TEMPE, Ariz. — By most estimations, the Arizona Cardinals entered the 2014 NFL Draft looking to add a pass rusher.
They didn’t do it in the first round, instead choosing safety Deone Bucannon. They didn’t do it in the second round, either, as the team decided to take tight end Troy Niklas.
But in the third round, with the 84th overall selection, the Cardinals nabbed Kareem Martin from North Carolina.
“It’s going to give Todd (Bowles) a lot of flexibility in the number of different combinations we can have rushing the passer,” Cardinals coach Bruce Arians said of the pick the night it was made.
The 6-foot-6, 272-pound Martin earned All-ACC first-team honors from the conference’s coaches last season after tallying 82 total tackles to go along with 11.5 quarterback sacks and 14 QB pressures. He finished the campaign with 21.5 tackles for loss.
“I’m pretty balanced, but I’ve been a great pass rusher,” Martin said while chatting with the local media Wednesday at the team’s Tempe training facility. “So I think that’s where I’m going to excel at this level.”
That’s why the Cardinals drafted him.
“Because he’s so long he should be able to play on special teams and then add to the defensive line rotation and outside backer rotation,” Arians said. “He’ll find a spot.”
For Martin, the most comfortable spot would be with his hand in the dirt on the defensive line, given that’s where he spent the majority of his time at UNC.
“It’s a fun position,” he said. “It’s a grind down there. It’s one of the positions where you don’t get a lot of praise until you get there. They don’t see what you go through to get to the sack.
“I don’t know — it’s just fun to me.”
But as Arians said, Martin can expect to play a few different positions in Arizona’s defense. A few days into rookie camp, it’s already started.
“Right now I’ve played a little bit of stand up, outside backer, and today I played down with my hand in the dirt,” he said. “So I think they’ll move me around all the way from linebacker to defensive line.
“Wherever I can make plays from.”
Last season the Cardinals finished tied for sixth in the NFL with 47 sacks, 11.5 of which came from veteran John Abraham. Abraham’s now 36, though, and along with the departure of Karlos Dansby and his 6.5 sacks, there are some questions as to how effective the team will be at getting after the quarterback.
While Martin may not be expected to shoulder much of the load as a rookie this season, the goal is for him to develop into a reliable pass rusher, not unlike defensive end Calais Campbell.
Campbell, who was a second-round pick in 2008, is tall for a defensive lineman at 6-foot-8, but has grown into his body and become one of the better pass rushers in the NFL. The Cardinals believe Martin can take a similar path, especially with regards to how much bigger and stronger he can get.
Martin agrees, saying he thinks he can hold about the same amount of weight as the 300-pound Campbell and grow into his frame. As he begins that process, Martin noted it’s not a bad thing to have someone like Campbell around to learn from.
“He’s been successful at this level, so he’s definitely a person I can turn to and ask anything,” he said.
Of course, you don’t see too many outside linebackers of the size Martin is expected reach, so it’s very possible while Martin may rotate around the defense this season, his future may ultimately be along the defensive line, not standing up behind it.
“I think before it’s all said and done I’ll be that end,” he said.