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PFF: Arizona Cardinals had NFL’s top draft class

The Arizona Cardinals’ first-round draft pick, Jonathan Cooper, did not play in a regular season game because he broke his leg in the preseason.

The team’s second-round pick, linebacker Kevin Minter, collected just four tackles.

Fourth-round pick Alex Okafor, a linebacker, was lost to injury early in the season, one of their sixth-round picks, receiver Ryan Swope, didn’t make it to training camp due to concussion issues, and seventh-round pick D.C. Jefferson, a tight end, was cut during the season.

In fact, only three of the team’s nine draft choices made any sort of real impact in 2013.

One would think that would doom a team’s draft class, but that wasn’t the case for the Cardinals. In fact, according to an ESPN Insider article, ProFootballFocus says Arizona’s 2013 rookie class was the best in the NFL.

The Cardinals are not a team that jumps off the page, especially when you consider they lost their presumed starting left guard, and top pick, Jonathan Cooper in the preseason. But a couple of late-round picks stepped up and made an immediate contribution and none more so than Defensive Rookie of the Year candidate Tyrann Mathieu. The Honey Badger had the tricky task of playing safety in their base package (236 snaps) and moving to the slot in nickel (525 snaps) but excelled in both roles before ending up on injured reserve. Along with Mathieu the team got excellent play from Andre Ellington and his 5.5 yards per carry average. His work in the open field was a real difference maker.

Is it possible for two players to basically comprise a successful draft? Maybe.

Selected in the third round, Mathieu played his way into the lineup and recorded 63 total tackles, two interceptions, one sack and one forced fumble. He suffered a season-ending ACL injury in a Week 14 win over the St. Louis Rams, but showed enough potential to make people believe he has an incredibly bright future ahead of him.

And Ellington, the second of the team’s sixth-round picks, turned into one of the season’s biggest surprises. He finished second on the team in rushing with 652 yards and added another 371 as a receiver. He scored four total touchdowns and became a dynamic offensive threat the team had not seen in a while.