The Arizona Cardinals draft class of 2013

April 29th, 2013 | Written by Kip Earlywine

Arizona is where good prospects go to die. Will Ryan Swope be an exception?

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.

Overall impression:

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.

35 Responses to “The Arizona Cardinals draft class of 2013”

  1. Colin says:

    Personally, I never saw the greatness that so many people saw in Ken Whisenhunt. I saw a guy take over a talented team, a team capable of running a sophisticated passing offense with Kurt Warner and somehow fluke their way to a Super Bowl, fall apart, and never come back. Whisenhunt never appreciated the offensive line or the running game. It’s why in 5 of his 6 seasons they averaged less than 100 yards rushing per game. It’s why they didn’t draft any offensive linemen between 2007 and 2012. He was arrogant in a similar way to Holmgren. He tried forcing a square peg in a round hole. And he failed. Granted, the GM deserves some blame, but when people throw your name around as a “QB guru” and an “innovative offensive mind” and you can’t deliever, it’s time to call back the dogs a bit.

    • I thought he made excellent in game decisions, and coached the team to two of it’s best seasons in their history. He was undone by his quarterback situation, which he was partially to blame for since he pushed for Kevin Kolb. I’d rate him as a slightly above average coach that had to deal with a terrible roster year in and year out.

  2. Nolan says:

    Kip you going to do this for the other division teams ? I would be very interested this was excellent

  3. Snoop Dogg says:

    Don’t get me wrong, I am a diehard Hawk’s fan, but I honestly hope the Cardinals do well next year! I would love to have them beat the 49ers in one or two games.

    • DavidinBellingham says:

      How about this for division play:

      Seahawks 6-0

      Rams 3-3

      Cardinals 3-3

      49ers 0-6

      • Chris F says:

        While I would love it if that was how the division games played out and am aware that you are being facetious, I expect the actual distribution of wins and losses within the division to be a lot more balanced. One thing is certain, it would be a serious miscalculation on the parts of either the Seahawks or 49ers to sleep on the Rams and Cards as both teams will be much improved this season. Couple that with the fact that the 49ers will be at least as good as they were last year and the race for the NFC West is shaping up to be a real dogfight.

    • HawkSoup says:

      The only other team in the division I do not hold a negative feeling towards is the Cards.

  4. maxnote says:

    That was an awesome play! It looked more like a glitch in Madden than a real football play, but it was awesome.

    I really hate that I couldn’t root for Ryan Swope in the AFC, but I doubt he will have any success against the Legion of Boom.

  5. Kenny Sloth says:

    Kip, who are some scouts you read? What sites should I bookmark?

    • I do all my own analysis. That said, I recommend rotoworld.com and draftinsider.net during draft season for general info. NFLDraftScout.com is a good site for finding measurables info on players.

      • xo 1 says:

        For what it’s worth to you, Matt Waldman of The Rookie Scouting Portfolio, was high on DC Jefferson. He saw a versatile, effective pass catcher who was under appreciated. (Like every other site I have found, he didn’t have Luke Willson on his radar at all, which is amazing in retrospect given his measureables and productivity before this season.)

        I agree that this was a solid effort. Post-draft, I’m amazed at how deep the good players ran. Yes there were few first round grades, but man there were a lot of fourth and fifth round grades. Every team I’ve studied added at least one guy in the sixth and seventh round I have a positive opinion of.

        • xo 1 says:

          Now that I have it handy, here is a taste of Waldman’s view on Jefferson:

          I like Jefferson’s ability to play “long”
          against tight coverage. He’s a big, agile,
          fluid athlete with more balance and
          power than the likes of Fauria and Zach
          Ertz. He also has more promise as an inline
          blocker. While he lacks top-end
          speed and quickness and a pectoral
          injury at the combine puts him in a
          tough spot entering the NFL Draft, this
          former top QB prospect has starter
          potential if he became more consistent
          against the blitz.

          To anyone who hasn’t read Waldman’s stuff, I highly recommend it. Like Rob and Kip, he has an ability to do his own scouting and surface different players than the mainstream “copy and paste” views so many sites feature.

      • Kenny Sloth says:

        I do my own scouting, too. But I like finding other people’s analysis and using it to find any proficiencies or deficiencies I may have missed.

  6. CHawk Talker Eric says:

    I think ARI is the one place where Mathieu can succeed, and I think he will surprise everyone. Peterson is the perfect teammate and mentor for him.

    Cooper and Swope are solid picks and should contribute. Ellington and Taylor give them some competition at RB (though I think Ellington makes the bigger impact).

    Minter looks to have his baptism by fire by taking Daryl Washington’s place during his 4-game suspension.

    I think in retrospect, Cooper, Swope and Mathieu will make this draft will look pretty good for ARI.

    • I could easily see Ellington as a 1000 yard RB if they build a half-decent O-line. I’m not wild about their defensive picks, but they added some nice pieces on offense.

      • CHawk Talker Eric says:

        They had a decent defense last year. Washington’s suspension will sting a bit, but I’m guessing that’s why they made the Minter pick. I was never a fan of Okafor, and I don’t think I will be anytime soon considering how ill suited he is for their defensive scheme, but who knows. He has demonstrated an ability to pressure the QB.

        I will say that in the days leading up to the draft, I soured on Mathieu a lot. I was completely disheartened by his missed meeting with SEA, as well as his very public draft party gaffe. Both show that his immaturity continues (perhaps has even increased if that’s possible). ARI will need to chaperon him constantly. Nonetheless, I’m still hoping he lives up to his potential even if he does it playing for a division rival. I say that as a connoisseur of the sport who truly appreciates great football play.

        • Kip Earlywine says:

          I think that defense will be in trouble long term without Horton. Maybe in the short term, even.

  7. HawkSoup says:

    Ellington and Swope are the two picks that I thought the Cards did well in picking. Well, and of course Cooper.

  8. HawkSoup says:

    Ellington and Swope are the two picks that I thought the Cards did well in picking. Well, and of course Cooper.

  9. geoffu says:

    What’s weird to me is in the 3rd they could’ve grabbed Barkley, Nassib, Wilson, or Glennon instead one of the biggest risks of the draft. And then in the fourth they still could’ve had Nassib or Wilson and still passed. Must not’ve really thought much of this QB class.

  10. CHawk Talker Eric says:

    I know this thread is about ARI’s draft, but this is what I meant about liking the Jesse Williams pick for reasons other than his play:

    http://blog.seahawks.com/2013/04/29/jesse-tha-monstar-williams-brings-monster-fanbase-to-seattle/

  11. Hawkfin says:

    I personally HATED this draft other then Swope. He’s the only player I like.

    I don’t know how you can take a guard that early in the draft, plus I think they missed out on the cream of the crop at Oline, and reached for what was left. I thought Cooper was overrated a bit, but then add in that he’s a guard at I’m not a fan with such an early pick. If he fails, there is nowhere he can go.
    At least if a tackle fails, he can maybe play guard.
    But, even if that pick works out the rest of the draft sucked.

    I agree, Minter was a 5th or 6th rounder with play issues at best. Hate the troubled corner, and we got the best LSU corner. He wasn’t even that good to begin with, but at that size it’s even worse. Once the hype runs off he’ll bust. And if that fails, he’ll be troubled somehow. Plus WAY to early for him.
    The rest of the draft was not good either IMO.

    They also got a horiable QB in Palmer IMO, with nothing good in the draft and where QB’s really slipped down this year. Didn’t land a good RB. Lots of things I hated about what they did.

    I think this was a BUST draft. By far the worse in the Division IMO and I’d say probably the league.
    Looks like the same old Arizona to me.

    Loved the 49ers and Rams draft though.

    • Attyla the Hawk says:

      I’m usually not keen on taking OL in the first round at all unless it’s a LT.

      However, not all drafts are similar. This draft just didn’t have any good ‘coveted’ position talent. Pass rushers kind of stunk. No QB. No WR. No RB. Not a lot of 3 tech DTs (Arizona doesn’t have pressing need for that). Corners are good, but also plentiful. So no urgency for those. And nothing in the way of expected shut down variety like a Patrick Petersen.

      Relatively speaking, there wasn’t a whole lot of good alternatives to choose from. This year’s #8 really might as well have been a second round pick.

      Cooper is going to be a great guard. He’s unnatural in his ability to move in space. Will he have a high order impact in wins and losses? No. But he’s going to have no less than other play makers.

      What Cooper does give you though, is the ability to make existing and future play makers you get better. Austin/Patterson — they don’t do that. Cooper’s value is going to be additive to future guys you get.

    • Kip Earlywine says:

      I guess you could argue Milliner over Cooper, but both would have similar draft grades, and Arizona needs O-line help infinitely more than adding even more talent to their secondary.

  12. Hawkfin says:

    P.S. to clarify – I think they also passed on better Oline, when they took Cooper. I like who Tenn took way later.

    • Alex says:

      Cooper is a fine guard, but I just can’t bring myself to like the move. A guard is one of the lowest valued positions you can pick in the 1st round even if Cooper happens to be the BPA. People always point to the 1996 draft when Ozzie selected Jonathon Ogden over the RB need, but at least left tackle IS a premium position that can only be obtained in the first 10 picks.

      A team only has a window to take certain players. QB, LT, Pass rushers, or other premium position players are usually only available in the first 10 picks or so. Once your team improves to a point that you’re out of the top 10, you can’t get a top flight LT or Pass Rusher unless a team overlooks a prospect (Aaron Rodgers) or if the prospect has enough question marks (Jason Pierre Paul was RAW).

  13. Stuart says:

    Mathieu may turn into another Pacman Jones. I am so happy the Hawks did not draft that knuckle-head. Whenever he talks I put the TV on mute. Since he now is in the NFW West we will get to watch this guy unravel. Will he shock all of us and turn into a solid person and solid pro? I cant believe I just wasted all this time writing about the guy that creeps me out.

    Barkley, what was Arizona thinking? WOW. His ceiling could be a top 10 QB in the NFL but surely his floor is a back-up QB who will be in the league for 10 years. Arizona will regret passing on Barkley, what a blunder…