When it comes to the NFL Draft, I have strong belief that you win games not by whom you draft on the first two days, but by finding players that contribute to your team consistently on day three.
The Arizona Cardinals did an exceptional job of this in the Rod Graves era.
While their success early is questionable — Bryant Johnson, J.J. Arrington, Eric Green, Matt Leinart, Beanie Wells, Cody Brown and potentially Ryan Williams — the Cardinals have done well in rounds four and on.
In the last decade, the Cardinals have found players like Reggie Wells, Antonio Smith, Steve Breaston, Tim Hightower, LaRod Stephens-Howling, Greg Toler, O’Brien Schofield, Sam Acho, Anthony Sherman, David Carter, Bobby Massie, Justin Bethel and Nate Potter during the third day of the draft.
There are a number of players in this year’s draft that can have the same type of impact on the Cardinals roster as day three picks, but here are nine players that I think will make that kind of impact and fit what the Cardinals need.
Chase Thomas, OLB, Stanford
Thomas didn’t test well and generally doesn’t look like a guy that you want lining up as a pass rusher on the outside.
That all goes away when you watch him on the field. He is a relentless worker who uses his hands to win against bigger, stronger blockers and keep himself free to make plays. What he lacks in burst off the edge he makes up for with guile and an array of pass rush moves.
He will likely never become the sack leader in the NFL, but he has enough work in him that he’ll carve out a nice career.
Josh Evans, FS, Florida
While Matt Elam gets all the publicity, I believe that his running mate in the Florida defensive backfield will be the more effective NFL player.
Evans needs work in coverage, but is a downhill, attacking safety who will thrive at the next level as a zone/deep cover type of safety that can play center field and read and react to what the passer is doing.
Tharold Simon, CB, LSU
Excellent size and physicality at the corner position. Simon shows an ability to turn and run on short and intermediate routes, where he plays the ball well, and shows excellent ball skills.
Simon needs to be more aggressive against the run, but he has shown ability on special teams and with his size and ability to stick to his man, will be an attractive asset come draft day.
David Quessenberry, OL, San Jose State
Exceptionally quick, physical, attacking offensive tackle that should be moved to guard in the NFL. Quessenberry flashes excellent ability in the run game, but looks much less intense in pass protection.
His versatility and ability to win in the run game consistently should allow him to be an effective guard at the next level.
Hugh Thornton, OG, Illinois
Thickly built, strong and powerful interior offensive line prospect who can play either the guard or center position. Thornton looks like the type of player who can come in and immediately be a backup along the interior of an offensive line at all three positions and work his way into becoming a solid starter.
A.J. Klein, ILB, Iowa State
Instinctive, physical, run-stopping inside linebacker who looks more comfortable when dropping into coverage than most give him credit for.
Klein looks the part as the leader of a defense and can be a guy that comes in and contributes immediately as a two-down linebacker and on special teams, at the very least.
Abry Jones, DT, Georgia
Jones reminds me a lot of current Cardinals DT David Carter, as he is the prototype “tweener” — built like a defensive tackle, but plays like a defensive end.
Jones shows an initial quickness that’s unusual for his size and does a good job at the point of attack at holding up his blocker and allowing others to make plays. Needs to improve taking on double teams, but has the ability to come in and make plays as a rotational type early, and work his way into a starting role as a 3-4 defensive end.
Mychal Rivera, TE, Tennessee
I’ve talked a lot about Rivera’s game, but his ability to find the soft spot in the coverage, and his familiarity with a vertical attacking, pro-style offense makes him a perfect fit for a team looking for a second tight end.
Rivera is a willing blocker, and his ability to be a hybrid H-back/tight end will make him successful early.
Round 7/Undrafted free agent
George Winn, RB, Cincinnati
While Winn may not hear his name called on draft day, he’s a player that I think will not only make a roster come fall, but will make plays.
He is a strong, downhill runner with good vision, excellent quickness through the hole and the ability to make defenders miss early. He runs with a purpose and consistently fights for the extra yard.
Where Winn will be most successful early is on special teams, where he can contribute in all phases of the game. He could also be a weapon as a backup running back on Sundays.
These nine players represent the building blocks that teams can find in the later rounds, and should.