Experts weigh in on the Arizona Cardinals’ 2019 NFL Draft class
The 2019 NFL Draft is in the books.
With the No. 1 pick in the draft, the Arizona Cardinals got their franchise quarterback in Kyler Murray, but added to other positions in need of added depth.
Of the 11 picks the Cardinals possessed, the team used three selections on wide receivers and just three on defense.
The team also added a familiar face in cornerback Byron Murphy, an Arizona high school product out of Saguaro. Murphy joins five other Cardinals who played high school ball in the Valley, and could be an important piece moving forward.
Arizona, which struggled to field a healthy offensive line last season, didn’t add two linemen until picks 179 and 248.
For general manager Steve Keim, the draft went the way he had hoped.
“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,” Keim said after the draft.
“But to have the board fall the way it did and to try and stay stick 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.”
Taking into account every pick made, experts around the nation provided their grades on the Cardinals’ draft.
Arizona seemingly drafted with Pro Football Focus’ 2019 NFL Draft Guide in hand for Days 1 and 2, starting with PFF’s No. 1 overall player Kyler Murray. The former Oklahoma signal-caller is a game-changer any way you slice it. Whether he’s throwing or running the football, Murray is a premier talent that can change the game on any one play.
PFF’s top cornerback and No. 6 overall player, Byron Murphy is a steal at pick No. 33 for the Cards. He’s best-suited for a zone-heavy scheme given his closing speed and instincts, and he’s also a very aggressive cornerback despite his small stature.
Another PFF favorite, Massachusetts wide receiver Andy Isabella earned the highest overall grade we’ve ever given a receiver in the PFF College era (2014-Present) in 2018. He’s a speedy deep threat that should pair well with Murray.
At the top of the third round, Arizona snagged a versatile defensive line product in Boston College’s Zach Allen. He can play inside or outside at the next level. He was one of the best run defenders in college football in 2017 before he earned a 90.3 pass-rushing grade this past season. He was an ironman for BC, playing 107 snaps against Wake Forest in 2018.
Surprising no one, the Cardinals’ brass continued to add value on Day 3. Deionte Thompson and Lamon Gaillard were both value picks, finishing at No. 66 and No. 106 on PFF’s final big board.
Among draft-eligible FBS centers with at least 400 offensive snaps played in 2018, Gaillard ranked inside the top-10 in overall grade (78.2) and run-blocking grade (77.1). He also earned an impressive 77.9 pass-blocking grade in 2018, allowing just eight total pressures across 353 pass-blocking snaps.
Thompson… makes up for at least some of what he lacks in speed and athleticism with great instincts. He trusts what he sees and flies to the ball both in coverage and in run defense.
Hakeem Butler, the Cards’ pick at No. 103 and PFF’s No. 42 overall player, was a fantastic selection, as well. Butler’s size (6-foot-5, 227 pounds) might suggest a possession receiver, but he had more receptions 20-plus yards downfield (19) than anyone in the draft class.
OVERALL GRADE: EXCELLENT
The only reason the Cardinals would not name Murray their guy early is if they were waiting to see if another team might offer a bounty to move up to the No. 1 pick. But trading down, of course, would put the Cardinals at serious risk of losing Murray. And so the fact that they appeared to have even considered that route, especially given that it diminished their leverage in trading Rosen, suggests that the organization might not unequivocally see Murray as a once-in-a-lifetime savior… Overall this complicated—albeit uniquely—situation was handled in head-scratching fashion… and if we’re to factor it in when grading this draft, it knocks the team down at least a full letter grade.
Otherwise the rest of Arizona’s draft was sterling. WR Andy Isabella has vertical speed plus the explosive shiftiness to prosper from the slot in what we imagine will be a predominantly quick-strike offense under Kliff Kingsbury. Hakeem Butler is a monster-sized target whom some saw as a late first-round prospect. Adding these two to what had been a desperately lacking receiving corps does wonders for the offense, especially given that many of the passing formations will be buttressed by running back David Johnson’s exceptional receiving versatility.
OVERALL GRADE: A (or B, including the letter grade deduction for the Josh Rosen trade)
Even as recently as a week ago, I wondered whether the Cardinals were really going to do this. Were they really going to take a quarterback in the top 10 two years in a row? It only happened once before, when the Colts took Art Schlichter No. 4 overall in 1982, then took John Elway first in 1983. It really is pretty wild. Then you think about the Arizona offseason, and you see exactly why this could happen. Steve Wilks was one and done as coach after a horrendous 2018 season that began with Sam Bradford as the starter (seems like ages ago). Enter Kliff Kingsbury, who went 35-40 in six years at Texas Tech but undoubtedly can coach up an offense. His Air Raid offense needs a particular set of skills at quarterback.
That’s why I can’t crush the Cardinals for taking Kyler Murray No. 1. I get it. He’s the best fit to help Kingsbury succeed… Still, this team is going to struggle in 2019 and Murray will run for his life at times. The Cardinals have holes all across the roster, and there’s a reason they were picking No. 1 in the first place. But Murray is going to give the fan base a jolt, and he’s going to make some plays.
As for the rest of the class, I liked GM Steve Keim’s picks on Day 2, even if I don’t love the process. The haul in the Josh Rosen trade — No. 62 and a fifth-rounder in 2020 — has to sting, but Keim & Co. put themselves into this mess… Byron Murphy (No. 33) finished as my top-ranked corner, so Arizona should have a starter at the top of Round 2. Wide receiver Andy Isabella, now forever linked with Rosen, will help Murray, as I wrote Friday night. He’s a big-play receiver with a small 5-foot-9 frame. And defensive lineman Zach Allen, who could play end or put on a few pounds and play tackle, was a nice pick at No. 65.
Arizona got more help for Murray to start Day 3, taking Hakeem Butler (No. 103), a massive 6-foot-5 athlete with great ball skills but only so-so route running. If he can get coached up, this could be a steal for Kingsbury’s system. KeeSean Johnson (No. 174) also has some interesting physical traits as an outside receiver. Safety Deionte Thompson (No. 139) fell to Round 5, but he is talented enough to start as a deep safety. And Mr. Irrelevant, Caleb Wilson (No. 254), also has some receiving skills.
So you can see that the Cardinals are trying to build around Kingsbury and Murray and putting a team together that suits this offense. This is a strong start.
OVERALL GRADE: B+
The Cardinals smartly avoided falling victim to the sunk-cost fallacy by shipping poor Kliff Kingsbury system fit Josh Rosen to Miami for the 62nd pick after taking dynamic dual threat Murray first overall. GM Steve Keim placed a major emphasis on playmakers in this draft; Murphy is a ballhawking clone of Chargers All-Pro slot CB Desmond King, Isabella runs 4.31 and led the nation in yards per route run as a senior, Allen graduated with over 40 tackles for loss and 16 pass breakups, and Butler paced Division I in yards gained on 20-plus-yard downfield targets. Thompson and Gaillard dominated at the highest level of college football, each earning first-team All-SEC accolades in 2018. Johnson is Fresno State’s all-time leader in catches and receiving yards. After landing OLs Marcus Gilbert, J.R. Sweezy, and Max Garcia prior to the draft and supplementing their front seven with Terrell Suggs, Jordan Hicks, and Darius Philon, the combined hauls give Arizona a real chance to field the NFC’s most-improved team. Gilbert should be included as part of this draft class after the Cards acquired him for the No. 207 pick.
OVERALL GRADE: A
New head coach Kliff Kingsbury decided to bring in “his quarterback” rather than work with 2018 first-round pick Josh Rosen. I can’t blame him. Coaching in the NFL is difficult enough without passing up a quarterback you believe in. Josh Rosen might succeed in Miami, and I hope he does, but taking Murray first overall was the right move for Kingsbury and the Cardinals.
Forget about 40 times — Murphy has great ball skills and instincts, and he and Patrick Peterson will make a strong starting cornerback duo on the outside. Moving Rosen for a late second-round pick was fantastic, given the circumstances. Using that pick on Isabella will be questioned in some war rooms, especially with 2018 second-rounder Christian Kirk already playing a similar role on the team. Getting Allen in the third was fantastic — he’s a Calais Campbell-type bargain who gives his all on every down.
The fact that the Larry Fitzgerald era will eventually end forced the team to take advantage of Butler and Johnson as excellent values in the fourth and sixth rounds, respectively. I wasn’t as high as many on Thompson, but selecting him in the fifth provides nice value at a position of need. Gaillard was one of the better deals on Saturday. Miles and Dogbe are strong and nasty linemen (offensive and defensive, respectively) who I expected to go earlier. Getting Wilson as Mr. Irrelevant was smart, as they needed a tight end, and he would have been coveted as a free agent.
OVERALL GRADE: A
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