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Draft the QB of the future? Cardinals are looking for that guy, if he’s there

TEMPE, Ariz. – In the days leading up to the NFL Draft it is important to remember that teams are not apt to disclose their plans. At best, there will be kernels of truth within statements made by coaches and general managers, and at worst their words will be outright lies.

So, when trying to figure out what statements fall into what category, the best thing one can do is use what you know to be true in order to build context and, maybe, an educated guess.

Like at the quarterback position, where the Cardinals have a veteran starter in Carson Palmer, a capable veteran backup in Drew Stanton and a young but unproven Matt Barkley.

That seems like a pretty good setup for now, but in terms of the future, it can be seen as tenuous at best. That’s why some mock drafts have the Cardinals tabbing a quarterback 29th overall, while many believe they are destined to pick a passer in the draft’s later rounds.

While the team has its quarterbacks of the present, there is not a sure-fire quarterback of the future on the roster. Until one is, the search for one will continue, possibly playing a role in this year’s draft.

“Every year you’re looking for that guy, and when he’s going to come around you never know,” Cardinals coach Bruce Arians said Tuesday as he and GM Steve Keim previewed next week’s draft. “I think this draft has potential for a quarterback of the future more than drafts in the past. There are some intriguing guys in the draft.

“Whether or not they’re there when we pick, you’re not going to go, ‘We’re going to draft a quarterback in this position because we want one but he’s really two rounds later is his draft grade.’ That’s where you get in trouble.”

Two quarterbacks – North Dakota State’s Carson Wentz and California’s Jared Goff – are viewed as franchise-caliber signal callers, while others, like Memphis’ Paxton Lynch, Michigan State’s Connor Cook and Penn State’s Christian Hackenberg are seen as talented players who will need some work to become NFL starters. Others, like Ohio State’s Cardale Jones and Mississippi State’s Dak Prescott are projects.

Pick No. 29, where the Cardinals are, is likely too late for the draft’s best quarterbacks and too early for the position’s second tier. Based on Arians’ comments, it would seem unlikely the team reaches for a player sooner than he should be drafted.

Then again, a reach is purely a matter of perspective.

In three drafts since Keim took over as GM and Arians was hired as coach, the Cardinals have chosen just one quarterback. Logan Thomas, who they tabbed in the fourth round in 2014, lasted all of one full season with the team before he was released.

Based on projections the only quarterbacks the Cardinals can probably remove from their draft board are Wentz and Goff, as neither is expected to last past the first few selections. Lynch could be the third QB taken, though at what spot is anyone’s guess.

If he should fall to 29, or the Cardinals fall in love with one of the other prospects, there are advantages to choosing a young quarterback in the first round. Besides the fact that you get him on your roster, there is also an extra season added to his original rookie deal.

“If you have a quarterback that you feel is the future, whether you’re the drafting team or the team at the top of [the second round], getting that fifth-year option is a huge bonus,” Keim said. “I’ve said this time and time again: you have to know in your heart that a guy is a future producer to take a quarterback high because if you don’t believe in the guy in your heart and you take him and you force the pick, it’s going to set you back.

“So that’s the tough part of the job; supply and demand says one thing, you have to take chances.”

Keim said his experience has taught him there are certain things to look for when evaluating a quarterback’s chances, noting the successful ones usually have intangibles such as passion, the ability to process information and leadership skills.

“That’s a whole different part of that position that’s hard to find.”

Keim, Arians and their respective staffs have been working tirelessly to try and understand as much about this year’s prospects as possible, and if there is a passer who checks off all of Keim’s boxes, don’t be shocked if his name is called with one of their picks.

Goff, Wentz and Lynch are expected to be the first three quarterbacks taken. The first two are expected to be long gone by the time Arizona is on the clock, and it’s conceivable Lynch could find his way into the first round, too. After them options would appear to be limited, but Arians said there are passers after those three who could fit into his system.

“There’s a bunch of them,” he said. “There’s about five guys that are 6-foot-5, got big arms – without getting into individuals – all move well, come out of solid programs.

“There’s five or six — which hasn’t been in the past — that could go from round two to six.”

Since choosing Matt Leinart 10th overall in 2006, the highest pick the Cardinals have used on a quarterback was Thomas in 2014. In that time they also selected John Skelton and Ryan Lindley in the sixth round of the 2010 and 2012 drafts, respectively.

In other words, historically speaking the Cardinals have not really been known to aggressively pursue quarterbacks early in the draft, instead choosing to focus on other areas.

This year while there may be positons that could be improved or shored, there do not appear to be any gaping holes with a team that won 13 games and reached the NFC Championship Game last season.

With that, the Cardinals are free to choose any player they want from any position, even one like quarterback where the player would not be expected to make an impact for at least a couple of years. Taking one in the first round this season would in some ways seem to be prioritizing the future over a present in which the Cardinals have legitimate Super Bowl aspirations, but Arians does not see things that way.

“Our roster is so good, there’s not a need, so if the quarterback fell to us at 29, we’d just say hey, the future is now.”

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