Last January the Cardinals cleaned house, firing 11 year general manager Rod Graves and head coach Ken Whisenhunt. Arizona has been a troubled franchise for most of it’s history, so you’d think they would have opted for as big a change of scenery as possible. Remarkably, they instead opted to stay in house for their next GM hire, promoting vice president of player personnel Steve Keim.
Keim has been with the Arizona franchise for 15 years, and has been part of several dubious drafts and offseason overhauls. Imagine if Tim Ruskell had lasted over a decade before being fired, only to be replaced by his deputy Ruston Webster. That’s basically what Arizona did this past winter. They also fired a quality head coach in Ken Whisenhunt and replaced him with a coach that’s drawn comparisons to Dick Jauron. (<— Great article, by the way.)
Regardless, Arizona has turned a new leaf even if it looks uncomfortably familiar for Cardinals fans. Steve Keim was one of four finalists for Seattle’s GM opening in 2010. He must have impressed on some level to gain this opportunity. Let’s see how he did:
Round 1: Jonathan Cooper, G, North Carolina
Round 2: Kevin Minter, ILB, LSU
Round 3: Tyrann Mathieu, CB, LSU
Round 4: Alex Okafor, DE, Texas
Round 4: Earl Watford, G, James Madison
Round 5: Stepfan Taylor, RB, Stanford
Round 6: Ryan Swope, WR, Texas A&M
Round 6: Andre Ellington, RB, Clemson
Round 7: D.C. Jefferson, TE, Rutgers
Jonathan Cooper is worth the hype. It’s not often you see a great technician at guard who also boasts top shelf athleticism. Even hyped guards like Chance Warmack and Mike Iupati were not as polished as Cooper is, and I would argue that Cooper is a much smoother athlete. Cooper may not have the ultra-rare power that Warmack and Iupati possess, but he doesn’t lack for strength and can move defenders. This is the highest a guard has been taken in a very long time, but Arizona’s line has been in bad shape since pretty much the dawn of time. Cooper was part of an unprecedented early rush on lineman in a historically good o-lineman class.
Kevin Minter has NFL-average athleticism and had as many negative plays as positive ones when I scouted him, missing tackles and misreading the run. I don’t think I would have wanted Seattle to draft him in any round, but if you forced me to put a grade on him for the league I probably would have said 5th or 6th round. The linebacker class this year was one of the weakest I’ve ever seen- full of slower linebackers with sloppy tape. That caused some flawed talents to end up being overdrafted. Minter among them.
Tyrann Mathieu is over-valued because he made some big plays during a 2011 season when his team nearly ran the table for a national championship. His size, measurables, and the “luck factor” of his tape lead me to think he’ll be an average NFL player at best. It appears that he may not yet have beaten his demons off the field. This pick reminds me a bit of Maurice Clarrett in 2005, the big difference being that Mathieu seems like a better person- the kind you want to root for despite his problems. It’s rare to see a 3rd round pick not make the initial roster. Clarrett didn’t. Mathieu probably makes Arizona’s roster, but if his problems continue, it’s conceivable he might not.
The fourth round feels about right for Alex Okafor, despite the fact that he has second round measurables and a surprisingly good pass rush repertoire. Where Okafor lacks is speed, and he wasn’t really a dominant force at Texas. I think that’s what scared teams away- the fact that Okafor felt like he was just getting by instead of dominating. Cerebral analysis tells me that Okafor deserved to be drafted much earlier than this, but my instincts tell me he’s probably fool’s gold. Okafor is a classic 4-3 end, so it’s surprising that he was taken by a 3-4 team as an outside linebacker. I think this would have been a solid pick normally, but I think Okafor is miscast in a 3-4 defense.
Earl Watford was one of four players drafted this year out of the sub-division I Colonial Athletic Association (Seattle’s Jared Smith was one of the others). There isn’t a ton of stuff on Watford out there, but one thing I noticed about him is how trim he looks- he’s almost like a tight end at guard in terms of his physique and athleticism. Watford’s measurables are very similar to JR Sweezy, and Sweezy is one of the NFL’s most athletic guards. One thing Sweezy has in his corner though- Tom Cable’s coaching. The success of this pick is firmly on the shoulders of Bruce Arians’ coaching staff.
Stefan Taylor reminds me of Nick Foles in a way. Both are players that looked great in college when you see them with a casual eye, but when you put the tape on and view with a scouting lens, a host of problems appear. Taylor has quick feet and can sometimes make players miss, but his balance was surprisingly lacking and he had no resilience as a runner (meaning that he was usually dead to rights at first contact). The lack of resilience is a little surprising given his bulk (214 pounds). He’s also short (5’9″) and slow (ran just a 4.70 at the combine). His size, speed, and lack of resilience reminds me of former Pac-12 rusher Justin Forsett, though Forsett was more explosive and had better vision.
I’ll have to assume medical concerns caused a drop for Ryan Swope. I’d argue that his multiple concussions don’t scare me very much given that he played through them without issues or missed time. That said, I’m not running an NFL team and most general managers view draft picks as business decisions. Business decisions weigh risk very heavily, I would say too much so. I’ve said my piece on Swope and I think that if he stays healthy he’ll be one of the biggest steals in the draft. Matt Waldman recently had an article that echoed similar sentiments and even claimed that Swope might have a more productive career than Tavon Austin.
Arizona isn’t exactly deep at receiver and you can expect a talented young quarterback to arrive there a year from now. In the meantime, Carson Palmer may not be a good quarterback anymore, but he can still rack up a ton of yards. Oddly enough, Arizona might have been a better landing spot for Swope than Seattle would have been. That would be a worrisome thought, if there wasn’t a gulf separating those two franchises now and for the foreseeable future.
Andre Ellington was the centerpiece of my favorite play from the 2012 college football season. I like that Arizona is grab-bagging running backs to address their running back need. This is a league where an average running back can be productive in the right situation, see Stevan Ridley or BenJarvis Green-Ellis. You don’t have to spend a high pick to get solid results.
I like Ellington’s talent more than Taylor’s. Both runners are 5’9″ and have quick feet, but Ellington is tougher, more resilient, faster, has better balance and has more power. The only bad thing I can say about Ellington is that he’s shocking bad as a pass blocker, despite being so strong as a runner.
Unfortunately, I couldn’t find much on D.C. Jefferson. What I can tell you is that he only ran a 4.97 forty at 6’5″, 255 pounds. Seahawks 6th round pick Luke Willson ran a 4.51 at 6’5″, 251 pounds and he plays the same position. I’d guess that Arizona brought Jefferson in as a blocking specialist or perhaps a special teams player, but I’d be guessing.
I’m not saying Arizona had a great draft, but the feel of this draft is surprisingly different than Cardinals’ drafts of years past. The Cardinals are famous for loading up on big names during draft weekend and earning top honors when draft grades are handed out, only to have those drafts look incredibly overrated in retrospect. The only player Arizona drafted this year that I’d consider a “big name” pick was Tyrann Mathieu, and he was only a 3rd round investment. I guess I’d argue Stefan Taylor as a “name” pick in round five, too. I think they drafted a few over-rated prospects (Minter, Mathieu, Taylor) but they had some really solid picks too (Cooper, Ellington). Swope in the 6th, if he stays healthy, might be the biggest steal in the entire draft. Watford and Okafor have the tools to be above average players, though both have obstacles to overcome.
If Cooper and Swope have the careers I think they’ll have, they could make this draft on their own. Their other 6th round pick could end up starting games at running back, too.