The day before the 2009 draft I was completely, overwhelmingly, unflinchingly confident that the Cardinals would not draft any secondary. I would have bet money, (if I was a betting man), that there was no chance the Cards would pick up a corner or a safety. It just didn't make sense. There were at least 2 key reasons that I had for concluding they would never draft a safety or corner in 2009.
1-No Team Need:
I am a believer in drafting the best player available, but the best-player-available approach is filtered through the lens of team needs. Cody Brown is a classic example. After picking up a highly graded running back in Chris Wells, the Cardinals still needed to improve their pass rush through an outside linebacker. Although we don't know what grade the Cardinals had given individual players, most draft boards had graded Cody Brown in the late 50s or early 60s. There were likely others still on the Cardinals board that were graded higher than C. Brown but team needs affected the pick. C. Brown was not a reach but neither was he the highest graded player still on the board. Not a reach but not a value pick either. He was the best player of need that was worthy of the 63rd pick.
In the months leading up to the draft the Cardinals had strengthened their secondary to the point where it had become one of the strongest positions on the team, arguably, second only to receivers. The addition of Bryant McFadden from Pittsburgh and Keith Lewis from San Francisco had considerably ungraded the secondary. Suddenly, the Cardinals had DRC and McFadden as the Corners, and Hood as the nickel back. Lewis added depth to the safety position. It seemed like a waste of a draft pick to select a safety or a corner.
2-Poor Draft for Secondary:
In my unprofessional opinion, the 2009 draft was one of the worst for corners and safeties in a long time. Other experts had drawn the same conclusion. Most corners who were invited to the combine were considered more of a safety than a corner. They were slow and small. Add to that a large cadre of mediocre safeties and the secondary class of 2009 failed to inspire excitement for finding a future impact player. The history of the draft seems to underscore the weakness of the 2009 class of safeties and corners.
2006: 5 out of 40 corners drafted were taken in the first round.
2 out of 9 safeties drafted were taken in the first round.
2007: 4 out of 38 corners drafted were taken in the first round.
3 out of 14 safeties drafted were taken in the first round.
2008: 5 out of 30 corners drafted were taken in the first round.
1 out of 12 safeties drafted were taken in the first round.
However in 2009:
2 corners out of 39 were taken in the first round, (Malcolm Jenkins and Vonte Davis), and there is suspicion among several that these two may end up as safeties. 18 corners were drafted before Greg Toler was taken by the Cardinals with their 127th pick.
0 safeties out of 18 were drafted in the first round. Only 4 safeties were drafted before the Cardinals selected Rashad Johnson with their 95th pick.
I will confess that I had never heard of Toler before the draft nor was I overly familiar with R. Johnson. That was by design. I had long concluded that there would be no corners or safeties drafted by the Cardinals so I didn't spend much time looking in detail at players at this position.
Were Rashad Johnson and Greg Toler the right pick?
Now that the draft is over I clearly was wrong about the Cardinals not drafting secondary, I have gone back and looked at these two players and have been impressed. In both cases I am surprised that they were still available when the Cards drafted them. Their skills and credentials are impressive. Johnson is impressive and seems to be the ball-hawk center-fielder that the Cards have needed for a while. The recent interview of Rashad Johnson by Hawkwind (posted on ROTB) underscores the caliber of individual he is and his potential capability on the field. That he has return skills is a bonus.
Toler does not have the same credentials as Johnson but as was recently noted on Cardinals Underground, he has the skills, build, and perspective that is light years ahead of the small school he attended. It has been speculated that had he been more studious in high school he could have been playing at a major university. He appears to be the real deal and from all indications may be a future started. Remember McFadden was only signed for two years, just enough time to prepare a young corner from St Pauls in Virginia.
Time will tell what will become of these two but it looks promising.
So both picks appear promising, but were they the best picks? The right picks? With depth at inside linebacker, defensive line, and center still a concern and lingering questions about the future of tight end, should the Cards have gone in another direction? Just to fuel the discussion I went back and looked at a few of those who were still available at their 95th and 127th picks respectively. It should be noted that this was also a bad draft class for defensive line, especially after the second round, however, is was a relatively solid draft for ILB, especially in the middle rounds.
When Rashad Johnson was picked the following were available: Luigs (Center 6'4" 301), V. Martin (NT. 6'3" 331), S. L. Hill (NT. 6'4" 329), A. Hill (TE 6'5" 262), and Sidbury (OLB 6'2" 266). I might have been tempted to take any one of these players ahead of Johnson, especially the 2 N.T. given the team's 3-4 defensive line needs. However, if Branch improves and one of the gaggle of TEs steps up then all is well.
When Greg Toler was picked the following were available: S. McKillop (ILB 6'1" 244lb), J. Brinkley (ILB 6'2" 252lb), and C. Ingram (TE 6'4" 245)Did The Cardinals Make The Right Pick with Rashad Johnson and Greg Toler?. I Like Brinkley and had him coming to the Cards in the 4th round in my mock draft so I am a little bias here. I know good corners are always in demand, yet with there being a good chance that Dansby will not be back next year I would have been temped to find a possible heir-apparent in the draft. Maybe none of these potential ILB were not deemed quality enough to start someday so why not take a potential future starter in Toler? I guess that makes sense.
As with all drafts, time will tell. But at first blush, and given who the Cards did not pick, do you think the Cards made the right choice? Did they find two gems in a draft full of secondary duds? Will the team be better with these two players verses other options they might have drafted? Training camp will start to show us if these two will measure up. If they are starters in a couple of years- great, but if Vaughn Martin becomes a beast in a year or two and Johnson remains only a special teams player then we all will start with the "what ifs". I.e. what if we had drafted Adrian Peterson instead of Levi Brown...