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Will 2021 Cardinals Avoid The Insane Draft Trap?

NFL: Buffalo Bills at Arizona Cardinals Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

One of the sure ways to thwart the development of an NFL football team is to fall into what I would call “The Insane Draft Trap.”

As we know Albert Einstein defined insanity as “doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.”

The epitome of The Insane Draft Trap was the Detroit Lions using their 1st round picks in 2003, 2004, 2005 and 2007 all on WRs: Charles Rogers (Michigan St.), Roy Williams (Texas), Mike Williams (USC) and Calvin Johnson (Georgia Tech). For the Lions the 4th rime was a charm when they finally hot a home run with Calvin Johnson. But, it’s impossible to ignore that this type of draft insanity had much to do with why the Lions in years 2003-2011 went 36-94.

The Insane Draft Trap is more apt to occur for teams that repeatedly change head coaches. With such changes, the offensive and defensive systems change, which often means that one coach’s set of player personnel prototypes are different than his predecessor’s.

This is why we often hear the term “overhauling the roster” when a new head coach is hired.

As the Cardinals’ GM Steve Keim heads into his 9th year working with his 3rd head coach in that span, he is still trying to match draft picks with what he perceives to be preferential player personnel prototypes at key positions of need.

When Keim’s third head coach, Kliff Kingsbury. was hired in January of 2019, there was an expectation that Kingsbury was going to run an NFL version of his college Air Raid wherein the likes of Johnny Manziel and Patrick Mahomes thrived.

Therefore, in the 2019 NFL Draft, it was not a surprise to see Keim give Kingsbury his QB of choice in Kyler Murray and then draft three WRs in order to facilitate Kingsbury penchant for running 10 personnel (4 WR spreads).

As we know, much has changed offensively since April of 2019. This past season the Cardinals’ offense was #3 in the NFL in the frequency of snaps devoted to 12 personnel (2 TEs, 2 WRs).

The curious thing is that the Cardinals were without their best blocking TE, Maxx Williams for 7 of their 16 games, but kept insisting on running 12 personnel with top TE receiver Dan Arnold a makeshift crew of TEs (Darrell Daniels, Jordan Thomas, Seth DeValve and Evan Baylis), while 2019 WR draft picks Andy isabella and KeeSean Johnson were relegated to the sidelines.

Perhaps no single person has more to do with why the Cardinals’ offense has moved away from favoring a 10 personnel type Air Raid to being a 12 personnel power zone rushing offense sprinkled in with play action and speed/read RPOs —-than GM Steve Keim.

One can imagine that Steve Keim was never quite comfortable committing to an Air Raid offense —- which is why he surrounded Kliff Kingsbury with veteran NFL assistants, many of whom have their own offensive philosophies. In fact, the only offensive assistant who had direct experience in running an Air Raid offense was WR coach David Raih whom Kingsbury had hired as an assistant while at Texas Tech.

Raih, after two seasons, is now looking for a job. Tom Clements, the veteran QB coach and passing game coordinator, has retired (perhaps with encouragement?).

The alpha assistant mainstays appear to be OL coach Sean Kugler (who after 3 games in 2019 pleaded with Kingsbury to shift the offensive focus to leaning on 12 personnel), TE coach Steve Heiden who became all the more important as the Cardinals’ 12 personnel developed (Kliff Kingsbury has lauded Heinden for his play designs) and offensive assistant Jerry Sullivan who has his own very specific sense of the successful NFL WR prototypes, to the point where if he had been hired before the 2019 NFL Draft and had been consulted, it would seem highly apparent by now that Sullivan would not have endorsed Andy Isabella and Hakeem Butler as 2nd and 4th round picks. Of the 3 WRs the Cardinals selected in that draft, the only Sullivan would have likely given the nod to was using a 6th round pick on KeeSean Johnson.

By now, it seems apparent that Steve Keim’s mid-summer hiring in 2019 of Jerry Sullivan was a game changer.

If Steve Keim knew what he knows now back in April of 2019, his draft could have looked more like this:

  • (#1) Kyler Murray, QB, Oklahoma
  • (#33) Cody Ford, T/G, Oklahoma (with Sean Kugler banging on the table)
  • (#62) Terry McLaurin, WR, Ohio St. (with Jerry Sullivan banging on the table)
  • (#65) Zach Allen, DE, Boston College
  • (##103) Kendall Sheffield, CB, Ohio St.
  • (#139) Deionte Thompson, S, Alabama
  • (#174) KeeSean Johnson, WR, Fresno St.
  • (#179) Lamont Gaillard, C, Georgia
  • (#248) Joshua Miles, T, Morgan St.
  • (#249) Michael Dogbe, DE, Temple
  • (#254) Hale Hentges, TE, Alabama

Steve Keim’s best draft picks over the past 8 years:

  • S Tyrann Mathieu (R3,2013)
  • WR John Brown (R3, 2014)
  • T D.J. Humphries (R1, 2015)
  • RB David Johnson (R3, 2015)
  • OLB Haason Reddick (R1, 2017)
  • S Budda Baker (R2, 2017)
  • RB Chase Edmonds (R4, 2018)
  • QB Kyler Murray (R1, 2019)
  • CB Byron Murphy (R2, 2019)
  • DE Zach Allen (R3, 2019)
  • S Jalen Thompson (supp. R5, 2019)
  • LB Isaiah Simmons (R1, 2020)

Keim’s Wheelhouse (Draft):

Safeties, offensive tackles, edge rushers and running backs.

Keim’s Gray Areas (Draft):

Wide receivers, tight ends, guards, centers, defensive tackles, inside linebackers, cornerbacks.

Current draft picks at those positions on the roster: WRs Christian Kirk, Andy Isabella, KeeSean Johnson, C/G Mason Cole, C Lamont Gaillard, DIs Zach Allen, Michael Dogbe, Leki Fotu, Rashard Lawrence, ILBs Isaiah Simmons, Evan Weaver, CB Byron Murphy.

The ideal scenario so as to avoid The Insane Draft Trap is to commit to and rely on the development of these draft picks —- and, thus, to bolster the depth at the positions through free agency.

The one position that the Cardinals should most urgently address via a free agent signing and the draft is at CB.

At #16 the Cardinals could have their pick of: CB Caleb Farley (6-2, 207, Virginia Tech), Patrick Surtain II (6-2, 203, Alabama), Jaycee Horn (6-1, 205, South Carolina) or Derion Kendrick (6-0, 190, Clemson).

If Keim wishes to wait until #49 to pick a CB, the top names there are Asante Samuel Jr. (5-10, 180, Florida St.), Paulson Adebo (6-1, 190, Stanford), Tyson Campbell (6-1, 185, Georgia) and Elijah Molden (5-10, 190, Washington).

Free Agent Priorities:

  • Re-signing OLB Haason Reddick, OLB/ST Dennis Gardeck, TE Dan Arnold, ILB/ST Zeke Turner, S/ST Charles Washington, S/ST Chris Banjo ILB/ST Tanner Vallejo.
  • Improving the team speed on offense and defense.
  • Moving on from excessive contracts.
  • Signing younger players in free agency who are heading into their primes, rather than overpaying for veterans who are now past their primes.
  • Having the assistant coaches throughly vet, scout out and identify their top free agent choices.
  • For example, this time around have Jerry Sullivan identify the right free agent fit at WR so that the team can profit from veteran leadership at the position while continuing to develop the younger talent, and therefore, not having to start from scratch again with a Day 1 or Day 2 rookie. If anything, find a super sleeper WR for one of the two day 3 picks.
  • Same thing with the interior of the offensive and defensive lines —- have Sean Kugler identify one free agent C or G who is a great fit and have Brentson Buckner do the same to add one great fit to the defensive interior. This way, the Cardinals would be avoiding “The Insane Draft Trap” of drafting once again at positions they have invested draft capital in over the past few drafts.
  • Have Vance Joseph identify the free agent CB (or CBs) who best fits his system and philosophy.

Draft Priorities:

  • Adding big-time playmakers.
  • Adding players of high character who have leadership qualities, true passion for the game and exemplary work ethics.
  • Avoiding over-drafting at positions addressed in recent drafts.

I believe very strongly that after the Cardinals sign free agents at WR, G/C, DT, and CB, the the Cardinals’ Day 1 and 2 picks this year should be at CB, RB and TE.

Potential Scenarios:

1

16. Kyle Pitts, TE, Florida

49. Javonte Williams, RB, North Carolina

80. Elijah Molden, CB, Washington

2

16. Patrick Surtain II, CB, Alabama

49. Pat Freiermuth, TE, Penn St.

80. Trey Sermon, RB, Oklahoma

3

16. Najee Harris, RB, Alabama

49. Paulson Adebo, CB, Stanford

80. Hunter Long, TE, Boston College

Which of these scenarios appeals the most to you? Would you be happy with all of these scenarios if any of them came to fruition? What is your dream scenario?

ROTB Challenge:

Provide your list of moves the Cardinals need to make this off-season.