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Golden Reunion

NFL: Arizona Cardinals at Kansas City Chiefs Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

I will never forget the NFL Draft In April of 2015 when my beloved Arizona Cardinals drafted Missouri Edge Markus Golden.

There was quite a bit of “twist and turn” drama involved in this particular draft, if you recall.

Starting with Round 1, the Cardinals had the #24 pick and many of us were hoping the Cardinals were going to be able draft Markus Golden’s Missouri teammate Edge Shane Ray who looked to be precisely the kind of explosive pass rusher the team needed.

However, at #23, one spot ahead of the Cardinals, the Broncos selected Ray.

Dang.

That is when Steve Keim decided to take Florida T D.J. Humphries at #24.

More on Humphries and the entire 2015 draft haul for the Cardinals later on.

With the #55 pick (Round 2), the Cardinals were already on the phone with Nebraska RB Ameer Abdullah.

Once again, the team right before the Cardinals (Lions) swooped in to intercept the pick at #54.

Steve Keim—-who had to be wondering by now whether teams had installed hidden cameras in the Cardinals’ draft room, then traded the #55 pick to the Ravens for their #58 and #158 picks.

Keim had his eye on Markus Golden and figured that they could trade down a few spots, take Golden at #58 and then add what turned out to be West Virginia Edge Shaquille Riddick at pick #158.

In the pre-draft process of watching Shane Ray on tape, it became apparent to me that the edge player opposite Ray, Markus Golden, was the relentless, unsung hero of the Tigers’ defense. I was so enamored with Golden’s non-stop energy and passion that after the Cardinals selected him, I quickly suggested that Golden could have a better NFL career than Ray. Of course, that prediction was manifestation of post draft optimism—-but Markus Golden stood out on tape as the epitome of a “baller”.

The main reasons why Markus Golden was still on the board at #58 were his 4.9 time in the 40— his 7.39 time in the 3 cone—-and 28.5” vertical jump at the 2015 NFL Combine. Those numbers are below average for NFL OLB prospects. After all, as an OLB one has to be able to chase down and cover RBs with 4.4 speed.

However, when it comes to rushing the passer, Golden uses the excellent power in his lower legs and a punishing array of karate chops while fighting his way to the QB . Few NFL players play game snaps to the whistle play-in and play-out the way Markus does.

In his rookie year, Markus cracked the starting lineup when OLB Alex Okafor was sidelined—-and started at OLB during the Cardinals’ famous OT playoff win over the Packers. He finished his rookie season with 31 tackles (21 solo), 4 sacks and 2 forced fumbles in 15 games and 6 starts.

In his second season, Markus exploded for 12.5 sacks. He and Chandler Jones (11 sacks) combined for 23.5 sacks and it was the first time since 1984 that the Cardinals had two players finish the season with double digit sacks.

In year three, unfortunately, Markus suffered an ACL injury in October and was lost for the season.

Unfortunately, in his 4th year (contract year), Markus started 11 games and, while his effort was consistently commendable, his pedestrian stats (30 tackles and 2.5 sacks) put a damper on his free agent market value.

Markus’ former DC James Bettcher, by then coaching with the Giants was able to convince Markus to sign a 1 year $3.75M contract in 2019..

Markus was an instant hit in New York. His 10 sacks on the 2019 season was the first time a Giants’ linebacker registered double-digit sacks since Lawrence Taylor in 1970.

This off-season, the Giants brought Markus back on a 1 year $5M deal. And he was traded to the Cardinals on October 23 after starting only 1 game in 7 while recording 10 tackles and 1.5 sacks.

Markus’ emotion response to “coming home” to the Arizona Cardinals is inspirational:

Man, who wouldn’t want to play next to this teammate?

Funny how journeys take a variety of twists and turns—-like the Cardinals’ now infamous 2015 NFL Draft.

  1. D.J, Humphries, T, Florida. As we know, he was given a derogatory nickname as a rookie and never played a single snap the entire season. Now he is a team captain and he was the first 1st round draft pick of Steve Keim’s tenure as GM to be re-signed in free agency.
  2. Markus Golden, OLB/DE, Missouri. Despite his ACL setback, Markus has accumulated 201 career tackles, 41 tackles for loss, 30.5 sack and 75 QB hits. (Shane Ray: 94 tackles, 14 sacks, 15 TFL, 33 QB hits and unfortunately is no longer in the league).
  3. David Johnson, RB, Northern Iowa. Had the amazing, record-setting 2,000 yard (rushing and receiving) and 20 TD season in 2016. Broke his wrist and was lost for the season in Game 1 versus the Lions (ironically the team that is most responsible for Johnson becoming a Cardinal) in 2017. Held out of team minicamp for new contract in 2018 and was awarded a 3 year $39M contract. Has never quite looked like the DJ of old. And now he has played for an inordinate number of head coaches and OCs due to firings or retirements. But, David Johnsonwas a key part of the DeAndre Hopkins trade.
  4. Rodney Gunter, DT, Delaware St. Had a good 5 year run with the Cardinals as a stout DT who started in 38 games and recorded 126 tackles and 11 sacks. He signed a 3 year $18M contract with the Jaguars this year. Sadly, Rodney Gunter was forced to retire prior to the season because of a heart condition.
  5. Shaquille Riddick, OLB/DE, West Virginia. Was mostly injured as a rookie and was waived in year two without having ever taken a snap in a regular season game. He is currently a member of Edmonton Eskimos of the CFL.
  6. J.J. Nelson, WR, UAB. In 4 years with the Cardinals J.J. caught 85 passes (on 186 targets) for 1,475 yards (14.5 ave.) and 11 TDs. In 2019, he played in 2 games for the Raiders, starting 1 and had 4 catches (on 5 targets) for 36 yards (9.0 ave.) and 1 TD. He is currently a free agent.
  7. Gerald Christian, TE, Louisville. Mr. Irrelevant (last player taken in the 2015 NFL Draft) unfortunately suffered an ACL tear in the last pre-season game when he was a rookie. He was waived the following year having not made a roster or played a snap in regular season game. He played briefly for the Bills in 2016 and the Cardinals brought him back as a free agent in 2017, but he did not make the team. He last played for the Arizona Hotshots in the Alliance of American Football league.

Thae 2015 NFL Draft was then, this is now:

  • D.J. Humphries—-starter at LT and one of the team captains.
  • Markus Golden—-back with the team and ready to give his all.
  • DeAndre Hopkins—-starter at WR thanks to the trade involving David Johnson.
  • Maxx Williams—-starter at TE—-Maxx was the pick at #55 the Ravens made in 2015 when they moved up to the Cardinals’ spot.
  • DeAngelo Blackson—-taken at pick #100 by the Titans in 2015, now a starter for Cardinals after being claimed off waivers from the Texans.
  • Brett Hundley—-taken at pick #149 in 2015 by the Packers. Now in his 2nd season as a backup to Kyler Murray.

Pretty cool developments involving this draft for the Cardinals, wouldn’t you say?

Welcome back to the “Junkyard Dog.”

This has all the good vibes of a Golden reunion.