The Arizona Cardinals’ selection of offensive lineman Cole Toner from Harvard in the fifth round continued general manager Steve Keim’s trend of drafting players from outside Power Five conferences.
Keim hit home runs drafting John Brown in the third-round out of Pittsburg State in 2014 and nose tackle Rodney Gunter from Delaware State in the fourth-round last year.
Toner’s coach at Harvard, Tim Murphy, thinks Keim and the Cardinals hit right on the offensive lineman as well.
“I think their organization does a great job evaluating players from Coach Arians on down,” Murphy told Doug and Wolf on Arizona Sports 98.7 FM Monday morning. “He’s one of those guys that should be in the NFL. Bottom line, he’s a tough, athletic, versatile kid, he’s highly motivated, he’s really smart, he’s a driven kid, and you put it all together.”
Toner caught the Cardinals’ attention with his performance at the Senior Bowl, and because of his athleticism, could be shifted throughout the entire offensive line.
“I see him right now probably as a right tackle, realizing there’s guys that are longer, but he is 6-foot-6, he is athletic, he’s played that position more than any other,” Murphy explained. “But, he’s smart enough, athletic enough to play center or guard, which obviously increases his marketability.”
Toner’s main competition at right tackle will be former Cardinals first-round draft pick D.J. Humphries. Humphries enters next season pegged as the starter after being inactive for all 18 Cardinals games last year. The right tackle spot opened up when 2015 starter Bobby Massie signed a free agent contract with the Chicago Bears earlier in the offseason.
While the Harvard coach sees Toner as a right tackle, that doesn’t necessarily mean Murphy doesn’t envision him playing different positions.
“He’s one of those kids that if you tell him ‘you need to be 325 pounds and play inside and get stronger’, he can do that,” Murphy added. “He’s the guy if he needs to snap the ball and play center, he can do that. But, I do believe at the end of the day, he’s athletic enough, long enough and driven enough to play tackle.”
Not only does Toner continue Keim’s trend of drafting non-Power Five conference players, but also continues the over growth of Ivy League players in the NFL. Murphy says the notion of professional players only residing in bigger schools is slowly beginning to change.
“We’ve had 30-plus kids sign NFL contracts since the turn of the century, since 2001,” Murphy said. “We had six guys last year who actually started games for NFL teams, including Ryan Fitzpatrick with the Jets, Desmond Bryant with the Browns, Kyle Juszczyk with the Ravens, Tyler Ott with the Giants, Cameron Brate with the Buccaneers and none of those guys were really highly regarded or drafted high. They’ve really surprised people on how well they’ve been able to acclimate to the NFL.”
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