This is an evaluation that won’t be quick and easy.
First of all, an NFL team’s draft failures are organizational, but such failures ultimately fall on the shoulders of the grand coordinator of the draft, the team’s GM. Bear in mind that the GM is also responsible for the hiring and firing of head coaches and their coaching staffs.
Over the past eight years amidst three coaching regimes, Steve Keim has been the constant man at the wheel as the chief person responsible for the Cardinals infrastructure, vis-a-vis the management of all things related to the coaching staffs and the team’s personnel.
In that interim, Steve Keim has proven to be a masterful trader. In fact, it was his very first trade to acquire QB Carson Palmer that helped Bruce Arians win NFL Coach of the Year in 2014 and Keim himself to win Pro Football Talk’s GM of the Year in 2013 and in 2014 for his part in the team’s rise up the standings.
Steve Keim’s subsequent trades have included the Cardinals’ acquisitions of OLB Chandler Jones, S Budda Baker (in a draft trade), WR DeAndre Hopkins and most recently, C Rodney Hudson. All four of these players are NFL All-Stars and are blazing a path toward potential inductions into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Steve Keim’s forte is being on the phone at the right time with the right GM and being able to provide the right offer. For that, we Cardinals’ fans can feel especially grateful.
On the flip side, Steve Keim’s drafts reveal an alarming disconnect between the GM (plus scouting department) and the Cardinals’ coaching staffs.
It’s not like Keim is drafting players who are void of talent. But, far more often than not, Keim’s draft picks do not live up to their potential and/or the Cardinals’ coaches don’t develop them as well as the could.
As we all know, the NFL draft is a crap shoot. The majority of players every team drafts are not going to pan out —- it’s just the way it is.
However, the teams that draft best, are able to make timely and wise selections that fit their positional proto-types and then their coaching staffs are able to develop their young talents into bona fide, highly productive NFL players.
From the standpoint of NFL draftees, it has always been their dream to get drafted and then be given an ample opportunity to become starters or key contributors.
But the crucial aspect for all draftees is how well the GM has communicated with his position coaches in order to understand precisely what the coaches are looking for from a proto-typical standpoint —- not only just in the draftees’ physical assets and skill levels, but in their character, leadership, resiliency and work ethic.
I will never forget listening to a post-draft interview that Burns and Gambo conducted with the Cardinals’ 2017 4th round pick, 1st team All-American G Dorian Johnson of Pittsburgh. Johnson was elated to have been picked by the Cardinals, especially knowing that the Cardinals were trying to improve the talent on their offensive line.
Johnson said that he couldn’t wait to get his crack at winning the starting job at RG.
Yet, the entire tone of the interview changed when Burns and Gambo informed him that Bruce Arians had already named 2016 4th round pick Evan Boehm as his starting RG and that Johnson, as a rookie, during OTA’s and training camp would be reporting to field #2.
Right then and there on the radio, one could literally hear the air in Dorian Johnson’s balloon deflate. Johnson’s tone went from ecstatic to incredulous and then to dismayed.
Dorian Johnson didn't not even make the Cardinals 2017 roster. He was signed to the practice squad and then in October the Texans swiped him off the Cardinals’ PS to sign him to their roster. He was waived by the Texans three weeks later and re-signed to their PS. He never made another roster since.
Now —- maybe Dorian Johnson was never cut out to be a starting guard in the NFL. But, when players are not given a decent chance to compete for a starting job, it can be absolutely demoralizing.
Players know early on that if within a year or two they are not getting any first team reps in practice, they are basically scout team players who has better be contributors on special teams.
Think of what Mason Cole went through in 2019 after being the only Cardinals’ offensive linemen to start all 16 games in 2018, when for the first time in his life, come Week 1, he wasn’t in the starting lineup (having started every one of his high school and University of Michigan games).
Think of how demoralizing it was for the Cardinals’ 2017 1st round pick LB Haason Reddick to be moved to a position he had never played before, an ILB position that even his most current DC said typically takes thousands of reps for a player to master.
Reddick’s situation is a classic example of the kind of NFL draft gamble teams should try to avoid.
In 2017 the Cardinals went into the draft thinking that it would be the ultimate time to draft their QBOF. The problem was that Bruce Arians was more than ever in a “win now” mode because his future as the Cardinals head coach following his first losing season amidst scary health issues was now in question.
How frustrating it was for Cardinals fans to watch the Chiefs and Texans leapfrog the Cardinals to take Patrick Mahomes and Deshaun Watson.
At pick #15, the Cardinals did not have a QB at the top of their draft board so they went BPA when they selected Haason Reddick. The irony now is that in Reddick they drafted the perfect 34 SAM OLB compliment to Chandler Jones and yet instead the Cardinals forced Reddick into a role that he was never comfortable with, nor instinctive in his understanding of the role. Which if you listen to his DC is completely understandable.
Which begs the question —- if you want to draft a 34 WILB, why not draft a player who has already shown the physical and instinctive qualities as an inside linebacker in college? At pick #15 in the NFL Draft why make the gamble that the prospect would have to handle a position change? The pick is too valuable.
During the whole Reddick ordeal and egregious mishandling of a prized 1st round pick, kept thinking to myself over and over how, all too often, the greatest challenge for Cardinals’ draftees is surviving the Cardinals’ dubious approach to team personnel.
With Reddick’s recent defection to the Panthers, this means that 5 of Steve Keim’s first 6 1st round picks have gone by the wayside —- all save LT D.J. Humphries. And as it stands right now ,Humphries and Budda Baker are the only two of Keim’s draft picks on the current Cardinals’ roster to be re-signed to a second contract. There were two others previously, Tyrann Mathieu and David Johnson who were both signed to 3 year $39M contracts a year ahead of schedule coming off injury marred seasons. Much to everyone’s dismay, Matthieu and Johnson banked the money and by not playing nearly as hard or enthusiastically as their former selves, forced their way out of town.
What’s alarming is how enured and numb Cardinals fans are to these realities. How quick so many are to claim it is a good thing that Reddick, the “one year wonder”, is no longer on the team. But, one can understand it, because as Cardinals’ fans we have ask ourselves just how attached we should become to the team’s top draft picks when so many of them are so swiftly ushered out of town. Why get our hopes up, right?
As you join me in taking a close look at the Steve Keim’s draft history that I will delineate by position here, try to put yourselves in the cleats of these prospects to imagine what an NFL survival test this was for them.
- Logan Thomas (2014 —-R4): Bruce Arians’ hand-picked Hokie cut after one season, with the obvious irony being that he was the most talented pass catching TE Keim has ever drafted.
- Josh Rosen (2018 —- R1): Keim gave up three picks to move up to #10 to draft Rosen, having already signed Sam Bradford to a $20M deal to be the team's starter and having hired Steve Wilks as head coach with Mike McCoy as OC. The worst part was not only Keim’s decision to wait until the 2019 draft was underway to put Rosen on the trade market and, even worse in terms of professional class, after trading Rosen for a late 2nd pick, Keim did not have the decency to call Rosen to apprise him of the trade and to wish him well. Keim’s lack of class was akin to OLB coach James Bettcher walking right past and not saying one word to his own player, O’Brien Schofield, who had been cut while he was warming up for practice.
- Kyler Murray (2019 —- R1): Murray is the best draft decision the Cardinals have made during Steve Keim’s tenure as GM. If there is one position more than any other to get right, no matter what, it is the QB position.
- Stepfan Taylor (2013 —- R5): solid STs player who played sparingly in the offense for 4 years.
- David Johnson (2015 — R3): turned in one historically good season in 2016, got the big contract after missing 15 games (wrist) in 2017, yet never showed a glimpse of the electric player he was in 2016, but was a key piece in the DeAndre Hopkins trade.
- T.J. Logan (2017 —- R5): was supposed to give the team’s return game a boost, but was lost in year one to a wrist injury and barely played in year two, before being waived in year three and then claimed by Bruce Arians and the Bucs.
- Chase Edmonds (2018 —- R4): valuable RB2 who is well skilled at rushing, receiving and pass blocking.
- Eno Benjamin (2020 —- R7): made the 2020 roster but was never activated even when Kenyan Drake and Chase Edmonds missed games due to injuries, while the team turned to PS RB D.J. Foster and CFA Jonathan Ward.
- Ryan Swope (2013 —- R6): retired at the beginning of first training camp due to history of concussions.
- John Brown (2014 —- R3): was an early success with his electrifying catches and RACs, but was mishandled in the team’s treatment of his sickle cell anemia diagnosis and left town highly dismayed and disgruntled.
- Walt Powell (2014 —- R6); played well in pre-season, was cut and then claimed off waivers by the Jets where he returned 8 kickoffs for 233 yards. Bounced around PSs after that.
- J.J. Nelson (2015 —- R5); brought blazing speed to Arians’ vertical passing game, but like John Brown, after some early success, his play faltered. Has bounced around off and on PSs since then. Currently with the Colts on a/reserve future contract.
- Chad Williams (2017 —- R3): small school stud who got so winded his rookie year during STs drills that Arians said it wouldn’t be until Thanksgiving before he likely would get his chance to play. His best chance to play was in 2018, but all he could deliver was 17 catches for 171 yards and 1 TD. Was cut at the end of training camp in 2019. Currently on a reserve/future contract with Chiefs.
- Christian Kirk (2018 —- R2): was supposed to be the Cardinals’ nifty slot WR and return specialist where he excelled at Texas A&M. Yet, he has never warmed up to either role. He has flashed as an occasional deep threat up the seam. But, Kirk has accumulated too many games where he was a non-factor.
- Andy Isabella (2019 —- R2): hasn’t hit his stride as the Cardinals 4.31 deep threat partly because of limited snaps and partly because of a lack of timing between he and Kyler Murray. Has 30 catches for 413 yards (13.8), 3 TDs and only 2 drops (one off his fingertips on a zipped slant pass and one on a throw near the turf on a buttonhook), but fans keep insisting he’s a bust because of bad hands. Caught 231 passes for 3,526 yard (15.3 ave.) and scored 32 TDs while being consistently double teamed at UMass.
- Hakeem Butler (2019 —- R4): was never a fit from the get-go. Was placed on IR his first year and was cut after team tried unsuccessfully to trade him in year two. He is currently on a reserve/future contract with the Eagles as a TE.
- Keesean Johnson (2019 —- R6): was best route runner of the rookies in 2019 and earned early action. It feels like he is on the verge of breaking out. Has 36 catches for 360 yards (10.0) and 1 TD.
- Jonathan Cooper (2013 —- R1):
- Earl Watford (2013 —- R4):
- D.J. Humphries (2015 —- R1):
- Evan Boehm (2016 —- R4):
- Cole Toner (2016 —- R5):
- Dorian Johnson (2017 —- R4):
- Will Holden (2017 —- R5)
- Mason Cole (2018 —- R3):
- Korey Cunningham (2018 —- R7):
- Lamont Gaillard (2019 —- R6):
- Joshua Miles (2019 —- R7):
- Josh Jones (2020 —- R3):
Steve Keim has drafted more OL (12) than any other unit. His first pick as GM was G Jonathan Cooper who had the misfortunate of breaking his leg in pre-season as a rookie, but then inexplicably was benched in year two because he was having trouble adapting to weekly game plans. Like David Johnson, Copper will be remembered most fondly for being a trade piece in one Keim’s best trades. In Cooper’s case it was the one for Chandler Jones.
A number of these players were pigeonholed from the get-go as “swing” depth guys, but most of them did not pan out.
Best pick of the bunch was D.J. Humphries, although he had to go through hell and back to try to expunge the “knee deep” moniker that BA and Harold Goodwin branded on his forehead as a rookie, plus the myriad of injuries that landed him on the IR or caused him to miss games. But, to Keim’s credit, he stayed heavily invested in D.J. and D.J. is now a team captain and is coming off a season in which he earned the 5th highest PFF grade for a tackle in 2020.
Keim’s decision to draft 3 centers in 4 years did not reap the rewards he was hoping for. But, it is clear that Sean Kugler much prefers to play veterans and, therefore it might be very wise for Steve Keim to address other positions with the limited selections he has in the 2021 draft.
It’s quite surprising that Steve Keim, a two time All-ACC offensive lineman, would struggle this much drafting offensive linemen.
- Alex Okafor (2013 —- R4):
- Kareem Martin (2014 —- R3):
- Ed Stinson (2014 —- R5):
- Rodney Gunter (2015 —- R4):
- Shaq Riddick (2015 —- R5):
- Robert Nkemdiche (2016 —- R1):
- Zach Allen (2019 —- R3):
- Michael Dogbe (2019 —- R7):
- Leki Fotu (2020 —- R4):
- Rashard Lawrence (2020 —- R4):
Keim got good 4th round value from Rodney Gunter, but was either unable or uninterested in signing him to a long-term contract as Gunter signed a 3 year $18M deal with the Jaguars. It looks like Zach Allen is made to order at the 34LDE position, as evidenced by his playmaking down the stretch. Leki Fotu and Rashard Lawrence have upside, and perhaps so does Dogbe as a situational nickel rusher from the interior. But, Keim’s first few years of drafting DL hit an all-time low when Robert Nkemdiche, after a couple of injuries and ephemeral flashes in the pan, ate himself out of the league.
- Kevin Minter (2013 —- R2):
- Deone Bucannon (2014 —- R1)
- Markus Golden (2015 —- R2):
- Haason Reddick (2017 —- R1):
- Isaiah Simmons (2020 —- R1):
- Evan Weaver (2020 —- R6):
Notice that Steve Keim has used three 1st rounders and two 2nd rounders to address the linebacker positions. Minter and Bucannon struggled. Golden was not re-signed until Keim traded for him this year. At this point Golden’s niche is as a nickel edge rusher. Reddick was the only SAM OLB to show the athleticism, discipline and fundamentals to chase, contain, rush the passer and provide reliable pass coverage. This is the kind of disconnect that Keim appears to have with his coaches. Vance Joseph described Haason Reddick as the “perfect” 34 SAM OLB, but Reddick is now gone. Yet now there is no clear athlete on the current roster to replace him.
Devon Kennard, whom Reddick beat out, is good versus the run, but is going to need to step up as a pass rusher and cover man if he is going to play the position nearly as well. We may not have seen the best of what Devon Kennard can offer —- it was a tough year for him. Of course, it was frustrating to the point of being infuriating to watch Isaiah Simmons standing too often on the sidelines while the Cardinals’ veteran ILBers were often struggling. And it was surprising that Evan Weaver wasn’t at least kept on the roster to be a force on STs. That baller from Cal can flat-out tackle.
What’s dispiriting about Steve Keim’s 34 LB decisions is how antithetical they are in terms of classic 34 LB proto-types. This season if Kennard is retained, the only proto-typical 34 LB of the 4 is Isaiah Simmons. Kennard is not an ideal SAM. Hicks is not an ideal MIKE. And Jones is not an ideal BANDIT (except as a pass rusher, but as a run defender/poor, high tackler who consistently crashes down on play action/reverses/sweeps and habitually loses contain —- plus, as we have seen on numerous occasions, Jones is a liability in coverage on disguised blitzes). Let’s just face it, Chandler Jones is not really a linebacker. He’s a defensive end. But the good news for him and Cardinals’ fans, Budda Baker has Chandler’s back from the weak side.
- Brandon Williams (2016 —- R3)
- Christian Campbell (2018 —- R6)
- Byron Murphy (2019 —- R2)
It’s absolutely unfathomable as to how and why Steve Keim has only drafted 3 CBs in 8 years when he created a yearly revolving door opposite Patrick Peterson. Then, one has to wonder why Keim used a 3rd round pick on Brandon Williams, a converted RB who had played only one year of CB at Texas A&M. Christian Campbell never made the roster and wasn’t even signed to the PS.
Then there’s the issue of Vance Joseph coming to the early conclusion that Byron Murphy is best suited and perhaps only suited to play slot CB. The context here is that the Cardinals had all night and the next morning to make the #33 pick of the 2019 draft. Keim told the media later that he and his scouts had Murphy rated in the top 10 of the entire draft. Some draft pundits had Murphy rated that high as well. But, only 1 CB was taken in Round 1. The Cardinals had their pick of every other CB in the draft. At #33 the Cardinals should have been picking a starter at RCB, not a slot CB at that prime spot in the draft.
Again this speaks to a disconnect between Keim, his scouts and the coaches.
This is akin to now Sean Kugler saying that T Josh Jones may actually be better off at guard.
At times it feels like the coaches don’t really even know what they are getting when their draft picks show up.
isaiah Simmons —- how can you draft an elite athlete like him and not have a cogent plan for him? The irony is, Simmons could have been a better CB in this defense than Peterson or Fitzpatrick because he far more physical, agile and faster. Plus, he certainly would have been a humongous upgrade at safety over Curtis Riley, whose struggles in the loss to the Panthers (after being with team for 5 practices) led to a couple of easy TDs.
CB has been Steve Keim’s perennial blind spot. For a GM who is loath to draft CBs despite the yearly need, is it all that surprising that right now Steve Keim cannot make a decision on a UFA CB in spite of the fact that he likely needs two? If Vance Joseph was reluctant to play Isaiah Simmons as a rookie, it’s not very likely that Vance is going to start a rookie CB this year.
- Tyrann Mathieu (2013 —- R3)
- Marqui Christian (2016 —- R5)
- Harlan Miller (2016 —- R6)
- Budda Baker (2017 —- R2)
- Rudy Ford (2017 —- R6)
- Deionte Thompson (2019 —- R5)
- Jalen Thompson (2019 —- R5 supplementary)
As much as CB is Steve Keim’s blind spot, safety is his hot spot — not only in the draft, but in adding veterans depth to the unit, such as in his signings of Chris Banjo and Charles Washington. He hit a home run with the Tyrann Mathieu until the Badger started “stealing” from the Cardinals. When Mathieu’s drop in play was becoming a concern, Keim traded up in Round 2 on 2017 to draft Budda Baker, who has made 3 Pro Bowls in his first 4 years in the NFL. Jalen Thompson could also be on the verge of stardom, if he can stay healthy this year. And Deionte Thompson is showing steady improvement and upside as a nickel FS.
But, losing Marqui Christian (Adrian Wilson’s signature draft pick in 2016) to the Rams in order to keep two punters on the roster was a colossal waste of a 5th round pick. Trading a good ST player in Rudy Ford seemed premature as well. It was nice to see Rudy Ford get signed by the Jags on the very first day of free agency.
Keim’s Draft Numbers by Position Groups:
Keim’s Draftees to be Re-signed to 2nd Contracts following their rookie contracts:
- Tyrann Mathieu (cut)
- David Johnson (traded)
- D.J. Humphries (highest PFF grade on offense in 2020 at 88.3)
- Budda Baker (Pro Bowl invitee with highest PFF grade on defense in 2020 at 75.3)
This is why I was incorrectly convinced that Keim would re-sign Haason Reddick (who posted the 2nd highest grade on defense at 72.8), in order to keep this momentum of re-signing top draft picks going. Haason’s 2020 PFF grade blew any other Cardinal rookie’s 4th year grade out of the water. Even D.J. Humphries landed his 3 year $45M deal coming off his worst graded season as a pro at 64.5. Let’s remember that in 2019 he incurred 13 penalties and had a run blocking grade of 52.3. Credit Keim, Kugs and D.J. because he reduced his penalties to 7 and upped his run blocking grade to a whopping 90.8, plus improved his pass blocking grade from 76.3 to 79.9.
Keim’s Success with Complementary Draft Picks:
2015: TE Gerald Christian (R7)
2016: OL Cole Toner (R5)
2017: WR Chad Williams (R3); RB T.J. Logan (R5)
2018: OL Mason Cole (R3); RB Chase Edmonds (R4); OL Korey Cunningham (R7)
2019: OL Joshua Miles (R7); DL Michael Dogbe (R7); TE Caleb Wilson (R7)
10 picks total (with 0 in 2021): thus far 6 of these players are no longer on the roster and only Mason Cole and Chase Edmonds have started games. Cole has started 32 (of the 46 games he’s played in) and Edmonds has started 4 starts in 45 games. Michael Dogbe has played in 11 games.
Therefore, if Steve Keim is actually stalling in free agency right now in order to ensure 2022 complementary draft picks while at the same time trying to build a championship type rosters for 2021 and 2022, then Keim’s general lack of success with compensatory picks should be a deterrent.
Notable NFC West Draft Picks 2013-present:
TE Higbe—WR Kupp—-G Edwards—T Havenstein—G/T Noteboom—RB Akers—DT Donald—DT Joseph-Day—DT Gaines—LB Kiser—OLB Lewis—S Fuller—S Rapp
WR Aiyuk—TE Kittle—WR Samuel—T McGlinchey—DE Armstead—DE Bosa—DT Kinlaw—DE Street—LB Greenlaw—LB Warner—S Tartt—S Ward
TE Dissly—WR Lockett—WR Metcalf—G Lewis—C/G Procic—RB Carson—DE Collier—DE Green—DT Reed—DE Robinson—CB Flowers—P Dickson
2021 Cardinals Current Needs:
2021 Current Draft Picks:
Cardinals Current Available Cap Space:
According to sportrac.com: $2.19M
According overthecap.com: $6.1M
2021 Cardinals: Reason for Optimism:
- Offense led by Kyler Murray, a veteran offensive line led by All Pro Rodney Hudson, All-Pro WR DeAndre Hopkins, solid all-around RB Chase Edmonds, good blocking TE Maxx Williams and perhaps a renaissance year from former All-Pro WR A.J. Green.
- Defense inspired by the addition of 34 DE JJ Watt and the return of BANDIT OLB Chandler Jones to go with All-Pro FS Budda Baker and potential stars in SS Jalen Thompson, 34DE Zach Allen and WILL ILB Isaiah Simmons.
- Special Teams bolstered by the return of Andy Lee, Tanner Vallejo, Zeke Turner and Dennis Gardeck, plus the addition of two time All-Pro Matt Prater.
- Steve Keim is masterful at making trades and back end of the roster acquisitions.
2021 Cardinals: Reasons for Concern:
- Offense needs an infusion of speed as the skills positions, plus a pass catching TE.
- Defense needs starting CBs, a 34 SAM OLB, a NT, and stronger play from MIKE ILB.
- Special Teams need a significant upgrade of the kickoff and punt return units, plus the return of gunner Charles Washington and ST stalwart Chris Banjo.
- Steve Keim needs to make excellent decisions in managing the salary cap, filling the team’s current needs through the rest free agency and at the 2021 NFL Draft.
Can Steve Keim be a finisher in free agency and the draft?
His eight year history would likely suggest not. But, is Keim’s 9th year the charm?