Thoughts on the 2014 NFL Draft for the Arizona Cardinals
It’s all over.
Over three days, 256 players ranging from South Carolina’s Jadeveon Clowney to Memphis’ Lonnie Ballentine, became professional football players via the 2014 NFL Draft.
The Arizona Cardinals fortified their roster by selecting seven players over the course of the draft.
Here are my quick thoughts on each:
1st round, 27th overall – Deone Bucannon, S, Washington State
With the Cardinals sitting at No. 20 and that quarterback from Texas A&M — man, I forget his name — still sitting on the board, I’d be lying if I didn’t think about bringing that circus to Phoenix.
Instead, the Cardinals moved down, acquired an extra third-round pick and picked Bucannon out of Washington State.
I do like this pick because it fills a need, and Bucannon is a good football player. But the thing that stood out to me when I watched Washington State play was the physical aggression with which Bucannon played. There were plenty of questionable hits and personal foul calls during his four years in Pullman.
I asked Cardinals GM Steve Keim, who himself described Bucannon as a headhunter, if that was a concern. He said it wasn’t. I asked Bucannon during a phone interview if that subject came up in his discussions with the Cardinals. He said it hadn’t. He also talked during his press conference about learning what he can and can’t get away with in the NFL.
In reviewing Bucannon’s performance in 2013, I was able to document only two personal foul penalties specifically against him, and one of those was declined.
Maybe he has learned. If he has, I like this pick a lot more.
2nd round, 52nd overall – Troy Niklas, TE, Notre Dame
Notre Dame has become “Tight End U” — there have been seven Fighting Irish tight ends selected in the first two rounds of the draft since 1992, the most in football.
Tight end was also a need for the Cardinals, but less of one since the emergence of Jake Ballard late in 2013 and the free-agent signing of John Carlson (another Notre Dame product) in the offseason.
Niklas started out his career in South Bend as a linebacker, so he’s not the most experienced tight end out there. But he did have 32 catches for 498 yards and five touchdowns last season. ASU fans remember the nice grab he made in front of Alden Darby in the end zone during the Irish’s win over the Sun Devils last October.
Mel Kiper of ESPN is reminded of Heath Miller of the Pittsburgh Steelers when he sees Niklas. I think all Cardinals fans would be happy with that. Eric Ebron, Jace Amaro and Austin Seferian-Jenkins were already off the board, so the Cards responded by getting the next best tight end available. Solid pick.
3rd round, 84th overall – Kareem Martin, DE, North Carolina
NFL.com had Martin rated similarly to Auburn’s Dee Ford, Missouri’s Kony Ealy and Oregon State’s Scott Crichton, who were all long gone by the time the Cardinals were on the clock at No. 84.
Martin can get after the passer — he had 19.5 sacks over his last three seasons at UNC and 11.5 last year, which ranked in the top 10 in the nation.
Getting Martin at No. 84 wasn’t a splashy pick, but a good one for the Cardinals.
3rd round, 91st overall – John Brown, WR, Pittsburg State
Common name. Uncommon speed.
Brown, a three-year starter for the Gorillas of Pitt State, was one of the fastest players at the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis this year, running a 4.34 40. Only Kent State’s Dri Archer (4.26) and Oregon State’s Brandin Cooks (4.33) were faster.
The Cardinals will try to exploit that speed, something they lacked severely at the WR position in 2013. They tried both Brittan Golden and Teddy Williams in that role, but the duo combined for only five catches.
Considering Brown’s size (5-foot-10, 179 pounds) and his small-school background, this could have been a reach in the third round.
4th round, 120th overall – Logan Thomas, QB, Virginia Tech
When I first saw Logan Thomas play quarterback for the Hokies, my first thought was “Frank Beamer’s lost his mind, he’s got a defensive end running the offense.”
Thomas is enormous and scarily athletic for his size. What I didn’t see from Thomas during his three years as a starter in Blacksburg was improvement. His best season was in 2011, when as a sophomore, he completed just under 60 percent of his passes for 3,013 yards and 19 touchdowns for an 11-3 Hokies team that went to the Sugar Bowl.
He took a huge step back in 2012, completing only 51 percent of his passes, and had a similar year last season. In fact, Thomas’ performance in the season opener against Alabama was one of the worst I’ve seen in a long time. He completed just 5-of-26 passes for 59 yards and a pick that was returned for a touchdown by Vinnie Sunseri in a 35-10 Crimson Tide win.
You might say “yeah, Alabama’s defense made a lot of quarterbacks look bad,” and you’d be right. But just two weeks later, ol’ what’s-his-name from Texas A&M riddled ‘Bama for 562 total yards and five touchdown passes.
I just think that with Alabama’s A.J. McCarron, Georgia’s Aaron Murray and LSU’s Zach Mettenberger still on the board, the pick of a player termed as “a project” was a reach.
5th round, 160th overall – Ed Stinson, DL, Alabama
I like Stinson’s size (6-foot-3, 286), but what I like even more is the fact that he started for two years on Alabama’s fearsome defense.
Stinson didn’t put up huge numbers — in fact, he had only 1.5 sacks in 2013. One of those came against Thomas and Virginia Tech in the season opener in Atlanta.
Again, not a sexy pick, but Stinson should add rotational depth on the Cardinals’ D-line immediately.
6th round, 196th overall – Walt Powell, WR, Murray State
2014 marked the fifth straight year the Cardinals have drafted at least one wide receiver — and this year they got two.
Powell had 66 catches for 837 yards and 13 touchdowns for the Racers in 2013 and finished 17th in the voting for the Walter Payton Award, which is the FCS equivalent of the Heisman Trophy.
Powell can beat you in a number of ways — he also returned kicks and punts for Murray State, and took one of each back for a touchdown in 2013. His presence in the return game could take pressure off of Patrick Peterson, who will see his workload in that area lessened this season.
I’ve never been a fan of handing out grades to teams’ drafts immediately after the fact. I like to see how the picks adapt to the pro game before handing out too much judgment.
You can certainly gauge a draft by the buzz it creates. Mike Mayock of NFL Network described the Cardinals’ haul as “not sexy, but solid.” I think that’s a good way to put it.
The problem is, the other teams in the NFC West had what you would call “sexy” drafts. The St. Louis Rams had a great Thursday, bringing in the top offensive lineman and the top defensive tackle available in Auburn’s Greg Robinson and Pittsburgh’s Aaron Donald. Then they added Florida State’s LaMarcus Joyner and Auburn’s Tre Mason on Day 2 and made the biggest news of Day 3 by picking Missouri’s Michael Sam, the first openly gay draft prospect, in the seventh round.
San Francisco added 12 new players, including Northern Illinois safety Jimmie Ward, Ohio State running back Carlos Hyde, USC center Marcus Martin and Wisconsin tackling machine Chris Borland.
Seattle, the defending Super Bowl champs, traded out of the first round and nabbed Colorado receiver Paul Richardson in the 2nd round, a pick I absolutely loved.
Things didn’t get any easier for the Cardinals; such is life in the NFC West. But I think overall Steve Keim, Bruce Arians and Co. had a pretty good three days as they gear up for the second year of their regime.