Earlier this week, Arizona Cardinals GM Steve Keim refuted the idea that, in every draft, there are never 32 players worthy of being a first-round pick.
“I think that the fact is that we screw it up, because there are second-, third-, fourth- round picks who have tremendous success that if you re-drafted should have been first-round picks,” he added. “If you went back now and said that David Johnson was a 28th pick, would anybody question that? Tyrann Mathieu? So, there are a lot of different reasons and scenarios, but quite frankly, there’s talent throughout the whole draft. It’s just making sure we get it right.”
No doubt there will be more than 32 impact players from the 2016 draft class, just as there was in the 2015 version and every draft that preceded it. And as Keim noted, the challenge teams face is identifying those players and selecting as many as possible.
The beauty of the draft for a general manager, though, is that history does not judge them so much on getting talent in specific rounds as it does for simply getting talent.
Specifically for the Cardinals, do people remember the 2003 draft haul by the underwhelming Bryant Johnson and Calvin Pace, who were each chosen in the first round, or by the legendary Anquan Boldin, who was chosen in the second round?
More recently, when people judge the Cardinals’ 2013 draft haul (the first under Keim and head coach Bruce Arians) does the GM receive negative grades due to the first-round pick, Jonathan Cooper, failing to pan out or do they praise him for landing Mathieu in the third round and Andre Ellington in the sixth?
It may still be too early to judge the 2013 class, as well as the 2014 and 2015 selections. However, the other player Keim mentioned — Johnson — has already made the rest of the NFL feel like it missed out on a star by letting him slip to the third round.
The 86th overall pick out of Northern Iowa, Johnson totaled 1,636 all-purpose yards (581 rushing, 457 receiving, 598 kickoff return) and notched 13 touchdowns, which set a franchise rookie record. He became the fourth player in NFL history to tally at least 500 rushing yards, 400 receiving yards, 500 kickoff return yards and 13 touchdowns in a season, and down the stretch looked every bit the bell cow running back every team covets.
To Keim’s earlier point, knowing what everyone knows now few would question if Johnson was chosen in the first round, and though he was the seventh running back taken in the 2015 draft, NFL.com’s Gregg Rosenthal wrote that a re-draft would place him much, much higher.
The way Rosenthal sees it, Johnson would be the first back chosen after Todd Gurley (who was the first running back taken in the 2015 draft).
Johnson was the seventh running back drafted last year. You could argue now he’ll be one of the best seven players in the entire draft. Like Gurley, Johnson is a rare complete three-down running back.
There aren’t many NFL starters that can get low with power in goal-line situations and break a linebacker’s ankles while running a route from the slot. In Johnson’s first career start, the Cardinals set a season-high in yards. That same game: He scored a touchdown playing wide receiver and put up 120 yards from scrimmage. A few months later, Johnson was practically the only Cardinals player that performed well in the NFC Championship Game.
Johnson’s two most famous plays show off his incredible versatility. His Beast Mode-like run against the Eagles on Sunday Night Football displayed Johnson’s power and introduced him to America. His incredible third-down catch on a throw behind his body is the forgotten gem that helped the Cardinals beat Green Bay in the Divisional Round.
Biggest surprise: Johnson’s patience is uncanny. He can change speeds in an instant, waiting and waiting for the right time to hit the turbo button. So many defenders hesitate and guess wrong while waiting for Johnson to make his moves.
Because you probably wouldn’t mind watching the “Beast Mode-like run” again, click here for another viewing.
At any rate, yes, Johnson showed an impressive blend of skills as a rookie, and it no doubt has people wondering why he fell so far in the draft. Coming from a smaller school certainly played a role, as did the fact that the NFL Draft is far from an exact science.
No matter how much work teams put into scouting and grading players, the fact remains there will be hits and misses every season. And at this very moment, Johnson looks like a home run for the Cardinals.