Analysts grade Cardinals’ draft highly

Apr 29, 2013, 5:30 PM | Updated: 9:49 pm
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The Arizona Cardinals ended up being one of the teams making waves in the 2013 NFL Draft.

While general manager Steve Keim and coach Bruce Arians filled the team’s needs on the offensive line, they also took a risk by drafting defensive back Tyrann Mathieu.

ESPN NFL Draft expert Mel Kiper Jr. liked what he saw out of the Cardinals in the draft, but not enough to put them at the top of the NFL class.

Summary: Last year the Cardinals allowed a sack on one out of every 11.7 drop-backs. This offseason, there’s been almost a hysteria about their need to get better on the offensive line, with tackle mentioned often. But very quietly, rookies Bobby Massie and Nate Potter played a lot better on the edges toward the end of the season, and Levi Brown is also returning. That’s why I had guard as a bigger need. The Cardinals drafted a future Pro Bowl one in Jonathan Cooper. Historically, No. 7 is extremely high to take a guard (there hasn’t been one taken inside the top 10 since 1997), but if Arizona didn’t take him, there’s no chance he would have gotten past the Jets at No. 9. Cooper could also be a stud at center if Arizona chose to go that way. Kevin Minter gives the Cardinals a very capable inside linebacker, but he probably slots in behind Daryl Washington. At one time Alex Okafor would have been a steal in the fourth round, but his motor runs hot and cold. He could be an effective situational pass-rusher as an OLB, which was the No. 2 need on my board. Anybody else? Oh yeah, only Tyrann Mathieu, the Honey Badger. We know Mathieu is headed for the slot, but depending on the sub-package, he could essentially take on the role of safety on a lot of plays. Now, what I like about Mathieu landing here (aside from having him with a late second-, early third-round grade) is the familiarity with teammates. Both Minter and Patrick Peterson know Mathieu well. The Badger can also take on some return duties for Peterson. Earl Watford could be a future starter at guard, and Stepfan Taylor offers some depth at RB, though I had a handful of players ranked higher at the position who were still available. That said, Andre Ellington (a guy Todd McShay really likes) provides some speed. Nothing remarkable about this class, but Carson Palmer’s chance to succeed has improved with the presence of Cooper, and there’s plenty of sleeper potential.
Needs: B-
Value: B+
Overall Grade: B

CBS senior NFL columnist Pete Prisco was impressed by the job Keim did in his first draft as GM.

Best pick: Texas defensive end Alex Okafor was once considered a potential first-round pick. He had some big games as a pass rusher, so to get him in the fourth round is great value.

Questionable move: Some will say it’s taking LSU corner Tyrann Mathieu and moving him to free safety. I like the idea of doing that, but can he stay out of trouble?

Third-day gem: I love the choice of Andre Ellington in the sixth round. He has speed. He is elusive and he’s an air back.

Analysis: In his first draft running things, Cardinals general manager Steve Keim came up big. He landed a lot of talented players throughout.

Grade: A NFL expert Jason Cole believes each of the Cardinals’ draft picks could have an instant impact on the 2013 season.

Analysis: No matter what happens with Mathieu – and all outcomes are on the table – this is probably going to end up being a strong draft because of Cooper and Minter. Cooper is an extraordinary guard, the rare type that is worth not only taking in the first round, but in the top 10. You’re talking about a potential all-time great at that position. As for Minter, he’s a very good player who will likely start from Day 1. Moreover, Minter and CB Patrick Peterson are part of the plan to get the most out of Mathieu, an extremely talented and sadly undisciplined player. If that weren’t enough, the beauty of this draft could be in the combination of Okafor, Taylor and Swope, who all have a chance to be serious contributors.

Grade: A writer Rob Rang put the Cardinals’ draft at the top of the NFC West just behind the 49ers.

Much of the pre-draft focus nationally was on Arizona’s tackles, but the interior was the scarier spot, assuming left tackle Levi Brown returns to health. Jonathan Cooper’s athleticism and versatility makes him a safe, solid pick, as was fellow guard Earl Watford three rounds later. Easy to fall in love with the Cardinals’ guts to gamble on Tyrann Mathieu, who’ll be moved to free safety. Mathieu is reunited with fellow LSU playmaker Patrick Peterson, giving Arizona two of the best playmakers in all of the NFL in their secondary, as well as the Tigers’ MVP, inside linebacker Kevin Minter, a physical, instinctive run-stuffer. The impressive haul continued through the third day. Alex Okafor has the talent to emerge as a standout pass rusher. Running backs Stepfan Taylor and Andre Ellington could prove a strong thunder-and-lightning combination behind free-agent signee Rashard Mendenhall. The Cardinals remain the weak link in the toughest division in the NFL but made strides in this, the first class for Steve Keim and head coach Bruce Arians.

Grade: A-

NFL writer Vinnie Iyer thought Arizona filled each of their needs in the draft with top available talent.

Their most-talked about pick was LSU cornerback Tyrann Mathieu, who is a wild card on and off the field. But they should get more attention for their sure-fire selections. North Carolina guard Jonathan Cooper fills a huge need for interior blocking help. LSU inside linebacker Kevin Minter brings sound tackling to their 3-4, and Texas end/outside linebacker Alex Okafor gives them more pass-rush pop for it. Stanford running back Stepfan Taylor can be a short-term feature option with Rashard Mendenhall and Ryan Williams trying to shake off injuries. Texas A&M quick slot receiver Ryan Swope is a good late-round flyer.

Grade: A- NFL writer Chris Burke didn’t follow everyone else with an “A” grade for the Cardinals, but still credited them with a solid draft.

The headliner here is CB Tyrann Mathieu, but it’s actually what Arizona did elsewhere that made this a very solid draft. G Jonathan Cooper (and later Earl Watford) will improve an awful O-line, while LB Kevin Minter was a solid add in Round 2 and DE/OLB Alex Okafor a steal in Round 4. Don’t sleep on the Stepfan Taylor-Andre Ellington duo at RB.

Steals — Alex Okafor, DE, Cardinals (No. 103): A pair of falling pass-rushers, Moore dropped to Round 3 and Okafor to Round 4. The knocks on Moore in the past weeks all centered on a questionable work ethic, while Okafor was viewed as a bit of a one-trick pony up front. Given some chances though, both will produce.

Grade: B+ NFL analysts Jen Floyd Engel, Alex Marvez and Peter Schrager each pointed to something different that benefited the Cardinals from their draft moves.

Floyd Engel: (A) They needed a miracle, and came PDC (pretty damn close). The highlight is getting Tyrann Mathieu in the third. He is first-round talent who now has been scared off weed. Win-win for them.

Marvez: (B) They addressed their woeful OL with one immediate starter at No. 7 overall (Jonathan Cooper) and by adding another guard, Earl Watford, during Round 4. When it comes to Mathieu, they are hoping: A) He can convert to safety after playing cornerback at LSU; B) The presence of close friend Patrick Peterson can help keep him away from the off-field trouble that has plagued him.

Schrager: (B) The selection of Mathieu dominated headlines, but I liked the team’s first two selections of Cooper and Kevin Minter far more. I’m not sure if Mathieu is a corner or a safety in the NFL, but I know Cooper and Minter can contribute right away. Arizona added to a solid core this weekend. Unfortunately, they’re still far behind the three teams ahead of them in the NFC West.

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