The Cardinals entered the NFL Draft, a couple of months ago with two glaring needs: a corner to shore up one of the worst pass defenses in the league and a running back (preferably with "home run" speed) to help Edge shoulder the load and improve one of the worst run offenses from a year ago. The Cardinals had both options sitting right in front of them when they went on the clock. Sitting in their lap was the most athletic corner in the draft, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and a running back with legit 4.3 speed, Rashard Mendenhall. Well, we all know who the Cardinals selected and even though that selection didn't sit well with some fans, DRC is our guy now. But how does he fit into the Cardinals defense in 2008 and beyond and what kind of immediate impact can he make?
He comes into a secondary that was 28th against the pass last year and only picked off 18 passes. Last year's nickel corner is now the starting free safety and best competition for the spot is 29 year old, Ralph Brown who has accumulated 22 passes defended and four interceptions in eight seasons. What does all that mean, well DRC can't do much worse than last year's group. DRC comes from the tiny college of Tennessee State but he will get plenty of practice against top flight NFL receivers working against Fitz and Q in camp and practice every day. I'd expect DRC to start out as the nickel corner and once he gets his feet wet he might even be able to step into a starting role in place of incumbent starter Eric Green who underperformed in his first year as a starter. Rodgers-Cromartie should also be able to contribute in some capacity on special teams as well. He blocked eight kicks at Tennessee State and recorded 14 special teams tackles.
Why DRC will struggle in his first year: He does have a couple of factors working against him. First off, he's undersized and thus will have to add some bulk to his slender frame (6'2 182). He's already said that he hopes to get up to at least 195 before the start of the season. He'll likely have trouble jamming receivers during his rookie season and I wouldn't be surprised if he has some trouble tackling bigger receivers and backs. He'll also have to deal with the steep learning curve coming from Tennessee State and that's led at least some to label him as the Cardinal's rookie most likely to struggle in 2008:
Rodgers-Cromartie arguably boasts more potential than any cornerback in the draft, but he also may experience the longest learning curve. Along with needing to add bulk, Rodgers-Cromartie will face a difficult transition from tiny
to the NFL. Rodgers-Cromartie does have the luxury of learning behind incumbent starters Rod Hood and Eric Green, but he’ll undoubtedly feel pressure to see the field quickly as the teams top draft pick. While many have already slotted Rodgers-Cromartie in as the teams starting nickel back, it may not happen until midway through the season. Tennessee St University
I expect we'll see him go through some rough patches during his rookie season but he's shown the ability already to bounce back and have a short memory.
Overall: Rodgers-Cromartie most likely won't win any rookie of the year awards or lead the league in interceptions in 2008, but he got the athletic ability and mental make-up to be a top flight corner for years to come. If I had to make a projection right now, I'd guess that he'll have some moments where he looks like he doesn't belong in the league early in the season, but by the end of the year he'll likely pick up a handful of starts and show some significant signs of becoming a top tier cornerback.
So what are your expectations of DRC for 2008? How quickly should be break into the starting lineup and how long until he dominates?