As it is with any draft class, there will be hits as well as misses.
The key, of course, is having more of the former than the latter, and hopefully landing a couple of stars, too.
Many analysts believe you cannot truly judge a draft class until its players are a few seasons into their careers, and that may very well be the case.
But that does not stop people from handing out grades after just one season, and over at NFL.com, that’s exactly what Bucky Brooks has done. Looking at the Arizona Cardinals’ seven-member 2015 class, he hands out a B+.
The Cardinals have emerged as a heavyweight in the NFC behind a talent-laden roster loaded with young playmakers. The “Birdgang” will remain among the NFL’s elite with a rookie class that showed tremendous promise throughout the season. David Johnson is an impressive all-purpose RB1 with the size, strength and speed to deliver explosive plays as a runner or receiver. He amassed over 1,000 scrimmage yards — and really delivered the goods as the Cardinals’ feature back down the stretch of the season. J.J. Nelson flashed big-play ability as a deep threat on the perimeter. Although he only snagged 11 receptions during the regular season, seven of those grabs went for 20-plus yards, showing a glimpse of his impact potential. Markus Golden was a nice find as an energetic pass rusher off the edge. He not only has a knack for getting home (four sacks, to go along with two forced fumbles), but he plays with a relentless spirit that energizes the unit. D.J. Humphries failed to make a positive impression as a rookie, but he remains a talented prospect with immense potential.
Brooks’ grade underscores the fact that it does not really matter where you get your best players from, so long as you get them. The team’s first-round pick, Humphries, was inactive for every game, yet the draft was a success due to the play of second-round pick Golden and third-round pick Johnson, among others.
Golden racked up four sacks, 16 QB pressures and 14 QB hits, while Johnson tallied 1,646 all-purpose yards as well as a franchise rookie record 13 touchdowns.
With the 2016 draft still a couple months away, the Cardinals and every other team will be doing their research into prospects in hopes of unearthing more gems that can help them win games. With that in mind, Brooks has an idea of what Arizona should be focusing on at the NFL Combine, which takes place in late February in Indianapolis.
The Cardinals’ defense needs to replenish the active rushers along the front line, something they could do with the No. 29 pick in the draft. Thus, the team likely will spend much of the combine visiting with the likes of Eastern Kentucky’s Noah Spence, Georgia’s Leonard Floyd, Utah State’s Kyler Fackrell and Boise State’s Kamalei Correa to see if they can fill roles as edge rushers. The Cardinals also could study Clemson’s Kevin Dodd and Oregon’s DeForest Buckner to project their potential as five-techniques in Arizona’s 3-4 scheme.
The idea that the Cardinals will look to the draft to improve their pass rush is not a new one. In fact, general manager Steve Keim said Tuesday he would prefer to find those kind of players in the draft as opposed to free agency.
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