The draft is over.
Three days of the first live “sporting event” in months wrapped up. Below are their draft picks:
Rd 1 Pick 8: Isaiah Simmons, Defensive Player (listed at LB), Clemson
Stats: 238 tackles, 28.5 tackles for loss, 11 sacks, 4 interceptions, 6 forced fumbles
Rd 2 Pick 40: (acquired from Texans) for DeAndre Hopkins, WR
632 catches, 8,602 yards, 54 touchdowns in his NFL career
Rd 3 Pick 72: Josh Jones, OT, Houston
Per Pro Football Focus: 325 pass blocking snaps, 2 pressures given up, 1 sack in 45 games started
Rd 4 Pick 114: Leki Fotu, NT, Utah
82 tackles, 17 tackles for loss, 4 sacks, 3 passes defended, 3 forced fumbles
Rd 4 Pick 131: Rashard Lawrence, DT, LSU
120 tackles, 20.5 tackles for loss, 9 sacks, 7 passes defended, 1 forced fumble
Rd 5 Jalen Thompson, S (surrendered in 2019 NFL supplemental draft)
57 tackles, 3 passes defended, 1 interception in his NFL career
Career with Arizona: 123 carries for 645 yards and 8 touchdowns, with 28 catches for 171 yards
Rd 6 Pick 202: Evan Weaver, LB (from New England for Korey Cunningham), Cal
407 tackles, 23.5 tackles for loss, 8.5 sacks, 2 interceptions, 2 forced fumbles
Rd 6: Jamar Taylor (trade, ‘18), CB (traded to Browns)
Rd 7 Pick Eno Benjamin, RB, ASU
576 rushes for 2867 yards, 27 touchdowns and 82 catches for 625 yards with 4 touchdowns
Like a symphony that closes with a harmonic BANG, that was how it felt the draft went. The pieces all fit and worked together like a composer crafting narratives for tunes...a talented player falls and lands with the Cardinals, seemingly a perfect fit.
Just one of those nights where it felt like the football gods kept dropping off gift baskets.
There were two themes to Keim’s draft pick. Surprisingly, they weren’t “best talent” or “best player available” or even “biggest need”.
Rather, the them was catching falling a player who FITS you.
This is especially true of 3 of the Cardinals’ choices this year in Isaiah Simmons, Josh Jones and Eno Benjamin.
Simmons was a player who was considered a top 5 (for some top 3) player in this draft as a Do-It-All-Defender. He excelled in coverage and had such an incredible combine, capped off with a 4.39 40 yard dash at 6’4 240 lbs, he was arguably the best athlete in the entire NFL draft.
With two quarterbacks taken a bit unexpectedly in the top 6 picks and Derrick Brown ahead of Arizona (whew) Simmons joins a team that, honestly, loves hybrid players like him who are fluid athletes that can play multiple positions.
Versatility and fit.
Secondly, the Cardinals’ acquisition of DeAndre Hopkins allowed this to happen, as they were able to pass on a wide receiver like Jerry Jeudy or CeeDee Lamb to take Simmons, and both Simmons AND Hopkins should be significantly better players than those who could have come at those other positions.
The question was—what would happen with the offensive line?
Once again, luck was on Arizona side as an Air Raid left tackle prospect who many projected to go anywhere from top 20 to the 2nd round (some even hinted at pick 33 to the Bengals) fell all the way to the 3rd round right into the Cardinals’ laps. A gift.
The Cardinals then stocked up on depth in terms of defensive linemen and a backup tackler at the linebacker spot.
Of course, for many, with one pick left, the best was yet to come.
Projected as a 3rd - 4th round running back selection, the local college prospect Eno Benjamin fell to not just the 6th but the SEVENTH round of the draft unexpectedly, and where I thought Arizona State had a chance to see him get drafted in the 4th to the Cardinals, he goes to them at great value with a chance to be their pass-catching back and compete on special teams, with only 2 veteran drafted backs ahead of him.
The fit with Benjamin, as well as finding a tackling 3-4 linebacker, a penetrating 2 gap defensive tackle from an SEC school and a 330 lb. nose tackle with some juice, were all great fits in Vance Joseph’s system, and all acquired with “reaching” for talent as other teams did, or being a head-scratching pick up like the Eagles taking Jalen Hurts in the 2nd round or the Bears somehow adding up to 9 tight ends in their room.
That’s the NFL draft, and most fans would probably give it an A at the time. I don’t think it’s something you can dispute, as it seems like Steve Keim, who’s been much maligned, might be starting to get some apology letters or tweets with the drafting of Jones and the local star in Eno Benjamin by ending their fall and finding impact players as late as the 3rd and 7th rounds.
And now we wait.
In the midst of a world—one seemingly gone mad, for what the future holds.
It seems like the say the “stars aligned” for the Cardinals, that it wasn’t hard for them to make their selections or fill needs, and perhaps Steve Keim’s job was easy enough for him not making a single trade up or down the board and taking the easiest option.
It certainly made an impact on fans, many who will be raving about and remembering this unique draft for years to come.
For now, my hat is off to the Cardinals’ front office who in the midst of a pandemic, arguably brought the state of Arizona the three best things it’s had in all of 2020 so far, by making all of the tension and drama worth it with one big payoff.
I hope that the tense, long wait for football, in whatever form and whenever it may be, pays off as well.