Cardinals gave Kliff Kingsbury ammo, didn’t go reaching in 2019 NFL Draft
TEMPE, Ariz. — Cardinals general manager Steve Keim promised his first-year head coach Kliff Kingsbury wasn’t demanding more, more, more.
“I was tired of Kliff telling me we didn’t have playmakers,” he joked.
Public NFL Draft big boards could at least back him up. Arizona was simply taking the best player available, and by the time the Cardinals picked UCLA tight end Caleb Wilson as Mr. Irrelevant on Saturday, they felt good about sticking to their in-house draft board.
“I felt like it all fell in place throughout the draft,” Kingsbury said. “I sat back and watched and when I had a guy I felt strongly about, I told Steve I felt strongly about him.”
It just so happened the Cardinals, in preparing Kingsbury to install an Air Raid-styled offense without a lick of NFL experience, gave him as many tools as possible.
On one hand, the purge of old for new made sense. Give Kingsbury a never-seen-before weapon in rookie quarterback Kyler Murray and as many different skill targets as possible.
On the other, it looked excessive and redundant and absent-minded to forget about protecting Murray — escape ability or not — until late Saturday afternoon.
“The hard part of NFL Drafts in my opinion are, you know, we all know there are still needs for every team that are lingering out there.
“But to have the board fall the way it did and to try and stay strict to it and to not jump around just because of need — particularly I think at the wide receiver positions and even that tight end pick with the last selection — I think it just felt right the way it fell.”
Arizona took three receivers among the 11 total selections and just three on defense. It didn’t select an offensive lineman until picking Georgia center/guard Lamont Gaillard in the sixth round.
Keim, however, at least had showed foresight for what transpired in the draft.
In free agency, he added two offensive guards, Max Garcia and J.R. Sweezy, in free agency and traded for tackle Marcus Gilbert. The Cardinals also signed veteran backup quarterback Brett Hundley, giving them a relatively experienced option behind Murray after Rosen was traded to the Miami Dolphins on Friday for two picks.
“It was almost like there were some really high-rated offensive linemen and then all of a sudden it dipped, and then there were some who were value picks in the backend,” Keim said. “Only time will tell, but that’s how our board fell.”
At the least, Arizona came away with a rainbow of talents at receiver. Second-round pick Andy Isabella was a speed-burner at the combine, running a 4.31-second 40-yard dash after he led the NCAA in receiving yards at UMass despite his 5-foot-9 frame.
Fourth-round pick Hakeem Butler out of Iowa State brings big hands, a 6-foot-5 frame and speed with it. He led off the picks on Day 3 of the draft. Keim called the pick a no-brainer, and Kingsbury vouched for it having watched Butler reel in four catches for 148 yards and a touchdown against the coach’s Texas Tech team last year.
Fresno State’s KeeSean Johnson not only sounds like a receiver but is a good one, too.
“The one thing that jumped out at me about this young man as I watched the tape, he’s one of the better natural route-runners I saw in this draft process,” Keim said.
All three players, plus Wilson, who pulled in 965 yards as a tight end in 2018, will make it a crowded training camp battle at their respective positions.
After 16-year pro Larry Fitzgerald and second-year standout Christian Kirk, they will push players like Chad Williams and Trent Sherfield for roster spots.
“They all come in different shapes and sizes,” Keim said, adding that he believed all three were rated by Arizona as top 60 players in the class.
“To be able to put some of those young receivers there with Larry and Christian I think is really going to help us in the future.”
Keim did all he could to empower his risky head-coaching hire for three straight days.
Now it’s a matter of whether Kingsbury and Keim can groom the right players and identify the most talented prospects to give this thing a chance. Asked which of the 2019 Cardinals receivers got Kingsbury the most excited, the always-calm head coach reminded everyone where this drafting journey started.
“I was pretty excited about the first one, too.”
Cardinals 2019 NFL Draft picks
1. Kyler Murray, QB, Oklahoma
33. Byron Murphy, CB, Washington
62. Andy Isabella, WR, UMass
65. Zach Allen, DE, Boston College
103. Hakeem Butler, WR, Iowa State
139. Deionte Thompson, S, Alabama
174. KeeSean Johnson, WR, Fresno State
179. Lamont Gaillard, C/G, Georgia
248. Joshua Miles, G/T, Morgan State
249. Michael Dogbe, DE, Temple
254. Caleb Wilson, TE, UCLA