With the NFL Draft over and the overwhelming sentiment being that the Arizona Cardinals did a great job with their draft selections, now we can look forward to their contributions.
Just where do I expect the nine players to fit in this season?
In years past, with Ken Whisenhunt, rookies really only started if they had to. They were expected to earn their spot. His thought was to keep the message consistent overall to all his players, and also it was a way to put the rookies in the best situations to succeed. The best players would be end up worked in by the end of the season.
With Bruce Arians, yes the players have to earn their spots, but they will be expected to play early and contribute.
With that in mind, these are my projections on where the rookies will fit.
Jonathan Cooper: As the team's first round selection, he is destined to start. Whether that will be on the right side or left side, we don't know yet. But he will start from Day 1, provided he is healthy.
Kevin Minter: Minter is in an interesting situation. Daryl Washington is already a star. The team added Jasper Brinkley in free agency and reportedly really likes him. I expect Minter to start with Brinkley the first four weeks, as Washington is suspended then. After that, I think he will not yet beat out Brinkley to start. He will be rotated in and out, but 2013 will not be the year he starts, except for the four games to start the year.
Tyrann Mathieu: Mathieu will not start right away, in part because he will need to learn his role at safety and in part because he needs to get worked in. I expect him to be used in some passing packages. His impact in 2013 will be on special teams.
Alex Okafor: being converted to outside linebacker, he will be a rotational player.
Earl Watford: Considered by some a bit of a project because of playing at a small school, he likely will not play in 2013. He will probably not be active at all this year.
Stepfan Taylor: He will play on special teams. With Rashard Mendenhall and Ryan Williams in front of him, he may only get a few carries. The only way he gets playing time this year is if one of those two guys in front of him gets hurt.
Ryan Swope: While people love this pick, he is going to have to work to find a lot of time on the field. Bruce Arians loves using a two tight end formation. That leaves Larry Fitzgeralerd and Michael Floyd as the receivers on the field. In three and four-wide sets, Swope will have to surpass Andre Roberts because I expect Rob Housler to be used as a fourth receiver. I think that Swope's selection is looking more toward 2014 after Andre Roberts leaves in free agency (this is what I expect happens). If he impacts the team this year, it will be on special teams.
Andre Ellington: He will make the roster, but special teams will be where he plays in 2013.
D.C. Jefferson: At best, he will be the fourth tight end on the roster. At worst, he will be on the practice squad.
I get the impression that much of what the team did with the draft, particularly later in the draft, was looking ahead to 2014. Rashard Mendenhall is on a one-year deal. Yeremiah Bell is on a one-year deal. Rashad Johnson can play either safety position. That will allow Mathieu or undrafted Tony Jefferson to step in if all goes well. Watford is to be developed. They could then cut ties with Daryn Colledge to save money. Swope will take over for Roberts. Jefferson can take over for Jeff King, who will be a free agent in 2014.
This year's rookie class, especially the early picks, will play. However, I don't see as many rookies starting as perhaps some do.
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