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Versatile Kareem Martin looks to give Arizona Cardinals’ defense flexibility

TEMPE, Ariz. — At 6-foot-6 and 272 pounds, Kareem Martin certainly has the build to be an elite defensive end or outside linebacker.

The first of the Arizona Cardinals’ third-round picks Friday and 84th selection overall, the former North Carolina Tar Hell comes to Arizona after a season in which he posted a career high of 82 tackles (46 solo), 14 quarterback pressures and 11.5 sacks.

“Kareem Martin is a guy that, again, we’ve targeted from the beginning,” Cardinals GM Steve Keim said. “He’s got great length, great athleticism.”

The GM believes Martin could play along the defensive line and as a linebacker in the NFL, and that versatility can only pay dividends in Todd Bowles’ defense.

“I’m a versatile player, so whether they need me to play the 5-technique or be a backer, I think that I’m athletic enough and strong enough to play either one of the two positions,” Martin said.

An All-ACC first-team selection in 2013, Martin fits the bill of what the Cardinals were looking for in terms of that role. Last week before the draft, both Keim and head coach Bruce Arians talked about the need for the team to get longer and faster, and Martin is certainly that.

“It’s going to give Todd a lot of flexibility in the number of different combinations we can have rushing the passer,” head coach Bruce Arians said.

When talking about him, Keim brought up Cardinals defensive end Calais Campbell, who measures in at 6-foot-8 and around 300 pounds. Even Campbell needed a little time to grow into his frame and adapt to the NFL, and the same is expected of Martin.

“He’s 272 right now,” Keim said. “I think when we drafted Calais he was somewhere around 284. He’s 305 right now, so the sky’s the limit. It’s hard to find guys that have that type of length and speed.

“And then you look at his statistics, and aside from the sacks, here’s a guy who’s played anywhere from a three to a five to a seven and had 82 tackles. That’s a pretty active football player.”

There seems to be plenty to like about Martin, but then again, he was on the board at number 84 for a reason. Arians believes the rookie will be able to contribute on special teams right away, but it’s possible he’ll need a little time before he’ll make a true impact on the defense.

And in the third round, that’s fine. In fact, Martin said he thought all along he was going to be picked at some point Friday, but that did not make the wait any easier or him any less confident in his abilities.

“I started to get a little nervous right before they picked me as the round was coming to a close, but I’m excited that Arizona picked me and they got a great player.”