DAN BICKLEY

Hope is a best-seller in the NFL, and the Cardinals are proof

May 3, 2021, 7:00 PM | Updated: 7:41 pm
Arizona Cardinals GM Steve Keim and president Michael Bidwill watch training camp on Thursday, July...
Arizona Cardinals GM Steve Keim and president Michael Bidwill watch training camp on Thursday, July 25, 2019 at State Farm Stadium in Glendale, Ariz. (Logan Newman/98.7 FM Arizona Sports Station)
(Logan Newman/98.7 FM Arizona Sports Station)

Sports fans don’t have to be logical. The NFL prefers you don’t.

League executives applaud when you sit in front of a television watching the NFL Combine, better known as the Underwear Olympics. They rejoice when you treat the NFL’s schedule release like an offseason Super Bowl, assigning wins and losses to all 17 games based solely on the sequencing of opponents.

They love when you obsess for months over regenerated and updated mock drafts, the cheapest form of content this side of staged debate shows. And they love how all 32 NFL teams somehow stage the perfect draft, year after year, injecting saccharine and optimism on cue directly into the bloodstream of fan bases all across the country.

Smart observers in Arizona know better, especially given Steve Keim’s painful track record in the NFL draft. But hope is a powerful emotion, and a best-seller in the NFL.

So how did the Cardinals really do over NFL draft weekend?

It’s complicated.

The team took some interesting chances. They moved up to get a high-end athlete, Marco Wilson, who committed one of the most egregious mental errors in the history of the college football. One bad moment should not define any of us, but Wilson is also joining an Arizona team that is short on discipline, a team that was really good at committing bad penalties last season.

They selected a wide receiver with speed to burn, which fills a definitive void on offense, except Rondale Moore is also two inches shorter than Kyler Murray. And we’ve seen that movie before.

They expect immediate contributions from two of their draft picks, Moore and Zaven Collins. They project Collins and Isaiah Simmons will revolutionize their defense, a pair of hulking linebackers who can stuff the run and cover in space. I love this plan. I hope it works. But it also assumes Simmons is ready to be a starter after his spotty rookie season.

They think James Conner and Chase Edmonds make for a suitable NFL running game, even though Alabama running back Najee Harris was reportedly one of their preferred first-round selections if Collins wasn’t available. That logic will make your head spin.

Once again, they are making a lot of assumptions, banking on your faithful support and your lack of skepticism. They are lucky to be working in a soft market, where head coach Kliff Kingsbury said something very strange over the weekend and nobody seemed to care:

“Steve (Keim) made that crystal clear to the coaching staff and personnel department: those first two picks need to play, and play early, and play a lot,” Kingsbury said. “That was the mission, and I feel good about where it’s at.”

To unbiased observers not residing in the team’s back pocket, it might sound like Keim is passing off personal accountability to his coaching staff and personnel department. It definitely sounds like he’s pressuring Kingsbury to play Collins and Moore as rookies, before proving they can make the transition to the NFL.

There’s a reason why the bust rate is so high among NFL draft picks. It’s because the game is that hard. It’s because the NFL challenges your heart and your mind. It requires a fortitude and commitment unlike anything these draft picks have ever experienced. Many of these kids are beaten for good the moment they realize they are no longer the best player on the field, when they begin to wonder if they even belong.

To be fair, Keim has done very well in trades and free agency. Two of his missing draft picks in 2021 were utilized in the acquisition of DeAndre Hopkins and Rodney Hudson, both masterful additions. But demanding playing time for current draft picks would be over the top, especially given Keim’s draft history.

It also speaks to the quiet desperation attached to the upcoming season, where jobs are on the line and so much rests on the arm and legs of Kyler Murray. He’s the one player who can cover up the flaws, save the head coach and lift this team out of a sinkhole.

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Hope is a best-seller in the NFL, and the Cardinals are proof