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Arizona Cardinals played it safe with Jonathan Cooper

Back in 2007, first-year Arizona Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt and the team decided to play it safe with their first-round pick.

Selecting fifth, the team chose Penn State tackle Levi Brown. They played it safe, going with a guy who could play right away and filled a position of need.

They got burned.

Of course, back then the Cardinals passed on a chance to draft Adrian Peterson and Patrick Willis, among others. In fact, 13 of the 28 players selected after Brown have played in at least one Pro Bowl. Brown, of course, has not.

As it all pertains to the 2013 draft, the Cardinals did not pass up on any sure-fire elite playmakers. Dion Jordan and Barkevious Mingo were off the board, as was Ezekiel Ansah. Dee Milliner and Tavon Austin were available, but they would have been added to positions of strength. Still, the Cardinals once again played it safe, this time with the selection of North Carolina guard Jonathan Cooper.

“We truly feel like this guy could be a 10-12 year pro,” Cardinals general manager Steve Keim said of Cooper. “A Pro Bowl-caliber talent.”

That may be so, and let’s hope he’s right.

As I wrote earlier in the week, the idea of drafting an offensive lineman with one of the first 10 picks is one I’m not a fan of. I believe a team should seek out impact players, guys who will make a difference by making plays.

Cooper’s impact (or the impact of any other lineman) will only be seen if another player has success. If Rashard Mendenhall has a successful year on the ground, then Cooper did a good job. If Carson Palmer stays upright, then Cooper did a good job.

Of course, if Mendenhall has a bad year and Palmer is on his back most of the season, that does not necessarily mean Cooper did a poor job. And that’s the point.

Cooper may make a difference, but he alone will not make much of an impact. Will the offensive line be better with him on it? Probably, but will his presence mean the Cardinals will have a quality offense?

Prior to the draft, Cardinals coach Bruce Arians had repeatedly claimed offensive line was not as big of a need as people thought. As crazy as it may sound, he’s right. After all, it is not as if the team has neglected the spot.

Along with Brown, the team has paid good money to sign guards Daryn Colledge and Adam Snyder, as well as retain center Lyle Sendlein. Add in Bobby Massie, a fourth-round pick from last year, and you have a line that has been put together with purpose. Whether or not it was put together well is up for debate (not really — it wasn’t), but that’s just it.

You can spend as much money as you want and invest as many draft picks as you’d like in the front five, but unless the coaching and scheme are any good, it won’t matter. Some of the best offensive lines in the league are made up of low-round selections or undrafted rookie free agents, all of whom have been coached up to play at a high level. The Cardinals, under Russ Grimm, did not do that, and they paid for it on the field.

And now, they’ve paid for it in the draft room.

“I think he adds a nice dimension to the existing group of guys that we have,” Arians said. “We just finished mini-camp, I was extremely pleased with the group that’s out there.

“And this is a very nice piece to that puzzle.”

Indeed, Cooper may turn out to be a nice piece. In fact, his bust potential is probably as low as any player the team has drafted in recent history. But when you’re drafting in the top 10, you should not be looking for pieces. No, you should be looking for the entire package.