GM Steve Keim ‘at peace’ with how Cardinals’ NFL Draft board fell

Apr 25, 2020, 5:25 PM | Updated: 5:32 pm
(Arizona Sports/Matt Layman)...
(Arizona Sports/Matt Layman)
(Arizona Sports/Matt Layman)

Cardinals general manager Steve Keim didn’t want to get ahead of himself.

He knows high praise about Arizona’s 2020 NFL Draft class doesn’t mean the six players taken will be any good. He knows there is work ahead when the team begins virtual team meetings starting this Monday.

But Keim also couldn’t help expressing how good he felt about his picks, all of them checking boxes of production and character.

“In the time I’ve been doing this, I really do feel like this board has fell to us this year as good as it’s ever fallen,” Keim said Saturday.

He feels good about it every year, to be fair. This time around, however, the picks felt not only great in terms of value but fitting the Cardinals’ needs.

Before the Arizona turned in its draft cards, it was an easy bet who they would take.

Clemson defender Isaiah Simmons wasn’t supposed to fall to eighth overall. Offensive tackle Josh Jones was viewed by some as a first-round pick but dropped all the way to the third at 72nd overall. They sure needed a high-upside tackle who projects as a starter.

Arizona drafted two defensive linemen, Utah’s Leki Fotu and LSU’s Rashard Lawrence, with two fourth-round choices. That gave the team depth for this year and developmental players beyond that.

In the sixth round, the Cardinals grabbed the most productive tackler in the nation, Cal linebacker Evan Weaver, before taking ASU running back Eno Benjamin in the seventh. Benjamin thought he’d got in the third round.

Many fans sitting at home could’ve called the Simmons, Jones and Benjamin picks.

And the Fotu-Lawrence combo, taken 17 picks apart, filled a major need after the Cardinals’ defensive line in 2019 went through preseason releases and injuries. That was the only position group that saw coaching turnover due to performance.

“The good news was is Lawrence was stacked right there,” Keim said. “We can’t have enough defensive linemen right now.”

Overall, Keim went defense with four of his six picks, and that’s the way the board fell, he said.

But still, he attacked free agency by signing three starters to the defensive front seven. Massive change there was a priority.

“I walked away out of the press box every game and I said, ‘You know what?’ I vowed that we would fix this defense,” Keim said. “That’s what I felt like we did this offseason.

“Last year I felt bad for coach (Vance) Joseph because in some situations, we just didn’t have the right players or we endured some injuries that put him in a tough spot.”

Keim kept hedging after expressing how confident he felt in the picks: football can’t even happen until coronavirus restrictions are lifted and the players can meet in the team facility once again.

A 5-10-1 football team has no reason to think it doesn’t have holes.

“I don’t want to get over my ski tips from the standpoint of we haven’t played yet,” Keim cautioned.

There’s no doubt the Cardinals have reason to feel good. They drafted experienced, productive players. They addressed needs.

All six of the players drafted served as captains for their college teams and look like low risks of flaming out for any other reason than their best wasn’t good enough.

“This year I just feel like, I don’t know, maybe it’s because it’s a different setup, I’m out of my element. I’ve had a lot of time to watch players, watch more and more tape than ever,” Keim said. “But for whatever reason, I just feel really, really at peace with what we did in this draft.”

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