Normally, the NFL Draft would take place in about a week. But 2014 isn’t normal.
Commissioner Roger Goodell made the decision to move the NFL’s annual event back because the venue where it’s held — Radio City Music Hall in New York — is hosting an Easter show this month.
The push back gives teams an extra three weeks to pore over players and construct draft boards, a process general manager Steve Keim and the Arizona Cardinals are knee-deep in.
“What we’ve done right now is we’ve ranked every position by grade and then what we’ll do is we’ll transition in about a week to our top 120 board, which is what we’ll draft off of,” Keim told Doug and Wolf Friday on Arizona Sports 98.7 FM. “Our philosophy has always been ‘best player available’ and it will stay that way, and that’s how we’ll draft.
“We’ll rank players 1 to 120 according to how we would take them for the Arizona Cardinals.”
But, according to the second-year GM, it’s not just about a player’s football skill set. Character is heavily weighed by the Cardinals’ brass when determining if a player fits with the organization.
“There’s a number of players that not only don’t fit what we do schematically, but aren’t the type of people we want in our locker room,” Keim said. “As you saw last year, we took a chance on Tyrann Mathieu, who had well-documented issues off the field, but at the same time, we spent a significant amount of time with the young man and felt comfortable with him as a person.
“It came down to his passion, his football character and we thought if a guy has that type of passion for the game, you have a chance to steer him down the right road.”
As the draft nears, there continues to be speculation about what the Cardinals will do with the 20th overall pick in the first round. While many experts see Arizona drafting a defensive player, some, including ESPN draft guru Mel Kiper Jr., have the Cards drafting a quarterback. In Kiper’s latest mock draft, he’s got Fresno State signal caller Derek Carr as Keim’s pick.
“Because of supply and demand at that position — and it is the most important position on the field — I would like to draft one every year, but that comes with an asterisk,” Keim said. “The asterisk is we’re not going to sacrifice a better football player for a positional need or trying to force a pick.
“If a quarterback is in fact the 20th-best player on our board and we’re sitting there on the clock, we’ll take a quarterback. But if a quarterback is graded with a 79 and we have a linebacker or an offensive tackle with an 84, we’re not going to force the pick.”
In Keim’s experience, drafting quarterbacks in the first round comes down to one very important ingredient: belief.
“You have conviction on whether a guy is a franchise player or not,” he said. “And if you don’t have that conviction, a lot of times you’ll get guys who are good kids, they have all the physical tools, but they may not have that ‘it factor.’ Because they look the part, and supply and demand is such an issue at that position, you try to manufacture the player.
“When you make that pick and it’s a mistake, it sets you back three to four years and I don’t think we can afford to do that.”