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Arizona Cardinals trust their board, still fill needs during 2016 NFL Draft

Arizona Cardinals head coach Bruce Arians, left, and general manager Steve Keim discuss the upcoming NFL football draft, Tuesday, April 19, 2016, in Tempe, Ariz. (AP Photo/Matt York)

TEMPE, Ariz. – For the first time under General Manager Steve Keim’s direction, and not since 2007, have the Arizona Cardinals drafted fewer than seven players as they did in the 2016 NFL Draft.

Six selections were made, split four on defense—three involving the secondary—and two on offense.

“This is not always the goal because we said we’re going to trust our board, but we filled needs with players we’re excited about; and sometimes that’s not always the case when you walk away from the draft,” Keim said on Saturday.

Once again, leadership played an important factor in whom the Cardinals drafted.

Both third-round pick (92nd overall) Texas A&M cornerback Brandon Williams and fourth-round pick Missouri center Evan Boehm (128th overall) were voted team captain in 2015.

Of the Cardinals’ 29 draft picks since Keim became general manager in 2013, 19—65.5 percent—served as a team captain during their college careers.

Another consistent theme with Keim is not limiting the Cardinals’ talent pool to the traditional Power Five conferences.

Twice Keim dipped into the small-school ranks in the fifth-round with Midwestern State safety Marqui Christian (167th overall) and Harvard offensive guard Cole Toner (170th overall); and then again in the sixth-round with Southeastern Louisiana cornerback Harlan Miller (205th overall).

Previous Keim small-school selections included receiver John Brown in 2014, as well as defensive tackle Rodney Gunter, running back David Johnson and receiver J.J. Nelson in 2015.

“Sometimes they’re overwhelmed and sometimes they come in with a chip on their shoulder,” head coach Bruce Arians said. “If they come in with a chip on their shoulder you love them; if they’re overwhelmed they get lost, quickly.”

“It speaks volumes of Steve and our staff when you take back-to-backs guys from Midwestern State and Harvard.  They cover everything, everybody.  Our staff does such a great job; all our scouts of finding every single guy that’s out there.”

Keim has always preferred more picks, but he had said a week before the draft that “we’ve gotten significantly better as a roster” thus likely making it more difficult for rookies to make the team, especially those drafted in the later rounds.

Though there were discussions about possibly moving up, and even back from their current draft-slots, the Cardinals held firm.

The draft ended without the Cardinals being involved in at least one draft-day trade, a first in Keim’s four years.

“Every opportunity that we had to pick there were trade options, like there always are,” he said. “But you have to weigh that versus the player and the grade that you have on the board, and really the compensation wasn’t worth it at the time.”

Remember, the Cardinals had traded two of this year’s draft picks; dealing their second-round selection (61st overall) as part of the package to New England to acquire linebacker Chandler Jones and their seventh-round selection (251st overall) to Philadelphia for quarterback Matt Barkley last year.

Still, with the six additions over the three-day draft, the Cardinals’ roster stands at 79, leaving 11 openings for undrafted free agents to reach the 90-man offseason limit.

A quarterback, maybe two, is expected to be signed after the Cardinals elected not to draft the position.

“There were some guys that we liked, but at the end of the day, nobody that overshadowed those players that we drafted at those particular selections,” Keim said.

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