicate the workouts, the things that a coach asks a guy to do in a workout, but you can certainly replicate the board stuff and some of the interaction that these guys have one-on-one.”

He also is convinced that the necessary process this year led to improved evaluations on his part.

Asked about his level of excitement after the draft compared to past years, Keim said, Every year I feel pretty good about it, but it’s one of those things that you draft players sometimes that you talk yourself into, or you don’t trust your instinct but it’s a positional need. There’s always that gravitational pull. This year I just feel like – I don’t know, maybe it’s because it’s a different set-up, I’m out of my element, I’ve had a lot of time to watch players and watch even more and more tape than ever. But for whatever reason, I just feel really, really at peace with what we did in this draft. Really excited about the players we selected.”

One of those was Arizona State running back Eno Benjamin in the seventh round. The Cardinals also signed Phoenix native linebacker Devon Kennard and re-signed quarterback Brett Hundley, who also grew up in the Phoenix area.

“I love it, man,” he said of adding players with Arizona ties. “It’s special for me. Arizona is, being a kid from a small town in Pennsylvania and then going to college in North Carolina and then being out here for what is it, nine, 10 years; this is my home. Arizona is my home and I can’t tell you how proud it makes me to take Arizona State players, Arizona local kids. It just feels special to me and the one cool thing about it is watching Arizona as a high school football (area) as a whole, they have really grown over the years.

“There used to be a time, and we always open up our practices in the springtime to the college coaches. And there was a time when we’d get (only) Arizona State coaches or University of Arizona coaches to come to our spring workouts. I’m telling you right now, it’s like every week, I look up and I’ve got coaches from Penn State, Georgia, Texas, Tennessee, you name it are coming out here because they’re coming in this state to recruit our finest products. It just goes to show the leadership and the high school coaches in the state of Arizona have done a tremendous job developing their programs, their players. It does, it makes me really proud.”

Now, he wants to make the area proud of the team he is building.

Are you excited what this team will be capable of?

“Yeah, I’m excited,” Keim admitted. “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.”

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