Most people will tell you an NFL draft class needs a few seasons under its belt to really know how good it was. Yet, even with that qualifier, analysts from all over will gladly present their grades for the 2016 draft — which concluded last weekend — dishing out their thoughts on how each of the NFL’s 32 teams did.
So, how did the Arizona Cardinals supposedly fare with their haul of Robert Nkemdiche, Brandon Williams, Evan Boehm, Marqui Christian, Cole Toner and Harlan Williams? Let’s take a look.
*Note: For some perspective, here’s a look at how the experts graded the Cardinals’ 2015 draft class.
Robert Nkemdiche is a top-10 talent when at his best, which means when he’s playing with 100 percent effort. When you get that, you have that rare penetrating force from the interior of the D-line. Calais Campbell will be 30 before Week 1, so while this isn’t a huge need pick, it’s a great value if Nkemdiche can jump into the rotation. I thought third-rounder Brandon Williams was a reach, but the former running back hits a clear need as a hybrid player in the secondary — he could end up at either safety or corner. Evan Boehm is a solid addition in Round 4 because he can play either center or guard, and both can be considered need areas for the Cardinals. Marqui Christian is another safety addition — a need area — who has a chance to stick.
Arizona did a solid job of addressing needs, while also getting a potential premium player in Nkemdiche. I think they have the culture to make it work with him, and I know they did plenty of homework. Plus, this grade gets a bump because they addressed pass-rusher by trading their second-rounder for Chandler Jones before the draft.
According to Yahoo! Sports, the Cardinals’ best pick was Missouri C Evan Boehm in the fourth round, as they write it would not be a surprise if he was starting for the team by midseason. The worst pick, the site notes, was third-round choice Brandon Williams out of Texas A&M, whom they believe could have been snagged later in the draft and is less ready to play than sixth-round pick Harlan Miller.
The pick of Robert Nkemdiche is the big one, although using a second-round pick to land Chandler Jones via trade can’t be forgotten. The Cardinals have gotten stronger on both lines of scrimmage this offseason and are tightening the screws on what looks like a special team. A few of their picks were shrug worthy, but Nkemdiche is in an excellent environment to thrive with his personality, the way Darnell Dockett once did.
Best pick: Fourth-round center Evan Boehm will be a starter as a rookie. They needed help at the position in the worst way, and this is a kid who can step in and do the job.
Questionable move: Taking Robert Nkemdiche in the first round. I think it’s a good move because he’s a dominant player, but I could see it being questioned. The Cardinals have a nice support group to keep him in line.
Third-day gem: Fifth-round safety Marqui Christian played like a box safety in college, but he ran better 40 times than many scouts expected and could be used for more than just that.
Analysis: Their draft will depend on how well Nkemdiche plays. If he can stay out of trouble, he has a chance to be a star. The risk is worth it for the Cardinals. Adding Boehm is also a good move. Solid haul.
Nkemdiche has among the best tape of anyone in this draft class, but he dropped to 29th because of on- and off-field concerns. If Cardinals coach Bruce Arians can corral Nkemdiche’s talent and keep him on the straight and narrow as he has done with Tyrann Mathieu, the Cardinals got a real steal. Williams, a third-round cornerback from Texas A&M is a former running back with top-level athleticism, but he’s a project at the NFL level. Missouri center Evan Boehm could start right away if Arizona can work around his lack of athleticism. Christian is one to watch—winner of the Cliff Harris Award as the nation’s best small-school defensive player last year, he is a concussive hitter. Toner jumped up in national awareness after a nice week at the Senior Bowl. Overall, the Cards are going on future potential here, as opposed to filling immediate needs. The Nkemdiche pick will determine the success or failure of this draft, and that’s a bit of a risk. —DF
Analysis: If DT Robert Nkemdiche landed with nearly any other team, the pick probably would have earned a low grade. But not for the Cardinals. This is a perfect fit for both the team, which desperately needed pass rush help, and the player, who lands in a strong locker room full of leaders and big personalities. The Cardinals also addressed a weakness on the offensive line by drafting two linemen, including a future starting center in Evan Boehm from Missouri.
The skinny: The Cardinals trusted that Tyrann Mathieu would fly the straight-and-narrow, and are banking the same is true of Nkemdiche. If he harnesses his athleticism without an issue, then this pick could look great. If not, it’s a wasted opportunity to improve the secondary or another part of the team with someone without character issues.
Williams is a recently converted corner with loads of potential, but who might be a bit of a project to take with the only Day 2 pick. They did get defensive end Chandler Jones, though. That should count for something.
Carson Palmer was happy to see a stout center in Boehm picked in the fourth round. Their fifth-round picks were not of particularly good value.
I’d feel less comfortable with other teams taking Robert Nkemdiche in the first round, but the Cardinals are a different beast. There’s an infrastructure in place, and the people in the building — from owner Michael Bidwill to GM Steve Keim to head coach Bruce Arians — are strong enough to handle any potential off-field pitfalls the young man may come across. Tyrann Mathieu is the blueprint. Now Nkemdiche — whom I had listed as my No. 1 prospect in this draft before the college season started — just needs to execute. I’m including Chandler Jones — traded to Arizona in a package that included the Cardinals’ second-round pick — as a part of this draft class and think he’ll be an absolute superstar next season. I also think Evan Boehm, a stout center/guard out of Missouri, can contribute right away.
Best value pick: Evan Boehm, C/G, Missouri, 128th overall
Day 1: Nkemdiche has interior pass-rush potential after grading at +23.4 as a rusher, ninth in the class. He’s not great against the run, but if he can line up over tight ends on early downs before kicking inside to rush the passer, the Cardinals can maximize his value.
Day 2: A pure projection pick, Williams is an athletic former running back who graded at -5.5 overall last season, 117th in among the cornerbacks in the draft class. His production simply didn’t match his athletic reputation.
Day 3: Boehm struggled in pass protection as his -7.9 grade ranked 57th among 63 qualifiers in the class. Arizona rounded out the class with two small-schoolers who struggled at the Senior Bowl in Toner (-2.6) and Miller (-1.0).
The best pick, according to Kadar, was Boehm in the fourth round. The most questionable selection, he writes, is Williams in the third.
The Cardinals took a high-risk, high-reward player in the first round in Robert Nkemdiche. It’s a good landing spot for him thanks to Arizona’s strong locker room. If he works out, they got a Darnell Dockett-like player. Boehm is a technician at center who should push to start as a rookie for the Cardinals. He’s a great help blocker and enters the NFL with a lot of experience. Fifth-round pick Cole Toner can play right or left tackle. He has solid athleticism and will make for a nice backup with starting potential. There were a lot of small-school corners taken in this draft, and the Cardinals got one of the best ones in Harlan Miller in the sixth round. It was a little surprising to see the Cardinals avoid a quarterback.