Editor’s Note: Walt had this in this morning and it got lost by me when I had the times wrong for the start of the draft, but it is a great look at the Arizona Cardinals first two days.
Cardinals’ GM Steve Keim came into this year’s draft with a distinct plan and with a vow to learn from past mistakes. His primary goal was to acquire the QBOTF without having to mortgage the future. Check. His secondary goal was to add some sizzle at WR. Check. His third goal was to continue to build and fortify the offensive line. Check.
In essence, by virtue of patience and a shrewd utilization of his 8 draft picks, on Days 1 and 2 of the NFL Draft Steve Keim was able to order a prime rib special for the price of a sirloin.
Gil Brandt, the former GM and NFL scouting guru, whose pre-draft ratings merit perhaps the highest respect, has QB Josh Rosen rated as the #1 QB and his #2 player in the draft behind RB Saquon Barkley. How Steve Keim was able to pluck Rosen off the stem at #10 was a brilliant sleight of hand. Keim had anticipated that Rosen might slide a little---so Keim brought Rosen in for a pre-draft visit----ultimately he, Steve Wilks and Mike McCoy were impressed and ready to make a move up the draft board to acquire Rosen, should the draft go as hoped.
Brandt says of QB Josh Rosen: I don’t have any questions about this young man with regard to the chatter about his character. A good athlete, Rosen has a strong arm and accuracy -- he can make all the throws. By Year 2, he’ll be a successful starter in the NFL. I really like this player.
Brandt had WR Christian Kirk rated as his #37 player in the draft. I was so convinced that the Cardinals would have to trade up for Kirk that in my final mock, I had Keim trading the #47 and #97 picks to move up. But, as we know, Keim used the #15 and #79 and #152 picks to move up for Rosen. Amazingly, Keim was still able to select Kirk at #47. On Arizona Sports radio last week, Kirk was raving about his visit and dinner with the Cardinals---typically a good sign that the Cardinals are highly interested in a prospect when Steak 44 is mentioned.
Here is what Brandt says of WR Christian Kirk: A very explosive athlete, Kirk should be a standout slot receiver. He’s also a good kick returner. I love this player. It’s hard to understand why he only put up 12.6 yards per catch, though Texas A&M’s lack of a passer might have had something to do with that. I question if Kirk will ever be a No. 1 receiver, but he’ll work hard and contribute.
While some fans seem a little non-plussed about Keim’s selection of C/G Mason Cole in Round 3, allow me to add some perspective as to why this was such a good, smart pick. First of all, Cole elected to return to Michigan for his senior year when last year he was given a 3rd round rating on a par with Ohio St.’s C Pat Elflien. Elflien went in the 3rd round to the Vikings last year and won their starting center job. Like Cole, Elflein had elected to stay for his senior year in Columbus.
Secondly, in Mason Cole, the Cardinals are getting a captain and 4 year player who started every game at Michigan (51 consecutive starts).
So why didn’t Cole improve his draft stock from projected 3rd rounder in 2017 to 3rd rounder in 2018? The reason is simple. Jim Harbaugh needed Cole to slide out to left tackle for his senior season. Selflessly, Cole accepted the challenge. Cole did a highly respectable job at LT---it’s just that he is not an NFL tackle. He is made to order at center or guard. Watching Cole return to center at the Senior Bowl, he put on a stellar performance in the game, particularly in pass protection. His fan blocking technique is textbook.
Thus, it is difficult to grade offensive linemen when they play out of position as seniors.
Earlier in the week, you might recall that I wrote a thread titled ‘What Would Bill and Howie Do?” The Bill I was referring to is Belichick. In my projection of the players Belichick would draft if he were the GM of the Cardinals, I had him taking Mason Cole at #97. Here was the comment: Mason Cole, C, Michigan. Belichick likes big, physical, smart players inside. Cole fits the mold to a tee.
What’s impressive about Steve Keim’s draft thus far is that he is catering his picks to the strengths and preferences of offensive coordinator Mike McCoy. McCoy has said that while he would adapt his offense to whatever personnel he is given, he prefers to run a Patriots’ style offense.
With that in mind, look at what Steve Keim has accomplished. He acquired in Josh Rosen the QB in this draft who best suits a Patriots’ style of offense. Rosen has an uncanny feel for passing to TEs and slot WRs away from the coverage leverage .
In Christian Kirk, Keim has added the Julian Edelman-type slot WR element to the offense, which will allow McCoy the versatility to move Larry Fitzgerald inside and out depending on the formation and schematic situation. This versatility may actually help to prolong Fitz’s career another year or two beyond this year.
In Mason Cole, Keim has added the classic interior pass protector at center or guard a la David Andrews (2017 PFF grade 81. 8, #5 C) or Joe Thuney (79.0, #14 G). And what’s so exciting about Cole’s prospects is the Cardinals’ addition of offensive line coach Ray Brown. While the Patriots’ Dante Scarnecchia is the bell cow of offensive coordinators, Ray Brown is among the very best.
What the Cardinals’ 2018 draft is proving this far, is Steve Keim’s own versatility and deft adaptability.
Furthermore this draft is proving that Keim has adjusted his thinking about taking one year risers or small school projects on Days 1 and 2. Last year, if you looked at any of the draft prospect rankings prior to the 2016 college football season, you won’t find any mention of LB Haason Reddick or WR Chad Williams. You will find S Budda Baker as he was high on the charts.
This year, if, for example, you go to Lindy’s 2017 Pro Football Preview and turn to their 2018 top NFL Draft Top prospects rankings in the middle of the magazine---here is what you will find:
Josh Rosen is their #3 ranked QB behind Sam Darnold and Lamar Jackson.
Christian Kirk is their #2 ranked WR behind Calvin Ridley.
Mason Cole is their #1 ranked C.
These three players have been productive and highly acclaimed for several years. All three of them were top level 5 star recruits coming out of high school.
Not to say Haason Reddick and Chad Williams won’t turn out to be very good picks---but their assimilation into the NFL was going to take some time.
Today the Cardinals have a head coach in Steve Wilks who has professed that all starting jobs are wide-open competitions. Given that refreshing philosophy and given the experience of three top college players the Cardinals have selected, the players’ assimilation into the program is apt to come more quickly and naturally.
In essence, this year “Prime Keim” is drafting for primetime.