Grading the Arizona Cardinals’ 1st-round draft history in past decade

Aug 24, 2023, 11:57 AM | Updated: 2:04 pm

A new Arizona Cardinals regime hasn’t been shy about viewing the current roster problems as sunk costs.

DeAndre Hopkins was released for nothing this offseason. On Thursday, safety and 2020 first-round pick Isaiah Simmons was traded for scraps.

Simmons is the latest failed first-round pick from the past decade of drafting by the franchise, which was overseen by former general manager Steve Keim.

Keim took the reins of the front office in 2013, and while even the first round of the draft is far from a safe thing, it is now more and more looking like a decade of wasted opportunity with too many risks taken and misevaluations.

Taking into account every first-round talent who played for Arizona in the past 10 drafts, Arizona Sports’ Bickley & Marotta, with Tim Ring filling in for Dan Bickley, review how chock full of misses the Cardinals’ drafting has been (8:25 of the audio player above).

Co-hosts Vince Marotta and Ring ran down the list of Keim’s first-round picks, with Ring giving each a grade.

Let’s grade every Arizona Cardinals 1st-round pick from the Steve Keim era

OG Jonathan Cooper (7th overall) – 2013

If we take into account how the pick went without considering the player, well, it went great because the Cardinals eventually traded Cooper to the New England Patriots for pass rusher Chandler Jones.

Jones became Arizona’s franchise sack leader in 2021.

But this is only about evaluating the player drafted and how NFL-capable they were. For Arizona alone, it wasn’t good.

Cooper dealt with a broken fibula suffered in the preseason of his rookie year. Non-impactful play followed. More injuries leading into his second season and another when he finally had a chance to start made for a trend.

He appeared in 24 games with just 11 starts in two years before he and a pick were traded for Jones. Cooper was injured again with the Patriots, who released him that year before stints with Cleveland, Dallas and Washington.

Ring’s grade: F

LB Deone Bucannon (27th) – 2014

Deone Bucannon, Arizona Cardinals

(AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

A trade down from 20th (Brandin Cooks) with New Orleans landed the Cardinals with Bucannon, who entered the pro ranks out of Washington State listed as a safety.

Arizona under defensive coordinator Todd Bowles had different ideas. They relabeled him as a moneybacker, a hybrid position that was part of an early NFL-wide trend.

Bucannon was wildly productive in his second season, recording 112 tackles with three sacks and 11 tackles for loss, plus three forced fumbles and a pick.

He produced well throughout his rookie deal before his production and his effectiveness began to wane starting in 2018.

Ring’s grade: C+

OT D.J. Humphries (24th) – 2015

How can you go wrong with a high-quality starting left tackle?

Humphries just didn’t look like he’d be that out of the gates. Nicknamed “knee-deep” by then-coach Bruce Arians — read the Wikipedia entry for that explanation — Humphries developed quickly after taking an essential redshirt season. He’s still doing it years later at a high level.

Pro Football Focus said Humphries last year didn’t surrender a sack in eight games despite pass-protecting for nearly 400 snaps.

Grade: B+

DT  Robert Nkemdiche (29th) – 2016

Bad. Just bad.

Nkemdiche was another risk-over-reward pick at the end of the first round, a physical talent in the trenches who also had red flags around his character because, in college, he infamously fell out of a hotel window from a room where drugs were found.

He played three years in Arizona, making only six starts over 27 games. His 4.5-sack season in 2018 came with nine tackles for loss and 32 tackles, but that career-best season was followed by Nkemdiche showing up out-of-shape and being released by head coach Kliff Kingsbury’s staff in its first season on the job.

Ring’s grade: F

LB Haason Reddick (13th) – 2017

Haason Reddick, Arizona Cardinals

(AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)

Did Keim and Co. scout a very talented football players whose skillset and athleticism would translate to the NFL?


Did they screw it up? Also, yes.

Arians’ staff moved Reddick around a tad in limited run as a rookie, but he was permanently shifted to inside linebacker in 2017. There, he struggled while operating in the middle of the defense, much like Simmons.

Kingsbury’s staff finally slid Reddick back to outside linebacker in 2020, where his explosiveness and speed shined on the edge for 12.5 tackles. And then the Cardinals didn’t re-sign him.

Reddick put up 11 sacks in 2021 for Carolina and then 16.0 last year for the NFC Champion Philadelphia Eagles.

Ring’s grade: A (evaluating the football player)

QB Josh Rosen (10th) – 2018

Needing a quarterback, the Cardinals traded up to nab Rosen. He earned the starting job shortly after an experiment to start often-injured veteran Sam Bradford ended terribly, but Rosen had little success and little talent around him in Arizona.

The Cardinals won three games, got the first overall pick and went for Round 2 of drafting a quarterback the next year. Kyler Murray’s selection led to Rosen’s departure the next day, and the latter has since bounced between six different teams in just five years since.

Grade: F

QB Kyler Murray (1st) – 2019

Kyler Murray takes in OTAs

(Tyler Drake/Arizona Sports)

There’s still much to learn about Murray’s NFL future coming off an ACL injury and considering his unique skillset as a runner.

But the arm talent is NFL-proven. Murray has 13,848 yards of production through the air and a 67% completion rate with 84 touchdowns and 41 picks.

He’s a 5.8-yard-per-carry runner with 2,204 rushing yards through parts of four seasons as well. Murray has 23 rushing touchdowns in his career.

Point is, he’s an NFL talent and if healthy safely a top-15 one at the most important position. We shall see how he adjusts to a new system and whether his massive contract will be earned.

Ring’s grade: B

S/LB Isaiah Simmons (8th) – 2020

The Giants reportedly expect to slide Simmons back to linebacker. That’s vague enough to wonder if defensive coordinator Wink Martindale, who’s considered a bit of a wizards in such matters, can find a viable role for Simmons.

While he’s a tall, hard-hitting athlete with top-end speed, Simmons’ struggles were about working in a phone booth and maneuvering against shifty receivers in limited space.

There’s reason to believe Simmons will last in the NFL. He could trip and fall into 100-tackle seasons with forced fumbles and interceptions to add to it. But there’s a combination of reasons why the Cardinals saw the production from the last two years and moved on. Whether that’s more about football or culture remain to be seen.

Grade: D

LB Zaven Collins (16th) – 2021

Collins was supposed to join Simmons at inside linebacker. But like it was too many times, drafting positionally versatile players out of college often means not translating one or two NFL-viable skills to the pro ranks.

Collins spent two years inside before the new coaching staff moved him to edge. It seems he has taken to that well — and last year his play inside wasn’t anything to get completely turned down by.

He’s still got a chance. Like it is with Murray, we have a lot to learn this year about his future.

Ring’s grade: C

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Grading the Arizona Cardinals’ 1st-round draft history in past decade