The 2018 NFL Draft is in the books and with more Behind the Scenes information out, there’s quite a bit that we know about how Steve Keim and the Cardinals evaluated the draft process.
Let’s take a look at what we learned from Keim this year:
- He was honest about learning from past draft mistakes
Steve Keim admitted in a press conference pre-draft that he had regrets when it came to the quarterback position, whether that came to missing with the grade on players (Dak Prescott comes to mind) or not having the proper value (not giving up an extra 3rd round pick for Patrick Mahomes in 2017).
With his trade-up for Josh Rosen in 2018, Keim showcased that it wasn’t just talk but that he didn’t want to risk Rosen being taken by another team at picks 11-14 ahead of the Cardinals. It’s one thing to say that you have a regret, but another thing to take action on it.
However, I’ll say that this goes further than just the quarterback position.
On special teams last year, Keim paid a sizeable amount for a veteran kicker and punter after going inexpensive the year before and losing games in a critical 2016 season as a result.
On the offensive line, Keim has notably taken only two offensive lineman before the 4th round in D.J. Humphries and the top 10 pick turned bust in Jonathan Cooper. With Cole Toner and Dorian Johnson busting out and leaving the team and Evan Boehm a disappointment so far, he took an offensive lineman on Day 2 of the NFL draft from a major school in Michigan. This went against previous errors and preferences and invested higher in the position than he had previously, an area in which he had somewhat neglected with higher picks. This leads to the second point that...
2. Keim’s not limited to Bruce Arians’ offensive preferences
Keim with Arians was notable for drafting two types of positions in multiple drafts:
-Small-school linemen (Toner, Watford)
-Smaller, small-school speedy wide receivers (Brown, Nelson)
With the draft selection of Christian Kirk, Steve Keim took a player who, quite honestly, wouldn’t have probably fit Bruce Arians’ desire at the position. Kirk isn’t a 4.3 wide receiver who’s known as a speedy deep threat who can blow by guys with track speed to catch a deep throw, but rather is closer to the Golden Tate model who can thrive on intermediate routes.
In short, some GM’s draft based on the players their head coaches want, and some choose players and leave it up to the coach to figure out how to fit and play them. From what we’re seeing, it seems like Arians did have a good amount of input into the selection of the picks for his scheme and mentality, one that Keim is now freed from in a way.
3. Keim drafts for need, but never overpays
NFL General Managers don’t just go “best player available”. Or if they do, they don’t last long in their jobs.
Colts general manager Ryan Grigson drafted a wide receiver in the 1st round in Philip Dorsett because he was the top player on their board to a team that already had three wide receivers in front of him. Thus, he neglected building up the defense or offensive line for Andrew Luck and the Colts quarterback got hit too much and their defense remained atrocious and he was fired promptly despite receiving an extension.
The NFL draft is a combination of risk-reward and the opportunity cost.
The trade-up for Josh Rosen is a great example of that in Keim recognizing that it was worth giving up a good 3rd round pick in order to guarantee a quarterback, while not giving up an offer to try to jump ahead of the Buffalo Bills to take Josh Allen (who most had as AZ’s #1 quarterback in this class).
Keim found the balance between acquiring needs and talent while not paying too much or avoiding the investment altogether this year, and had an offensive heavy draft due to both the need to rebuild and lack of value for the defensive players on the clock.
4. He recognized his need for a quarterback, financially and to win football games
Part of what Keim’s pursuit of the “holy grail” (which he defined as a young franchise quarterback on a rookie deal) is that unlike signing a Kirk Cousins, it sets Arizona up for the long-term rather than trying to win games now.
This is no better contrasted than in the difference of the drafts between Steve Keim and Dave Gettleman of the New York Giants.
Gettleman drafted a running back to help give his offense a boost to aid his aging quarterback in Eli Manning get to another Super Bowl, investing around the QB rather than starting with that as the foundation.
Keim could have done the same with Sam Bradford by drafting a Wide Receiver such as D.J. Moore or taking a cornerback to fill a need. Instead, he saw it preferable to invest in the long-term future of the team at its most important position, something many NFL teams have been reticent to do while they have aging QB’s on the roster (and it’s something Keim seemed not as willing to do before 2018 with Palmer on the roster as well).
This decision even goes back to Steve Keim’s signing of Sam Bradford to a deal with only 1 year guaranteed—he didn’t invest into a talented veteran as a long-term solution but rather as a bridge quarterback. Might this all work out a totally different way with Gettleman and Keim where the Giants win a ring and Rosen doesn’t in Arizona?
Possibly. But it’s still worth nothing that Keim’s approach has been long-term with the quarterback position while Gettleman passed on that opportunity.
5. He’s emphasizing athleticism more in his drafts
The later round picks by Steve Keim have been mostly misses since he took over as the team’s GM in 2013.
A lot of the picks ended up being smaller or more un-athletic players who worked hard and had good character, but struggled when they got to the field. Later-round picks like Stepfan Taylor, Ed Stinson, Cole Toner, Harlan Miller or even some earlier selections like Markus Golden and Troy Niklas weren’t the most athletic specimen coming out of college.
That changed this year on Day 3, with Arizona selecting Fordham running back Chase Edmonds, who finished first in his position at the NFL Combine in the 3-cone and shuttle drills.
They also drafted a lengthy corner with a 41” vertical leap in Chris Campbell and an athletic freak of a tackle in Korey Cunningham who ran a sub 4.9 40 yard dash with a 36” vertical leap at 317 lbs.
Their top three picks also were all above athletes, if not elite, and while at times Steve Keim has been burned by athleticism in early rounds (See: Brandon Williams) he seems to be rounding into a GM who is better off betting on athletic guys later in the draft than taking guys who work hard but don’t have the requisite ability to play at the NFL level.
Perhaps this is just reading into their last three picks a bit much. But considering the team’s quick cuts of Cole Toner and Dorian Johnson and the team’s love of Scooby Wright III being met with subpar play when he started in camp, it’s not too much of a stretch to say that his mentality has shifted in this regard.
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