TEMPE, Ariz. — If the first half of the Arizona Cardinals’ 2016 NFL Draft was about picking big-time talents from big-time programs, the last half was the opposite.
Arizona’s first three picks hailed from Ole Miss, Texas A&M and Missouri, while their last three called Midwestern State, Harvard and Southeastern Louisiana home.
Their final two picks — offensive lineman Cole Toner and cornerback Harlan Miller — epitomize the kind of players teams generally look for in the draft’s final rounds.
Both have obvious physical tools, yet each has reasons for still being around.
In the case of Toner, a 6-foot-5, 300-pound lineman, playing at an Ivy League school may have been what ultimately held him back.
“At the combine they were one of my few big-time, head coach/GM interviews,” he said while explaining there did not seem to be a ton of interest in him. “I had the hotel interview with them and they seemed really interested there, and then I talked to them through the process.”
Toner said the Cardinals and Seahawks were the two really interested teams, and while that may seem like a reason to believe he was not going to get drafted, he was expecting to hear his name called Saturday.
Cardinals GM Steve Keim likes Toner’s versatility to play all along the offensive line, as he has experience at right tackle, guard and center.
“He caught our eye at the Senior Bowl and did some nice things down there against some of the top competition,” the GM said. “He still is a little raw, but we are convinced that he has all the physical tools and the passion to continue to grow and get better and be a player in this league.”
A first-team All-Ivy League pick in 2014 and 2015 and a 2015 AP All-American, Toner said he is probably a better run blocker than pass blocker. He knows he’s going to have to be good at both to succeed in the NFL.
“It’s a passing league,” he said. “So I need to work on pass protection, but I’m willing to learn and get better at that.”
Indeed, the NFL has become a passing league, which will help to explain the Cardinals’ final pick, Miller. The 6-foot, 182-pound cornerback ran a 4.57 40-yard dash at his pro day was a second-team FCS All-American in 2015.
Like Toner, Miller saw his stock rise at the Senior Bowl, where he earned defensive player of the week honors.
“(Defensive coordinator) James Bettcher, Kevin Ross our DB coach, went and worked him out — they spent a significant amount of time with him,” Keim said. “Another small school guy who stepped up under the bright lights in Mobile and answered the bell at the Senior Bowl.”
Keim praised Miller’s physical tools, adding that his size and length allows him to press and re-route receivers.
“And he has some natural anticipation that you can’t teach,” the GM added.
Miller said he is comfortable playing on an island and in college played a variety of coverages.
“I’m a very fiery guy, willing to make tackles, smart, technique sound, just being an all-around player of what needs to be done within the defensive scheme,” he said.
While versatility as a cornerback is a good thing, where Miller may make his greatest impact — or at least, his earliest — is on special teams. He returned punts in college and believes he could do the same in the NFL.