Updated Apr 28, 2013 - 4:45 pm
Arizona Cardinals' draft grade
Five years I've been analyzing the NFL Draft, and in those five years if you've ever come across any of my work you know the thing I despise the most about the draft process is the end.
Not because it's over, I'll be starting my 2014 prospect work today, but the fact that now I have to listen to pundits, bloggers and fans tell me who had an "A" draft, "B" draft and so on over the next week.
When drafts occur, grading picks as they come, or right after the draft weekend is completely fruitless.
Want to know how I know that?
2009 NFL Draft grades
Rick Gosselin- A
Mel Kiper- B+
Those types of grades should spell out a great draft for the Cardinals. It should have meant they snared a franchise running back, a dynamic pass rusher, and guys like Rashad Johnson, Greg Toler and Herman Johnson should have made an impact down the line.
In reality, Wells was nothing more than a bust. Cody Brown never saw the field and the only "impact" the Cardinals saw from this class was from Rashad Johnson and LaRod Stephens-Howling on special teams and in part-time players roles. Toler was a good player, but could never stay on the field.
The point of this diatribe is to not get too high or too low on what the experts are saying the Cardinals graded out in this draft because the reality is we won't know until we look back on this while getting ready for the 2016 NFL Draft.
What to like: Need + Value = Great Names
The very first article I wrote for Arizona Sports discussed the Cardinals' needs: guard, pass rusher, tackle and then once free agency started I updated that to include safety and what did the Cardinals do on draft day? They addressed those positions with tremendous "value" picks.
Jonathan Cooper will come in and be able to start anywhere along the interior of the Cardinals' offensive line.
He should instantly provide an upgrade to either guard or the center position, no matter where head coach Bruce Arians and company want to line him up to play.
Grabbing Kevin Minter, my 27th rated player for the Cardinals, in the middle of the second round and adding a fourth round pick makes this not just a great selection, it makes it highway robbery.
In the third round, the Cardinals picked up the high risk, high reward Tyrann Mathieu, and at this point and time it seems as though he'll be lining up as the free safety for the Cardinals with every chance to earn the starting job.
I am not sure free safety is Mathieu's best position, but he certainly has the playmaking ability. If he's used in more of a Richard Marshall role, remember Marshall was lined up as a nickel corner and played free safety in Ray Horton's defense, he could be a steal when you take into account his special teams impact as well.
Adding Alex Okafor isn't necessarily the impact pass rusher I had in mind, but he offered too much value in the fourth round to pass up and he should absolutely be able to get playing time in a defense that needs to find a guy that can consistently get to the quarterback.
Preparing for the future:
One of the things that made me love this draft so much was the fact the Cardinals took the time to figure out how they could get impact players today and tomorrow.
While the need for running back was there in the sense of a long-term answer, the immediate need for 2013 wasn't exactly glaring, and in past seasons we've seen Cardinals management ignore needs that may become apparent in 2014.
This was never more apparent than drafting a running back and wide receiver on back-to-back picks in rounds five and six.
Taking Stepfan Taylor in the fifth round gives the Cardinals an insurance policy for the one-year Rashard Mendenhall contract and the injury prone Ryan Williams.
Then you have Ryan Swope. While wide receiver was probably not a glaring weakness for the Cardinals, they do have to deal with Andre Roberts' pending free agency in 2014. his gives the Cardinals leverage if they choose to make him an offer to stay or gives them an option if they want to let him walk after this season.
That's getting ready for the here and now, and preparing for the future.
Things that made me go hmmm: The double dip
I am not going to complain too much, because in the end both of these picks make sense, but I will say it was interesting to see the Cardinals double dip at guard and running back.
In the fourth round, with some intriguing talent still on the board, the Cardinals took the high upside Earl Watford from James Madison.
Watford will absolutely be a fit in the Cardinals' new zone blocking scheme, something Ron Wolfley talked about after the Jonathan Cooper pick. His athleticism and skill in space makes him the ideal guard to pair with Cooper, but why not look to getting a young tackle, center or even a quarterback?
Then you have Ellington. Listen, I really like Ellington, thought he'd be gone on the second day, and he is a guy that can make an impact on special teams. But is it necessary, in an Arians offense where one running back typically gets 58-60% of the carries, to have two rookies?
Again, they weren't bad picks at all, both are players I could see pushing for playing time immediately, but they both just made me think about where the roster is going to be on Week 1. (Note: Both selections were the result of adding a second pick in the round they were selected, so I am interested to see if that played into their thinking at all).
Why not go high risk?
When D.C. Jefferson was selected with the Cardinals' final pick in the draft, I went back to my board and noticed some names that I believe have higher ceilings, but are a bit riskier prospects.
With eight picks already made, why not take a flier on a higher risk, higher reward prospect like Ray Ray Armstrong, Da'Rick Rodgers, Alvin Bailey, Kwame Geathers, Abry Jones or Chase Thomas?
It's really nitpicking at this point, but it is something I wonder.
Again, I don't like assigning letter grades on draft day, there are just too many unknowns and variables to take into account, but if I was that type, I don't see how you can give this regime anything but an "A" for their first draft day.
Seth Cox/The Sports Headquarters, Editor-in-chief of The Sports Headquarters
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