TEMPE, Ariz. — Brandon Williams has a legacy to uphold. He’s a Steve Keim third-round pick. He is destined for stardom.
In Keim’s three seasons as the Cardinals general manager, he has selected four players in the third round: defensive back Tyrann Mathieu, defensive end Kareem Martin, wide receiver John Brown and running back David Johnson.
Three of those guys have panned out awfully well. Now comes Williams, a long and fast defensive back from Texas A&M who just converted from running back to cornerback last season and will be counted on to man that most difficult of defensive positions in the NFL.
“No pressure at all,” Williams said. “I’m just willing to work.”
The Cardinals had some success in the third round prior to Keim taking over as GM in 2013, but to say they were wildly successful in that round before 2013 would be a massive overstatement.
While they did land Valley icons Aeneas Williams, Adrian Wilson and Darnell Dockett, they also drafted forgettable faces such as Jamell Fleming, Rob Housler, Buster Davis, Leonard Pope, Dennis Johnson, Tom Burke, Ty Howard and Eric England.
Since Keim took over, the third round has been magic. In the past three seasons, the Cards’ third-round success has surpassed their success in the first two rounds.
“Aside from Tyrann, who obviously fell to the third round for obvious reasons, the other guys we’ve had success in those rounds were either small school guys or guys that weren’t overly hyped in the media and we just trusted our evaluations,” Keim said.
Martin hasn’t achieved anything close to the success of the other three, with 17 combined tackles, 2.5 sacks and two forced fumbles in two seasons. When running backs Chris Johnson and Andre Ellington suffered injuries last season, however, Johnson, a Northern Iowa product, picked up the third-round torch and carried 125 times for 581 yards and eight touchdowns to solidify his place in the deepest running backs corps in the franchise’s Arizona history.
The ball-hawking Mathieu had five interceptions last season, has put the marijuana issues behind him that precipitated his draft drop and has become one of the most beloved athletes in the Valley.
Brown, who came from tiny Pittsburg State, has been the deep threat coach Bruce Arians envisioned. In two seasons, he has 113 receptions for 1,699 yards and 12 TDs.
“When you take the best guy on your board who is an athlete, we’ve been fortunate in all three cases it’s a speed player,” Arians said. “You can’t get enough speed players.”
Williams fits that bill. He ran a 4.37 in the 40 at the NFL Scouting Combine in Indy. The Cardinals love his ability to play press coverage and reroute receivers, but they also love his ability to play outside, trail receivers and recover with his speed.
Williams was caught off guard when asked about the Cardinals’ recent third-round success during his conference call with Arizona media. He actually expected to go later in the draft. In the end, he didn’t seem to care.
“To me, when you get drafted doesn’t matter,” he said. “It’s what you do when you get there. I’m just blessed and happy that they drafted me.”
3rd Round Magic: A look at some of the Cardinals’ best third-round selections
1991: CB Aeneas Williams (59)
1990: WR Ricky Proehl (58)
2001: SS Adrian Wilson (64)
2002: Josh McCown (81)
2004: DT Darnell Dockett (64)
2009: S Rashad Johnson (95)
2010: WR Andre Roberts (88)
2013: DB Tyrann Mathieu (69)
2014: WR John Brown (91)
2015: RB David Johnson (86)
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