Firstly, a recap of what went down on Thursday night:
Possessing the 20th overall pick in the first round of the 2014 NFL Draft, the Cardinals decided to trade down with the New Orleans Saints, gaining the 27th and 91st (third round) overall picks in the process. Steve Keim and co. decided to select Washington State SS Deone Bucannon with the 27th pick, filling a major need at strong safety in the secondary. (Shameless plug of my write up on Bucannon, and why he was a smart pick here).
This left the Cardinals with three picks on Day 2 of the Draft, a second and two third round picks - 52nd, 84th and 91st overall respectively. Motive for the second day: draft players who combine value and need, and that's exactly what they did.
52nd Overall: Notre Dame TE Troy Niklas
There are a group of five tight ends in this class who are a cut above the rest. Eric Ebron went in the first round, and both Jace Amaro and Austin Seferian-Jenkins went early in the second round, leaving only Niklas and C.J Fiedorowicz on the board at tight end with a Day 2 grade. For the last few seasons, the Cardinals have tried to find a tight end who be a factor for the team, but have failed to do so. Todd Heap suffered a series of injuries before he was released, Jim Dray was never more than an in-line blocker, and the Rob Housler experiment has been a disaster thus far.
The team has made an effort to get bodies at the position and hope they finally hit on a guy. Jake Ballard should become a solid role player in 2014, and free agent acquisition John Carlson projects to be the starter, but again has a long injury history with the Minnesota Vikings. With no real stand-out player at the position, the Cardinals drafted a guy who fits the Bruce Arians philosophy at tight end in Troy Niklas.
At 6'6", 270 lbs, Niklas is a beast of a man, possessing elite-level physical traits. Originally recruited as an outside linebacker, Niklas made the conversion to tight end two years ago and is still learning the position. He will impact day one as an in-line blocker at tight end and has the potential to become one of the best blocking tight ends in the game; he is a serious mauler in run blocking. He also is very efficient in blocking whilst on the move, his physicality will be a problem for those trying to shed him off.
For his size, Niklas is an athletic player, but lacks top end speed which the modern day tight end has. He doesn't have great agility, nor does he have much yards after the catch potential. Not much experience and not much production at Notre Dame makes him a mystery as to what he can do in the NFL, but the potential is there.
No surprises here, but where he wins is with his size. With a 32 inch vertical jump, Niklas has a large catching radius giving Carson Palmer a big target over the middle and in the end zone. He is a possession receiver who, despite lack of experience, has a knack for getting open and finding space. He uses his elite size to box out defenders in coverage, and should win a good percentage of 50/50 jump balls.
With Larry Fitzgerald and Michael Floyd on the outside, this should give Niklas the advantage lining up against safeties and linebackers, as big a mismatch as you'll find in the NFL. Niklas has a very high ceiling due to his overall ability to contribute in every facet you want a tight end to contribute in, and should be a big time player in our offense for years to come.
Pick Grade: A
84th Overall: North Carolina DE Kareem Martin
It was no secret the Cardinals wanted to get deeper and younger on the defensive line, and the best way to do that is through the draft. Kareem Martin, touted to be an early second round pick, fell to their laps at 84 overall. I don't know how the Cardinals war room felt, but I can;t help but think that Notre Dame DT Louis Nix would've been the pick had the Texans not traded up to the pick before the Cards in the third round to take him, but Martin is excellent consolation.
At 6'6", 272 lbs, coincidentally, Martin is almost the exact same height and weight as Troy Niklas, but plays a very different position. What Martin does well is makes splash plays behind the line of scrimmage. 72 total tackles, 21.5 of which came for a loss, and 11.5 sacks during his final year at North Carolina is the kind of production you're looking for.
He's played at both 4-3 defensive end and defensive tackle, as well as playing 3-4 defensive end in sub packages. It's hard to pinpoint where exactly he will play in the Cardinals' defense. Has a similar feel to the Alex Okafor selection in the fourth round of last years draft, having no true fit in our defense, but was a top rated player left. Since the pick, Keim has come out and said that Martin will play outside linebacker for the team, a position that is relatively new to him.
Martin has heavy, violent hands which can shift blockers. He has great play recognition and efficiently uses his rush moves to get into the backfield. Gains tremendous leverage my getting underneath the pads of linemen and stands them up and drives them back, pressuring the pocket in the process.
In terms of Martin's year one impact, I don't expect a huge one. I'd like to see the team bulk him up a bit and play him at 3-4 defensive end as a long term successor to Darnell Dockett instead of retraining him as an outside linebacker. With adequate depth at both positions, I don't see him seeing the field an awful lot early on, but use him on passing downs and in multiple fronts and let him rush the passer.
Pick Grade: B+
91st Overall: John Brown, WR, Pittsburg State
Losing Andre Roberts to free agency meant the Cardinals needed to consider drafting a slot wide receiver to replace him. With a lot of prospects available in the late third round of the draft who could fill that hole, the Cardinals decided to go for a player that not many know a lot about, but the talent is certainly there.
Brown is a small-school prospect who has blistering speed. He ran a 4.34 40-yard dash at the NFL Scouting Combine, second fastest to first round pick Brandin Cooks. Speed is something Bruce Arians covets, and he's looking for a guy who can take the top off a defense and can create separation, and that is what Brown's game is about.
He has excellent acceleration out of his breaks, give him the ball in space and he will make people miss. Very elusive, runs smooth, crisp routes with great lateral agility. He can stop/start on a sixpence, and has tremendous feet. His diminutive size - 5'10", 180 lbs means he can get pushed around during routes, doesn't have great strength and may get bullied by bigger defensive backs.
Where he does bring value from Day 1 is as a return man. He returned 28 punts with a 15.4-yard average in 2012, with a score as well. Arians alluded to it after the pick that Patrick Peterson would no longer be on punt return duty, not risking him to the same injury that Tyrann Mathieu suffered late in the season on a punt return.
He truly dominated the division two circuit, which raises questions about his ability to compete at a tougher level. The biggest test came against Lindenwood, where he was matched up against projected second round corner Pierre Desir. Brown bested him on the day with three catches for 91 yards and a touchdown. He finished the 2013 season with 61 catches, 1,198 yards and 14 touchdowns.
Brown projects to be a role player in the offense, with the upside of becoming a decent slot receiver in the NFL. My only question about this pick was were there better players available who can do the same job? South Carolina's Bruce Ellington and Wyoming's Robert Herron both project to be excellent slot receivers and are arguably more polished as of today. Neither have Brown's elite speed, but neither or slow, both running in the 4.4's at the Combine. Arians likened Brown to TY Hilton, a speedy receiver who grew into a starting role during his tenure with the Indianapolis Colts. I'm sure we'd all be over the moon is Brown can have similar production.
Pick Grade: C