After months of speculation, the NFL draft is finally underway, and the Arizona Cardinals have made their first pick. Notre Dame standout receiver Michael Floyd is the newest Cardinal, and will line up opposite fellow Minnesota native and perennial Pro Bowler Larry Fitzgerald.
Prior to the draft, the Cardinals had been seriously linked to around half a dozen players. By the thirteenth overall pick, many expected that some of these players would already be off the board, and that the Cardinals decision would be effectively made for them by those teams picking earlier.
So when the Cardinals reached their pick with every major name that they had been rumored to have targeted still in play, things became very interesting.
In addition to Floyd, David DeCastro, Riley Reiff, Melvin Ingram, Cordy Glenn and Courtney Upshaw remained in play, all of whom addressed an immediate need for the team. The Cardinals, quite literally, had the pick of the litter, and more options available to them than they could have hoped for.
So, what did they reveal about their draft strategy coming into the first round, by taking Floyd? More after the jump.
1. The Cardinals were not kidding about their BPA strategy.
In pre-draft interviews, the Cardinals front office were clear. They knew they had needs, but would not reach for players. They wouldn't fall in love with a guy just because he filled a hole, but would keep their options open, and take the best player available regardless of position.
And though a lot of fans questioned whether, in practice, this could really happen, taking Floyd underlined their previous comments in no uncertain terms. BPA is the overarching strategy for the Cardinals.
2. They had Floyd ranked as the best player available, and by a pretty wide margin.
If Floyd was on a par with, or even had only a slight favorite over any of the other players, it's easy to imagine Arizona overvaluing another player because he filled a need.
This didn't happen.
The Cardinals didn't even seem to flinch. Floyd was the guy they wanted, and they weren't giving any consideration anyone else if he was still available. I don't know how high the Cardinals had him ranked but my guess is that it was at least five places higher than anyone else on that list.
It's a pretty wide open draft class this year, and if only a place or two separated Floyd from Reiff, or DeCastro, it's hard to imagine that the pick would have been quite so clear cut. However, Adam Schefter reported that the team even confirmed the pick to Larry Fitzgerald ahead of the draft, such was their confidence in Floyd.
3. Cardinals also considered Floyd more valuable than an additional draft pick.
What's even more interesting however, is that the Cardinals not only had Floyd ranked higher than their other options, they also ranked him better by such a margin that they weren't willing to accept any offers to trade back in the draft.
With six men who you like still in play, the Cardinals could have safely traded back to almost any spot in the first round, and still have picked up an impact player.
The team are without a second round pick, so trading back was expected to be a real possibility for the Cardinals. With multiple teams interested in Floyd, and with trading picks the order of the day, there were likely no shortage of offers.
Indications from GM Rod Graves suggest that the offers they got were all of the low-ball speculative variety, but if the team were reportedly as hot on players like Upshaw and Glenn as many believed them to be, this shouldn't have been too much of a problem—a deal with someone could have been worked out.
Trading back into the mid-to-late twenties would have given the Cardinals the possibility of picking up a second, or at very least an additional third round pick, while still all but guaranteeing that the team could fill a real need on the O-Line or bolster their pass rush.
However, the team apparently liked Floyd more, in spite of the fact that he will play WR2 for the team, arguably a position which is third or fourth on the Cardinals list of "needs".
4. Off field concerns not a problem for Cardinals.
Heading into the draft, concerns were raised about Floyd's character. Specifically, three separate alcohol related incidents, and an indefinite suspension which fortunately did not cost him any playing time. This lead some to question whether Floyd was too risky a pick for the Cardinals, with almost all of his team interviews majoring on this aspect.
As I had previously written, the Cardinals have been willing to take chances on such players in previous years. However they could have easily passed on Floyd, had he not convinced them that these problems were in the past. Their decision to gamble on him with the thirteenth overall pick then, especially with such glaring issues elsewhere on the field, should be taken as a clear sign that they do not expect any issues from him in the future.
To be honest, with Larry Fitzgerald as a mentor—and I can't think of anyone better—I wouldn't expect too many issues out of receiver the Cardinals had drafted, regardless of past history. But let's face facts, when arguably the best player in the game goes out of his way to publicly offer his support for you, you're not going to repay that with foolish behavior.
5. Cardinals scouts have something good in store later in the draft.
Finally, by taking Floyd early, especially knowing that they are without a second round pick, the Cardinals have expressed a level of confidence in their scouting department above and beyond what might otherwise be expected from a team in Arizona's position.
It's very easy to stand up and say that you'll take the best player available heading into the draft, but the fact remains that this is only possible if you are very confident in your ability to fill your holes later on. The Cardinals cannot hope to enter 2012 without at least a little more improvement on their O-Line. And however confident they may be with their pass rush, they cannot help but feel that they are lacking depth at this position.
Only when your scouts tell you that they've unearthed gems further down the board can you truly go out and commit to taking the best players available in the early rounds. In 2011 the Cardinals did this very well later in the draft, and I would expect more of the same in 2012.
So with that in mind, bring on the rest of the draft!