Allow me to preface what follows: rookies have got to play and rookies have got to prove their worth. I don’t give rookies the benefit of the doubt, regardless of where they’re drafted. Prove it, rook.
Having offered this premise, the 2013 NFL Draft for the Arizona Cardinals in terms of value of pick, areas of need addressed and draft management looks to be superb.
General managers in the National Football League are hunters. They pour over scouting reports, watch more film than movie critics and research more backgrounds than most private investigators.
They hunt for young men that will fit their team and the locker room they have assembled. They are hunters of men that know how to bludgeon opponents and bloody their knuckles.
And if that’s the case, Cardinals GM Steve Keim might be Orion. The rookie GM absolutely tracked, killed and bagged the 2013 NFL Draft.
Coming into this draft the Cardinals had needs at OL, OLB, S, MLB and RB, but Keim is a huge value guy. He won’t pick a player that doesn’t fit on the Keim-o-Meter. If the pick is a reach, he’ll typically vomit on it and hit the eject button. And this was the case during this draft.
“Value” is the word of this draft class.
Keim got his offensive lineman, Jonathan Cooper, and analysts expected either Cooper or Chance Warmack would go in the top 10. Although guards do not impact games to the degree tackles typically do, which is why so few are drafted in the first round, rare guards are exceptions and Cooper is an exception, a guy that could easily become a perennial Pro Bowl player.
Getting Kevin Minter at 45 was a steal. Minter was the best tackler in this draft and the best plugger, holding up at the POA better than either Manti Te’o or Alec Ogletree. Minter needs to get better in space but in the brutal NFC West, he’s a better fit. You better be a street fighter if you’re going to play in this division and that’s what the Mike-backer from LSU is. If Kevin Minter was drafted late in the first round nobody would have batted an eye. Value.
I love the pick of Tyrann Mathieu. The Honey Badger is a huge risk but this kid is a playmaker. He has the best instincts I have seen since Troy Polamalu. This often gets him into trouble because he will roll the dice, but getting him in the third round was right where a high risk, high reward player should be drafted.
Patrick Peterson is one of the model human beings in the Cardinals’ locker room and Peterson will mentor his friend. This is the biggest reason why I like this pick. Peterson is the difference maker for Keim and the reason why nobody took a chance on Mathieu before #69.
The Honey Badger will play safety and that’s where I think his career will sink or swim. He not only will address a need at safety (more on this as the week unfolds) but his unique skill set will be used in the box and out.
But day three is where Keim got nasty (in a good way).
According to the NFL’s own scouting service, Texas’ defensive end/OLB Alex Okafor was the highest graded player taken in the fourth round. They also got another guard in the fourth round, Earl Watford, from James Madison.
Keim also drafted the fifth highest rated player in the fifth round, RB Stepfan Taylor. Taylor is an every-down back, capable of carrying the load, catching the ball out of the backfield and, most importantly, holding up in protection.
And then Keim had the unmitigated temerity to draft the highest rated player of the sixth round, WR Ryan Swope out of Texas A&M. Swope is a bigger, faster version of Wes Welker. I’m not saying he is going to be Welker but his future in the league will be in the slot, running a lot of short, underneath routes that move chains.
And RB Andre Ellington from Clemson was icing on Keim’s draft day cake. Ellington will make this team and be active on Week 1 of the season. Getting a player you can say that about in the sixth round is ridiculous value.
NFL analysts are raving about Keim, and he deserves the credit he’s receiving. But don’t forget about his right-hand man, Jason Licht. Licht will be running his own football team one day, having vast experience with Keim and two stints with somebody named Belichick. Licht will have his day, but this past weekend belongs to Keim.
Steve Keim is going to be a rockstar in this league, and the 2013 draft will be his first hit single.