If you have paid attention to the Arizona Cardinals this offseason, you have heard a few things. One is how the team wants to get a better pass rush and add speed to the linebacker positions -- both inside and out, as well as get a big running back. When it comes to the draft, the mantra has been to pick the best player available.
But if you look over the past couple of drafts, somehow picking the best player available and landing a player to fill a big team need have coincided.
In general manager Steve Keim's first offseason as GM two offseasons ago, the talk was about how they needed to improve the offensive line and get a "thumper" linebacker to pair with Daryl Washington.
What were the team's first two draft picks in 2013? They were an offensive lineman -- Jonathan Cooper -- and an inside (mike) linebacker -- Kevin Minter.
Move forward a year to the 2014 offseason. The needs, said publicly, were to get longer and faster at safety to cover tight ends and to get better at tight end, as well as add speed to the receiving corps.
Guess what? Their picks magically filled those needs, as they took safety Deone Bucannon (a long, fast safety) in the first round, tight end Troy Niklas in the second round and receiver John Brown (speedy) in the third.
This isn't to say that any of these players were necessarily a reach. It could be argued it is the case, as drafting a guard in the top 10 is basically unheard of and most mock drafts didn't have Deone Bucannon coming off the board until well into the second round (he was my pick for the Cardinals in the second round in SB Nation's writer mock draft).
So let's come back to the present. This offseason, the team has said it wants to improve the pass rush, add speed to both inside and outside linebacker and get a big back.
Let's not overthink things. History tells us the Cards will be taking these positions early on.
Pro Bowl defensive end Calais Campbell was asked on The Big Red Rage if he knew in which direction the Cardinals would go in the draft. He answered saying he really didn't know, but said specifically "outside linebacker would be nice."
What can we expect, then?
Expect an outside linebacker, inside linebacker and running back among the top picks.
In the first, specifically you should expect an outside linebacker. Names to watch are Preston Smith and Owamagbe Odighizuwa. If Shane Ray or Randy Gregory fall, they could be the picks, but there are concerns.
Smith and "Diggy" fit the Cardinals in many ways. They add athleticism. They are big (Arizona has employed bigger 3-4 OLBs for a few seasons). They are versatile. They are leaders -- both having been captain of their college team (and the Cardinals really target team captains).
In the second, don't be surprised if they go with the inside linebacker or running back -- if he is bigger. That might be a position they grab in the third round.
But make no mistake, now that we have two Cardinals drafts with Steve Keim at the helm to look at, the "best players available" the Cardinals take in the early rounds of the draft will coincidentally fill the team's biggest needs.