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Improving Cardinals’ Draft Strategy

NFL Draft Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images

If you are the CEO of a Fortune 500 company, which colleges would you visit the most in your recruitment of entry-level employees?

it wouldn’t surprise you to hear that most Fortune 500 companies begin their recruiting visits at Harvard, Yale and Stanford, right?

While thoroughly enjoying Marina Keegan’s best-selling book “The Opposite of Loneliness”, Keegan said how miffed and irked she was at Yale to receive a cash incentive from a Wall Street based hedge fund company to attend their second recruiting session in New Haven —- you see, these stock managers had taken attendance during their first session at Yale, and Marina Keegan, one of the top students in her class, was a no-show.

I have to commend the hedge fund company for their interest in recruiting her, because Marina Keegan was and will always be a shining star. Her Yale graduation speech, “The Opposite of Loneliness” is one of the most brilliant, endearing and poignant speeches I have ever heard or read. Tragically, she lost her life in a car crash on Cape Cod when her boyfriend fell asleep at the wheel after three days of traveling to see family and friends all around new England in the after-glow of Marina’s graduation.

“The Opposite of Loneliness” is a book (of Marina’s captivating short stories and essays) that I whole-heartedly recommend. To me, Marina Keegan is the Pat Tillman of young writers. She is wholly and genuinely unique. Marina was so talented that straight out of Yale, she was hired to write for the New Yorker. Yup. She wanted nothing to do with Wall Street.

What the Arizona Cardinals need to do, in my opinion, in order to improve their draft strategy is to make a more deliberate effort to recruit from the top football schools in America.

Since Steve Keim was appointed GM, these are the colleges that have received to most draft picks (and in parentheses are the players whom the GM has drafted from those programs):

  1. Alabama (2013 —- Ed Stinson, DT, R5; 2019 —- Deionte Thompson, S, R5)
  2. Ohio St. (none)
  3. Florida (2015 —- D.J. Humphries, R1)
  4. Clemson (2013 —- Andre Ellington, RB; 2020 —- Isaiah Simmons, R1)
  5. Miami (none)
  6. LSU (2013 —- Kevin Minter, LB, R2; Tyrann Mathieu, S, R3; 2020 —- Rashard Lawrence, DT, R4)
  7. Oklahoma (2019 —- Kyler Murray, QB, R1)
  8. Florida St. (none)
  9. Georgia (2019 —- Lamont Gaillard, C, R6)
  10. Michigan (2018 —- Mason Cole, C, R3)

Analysis:

  • It’s hard to imagine why the Cardinals have not paid higher attention to the yearly glut of talent coming out of the University of Alabama and Ohio St. In Steve Keim’s 8 years of running the draft, he has not selected one Alabama player in Rounds 1-4, nor has he even once selected a player from Ohio St.
  • One could argue that Steve Keim’s drafts during years 2014-2018 (while the Cardinals were on the rise in 2013-2015) are one of the main causes of the team’s swift plummet from the NFC Championship game in 2015 to the worst record in the NFL in 2018, for during that stretch Keim drafted only DT Ed Stinson (R5-2014), D.J. Humphries (R1, 2015) and Mason Cole (R3, 2018) from top 10 college programs.
  • In years 2016 and 2017, Keim selected no players from the top 10 colleges. The fact that this corresponds with the team’s decline would not be a total coincidence, would it?
  • The good news is that for the past two years, Steve Keim has made a stronger effort to tap into the top 10 colleges, at least with his 1st round pick investments in Kyler Murray and Isaiah Simmons, both of whom are arguably the most talented young players on their side of the ball, plus both of whom were consensus All-Americans and top award winners, namely the Heisman Trophy and Butkus Award, respectively.
  • Steve Keim’s best picks from the top 10 colleges were arguably his three first round picks from top 10 colleges (Humphries, Murray and Simmons).
  • Steve Keim’s three best 2nd round picks were in acquiring DE Chandler Jones (in 2015), S Budda Baker (in 2018) and WR DeAndre Hopkins (in 2020), all via trades. All three players are multiple Pro Bowl selections.

Conclusion:

The reason why drafting players from top 10 colleges can often be advantageous is not only for the talent the players offer, but for knowing that their college success came against the strongest competition and that the players are accustomed to winning while playing on the brightest of stages.

As we know, what has further compounded the Cardinals lack of draft success, particularly with some of the earlier Day 1 and Day 2 picks, is the Cardinals’ proclivity for taking the players out of their most natural positions and thus forcing them as rookies not only to make adjustments to the speed and power of play in the NFL, but to learn how to garner the nuances and techniques of their brand new positions after mere weeks of training.

Football, like any competitive endeavor, is a game of confidence.

Malcolm Gladwell, asserted in his best-selling book “Outliers” that it typically takes a person 10,000 hours of practicing their trades in order to get good at their craft. Please do yourself a favor and watch this 2 minute video, because Gladwell not only speaks to the critical importance of practice, he also addresses the tendency for people to get impatient with those who have yet to master their craft (like so many Cardinals coaches and fans do with draft picks who don’t come right in and shine from day one).

When the Cardinals ask their draftees to play a position they did not play in college, they are basically taking away the players’ 10,000 hours of playing their natural positions and pressing the reset button back to 0.

Therefore, if the Cardinals are going to continue to improve the roster and the team’s chance to compete for championships, it could be wise of the Cardinals to make even more of an effort to tap into the top talents from the top college programs —- moreover, with the express intention of playing this players at the very positions they played in college.

Applying the top 10 college prospects in the 2021 NFL Draft to play at their natural positions, here are the most likely possibilities:

Pick #16:

  • WR Jaylen Waddle, Alabama
  • RB Najee Harris, Alabama
  • DT Christian Barmore, Alabama
  • WR Kadarius Toney, Florida
  • RB Travis Etienne, Clemson
  • OLB Jaelan Phillips, Miami
  • WR Terrace Marshall, LSU
  • OLB Azeez Ojalari, Georgia
  • OLB Kwity Paye, Michigan

Pick #49:

  • T Alex Leatherwood, Alabama
  • G Deonte Brown, Alabama
  • ILB Dylan Moses, Alabama
  • G Wyatt Davis, Ohio St.
  • ILB Baron Browning, Ohio St.
  • LB Pete Werner, Ohio St.
  • RB Trey Sermon, Ohio St.
  • G Jackson Carman, Clemson
  • WR Amari Rodgers, Clemson
  • DE Gregory Rousseau, Miami
  • TE Brevin Jordan, Miami
  • DT Tyler Shevlin, LSU
  • LB Jabril Cox, LSU
  • CB Kary Vincent Jr., LSU
  • OLB JaCoby Stevens, LSU
  • C Creed Humphrey, Oklahoma
  • OLB Ronnie Perkins, Oklahoma
  • CB Asante Samuel Jr., Florida St.
  • DT Marvin Wilson, Florida St.
  • OLB Hamsah Nasirildeen, Florida St.
  • CB Tyson Campbell, Georgia
  • CB Eric Stokes, Georgia
  • T Jalen Mayfield, Michigan
  • LB Cameron McGrone, Michigan
  • WR Nico Collins, Michigan

Pick #160:

  • OLB Jonathon Cooper, Ohio St.
  • WR Cornell Powell, Clemson
  • CB Marco Wilson, Florida
  • DT Tedarrell Slaton, Florida
  • WR Trevon Grimes, Florida
  • CB Tre Norwood, Oklahoma
  • CB Tre Brown, Oklahoma
  • WR Tamorrion Terry, Florida St.
  • OLB Josh Kaindoh, Florida St.
  • OLB Janarius Robinson, Florida St.
  • TE Tre McKitty, Georgia
  • CB D.J. Daniel, Georgia
  • DE Malik Herring, Georgia
  • S Richard LeCounte, Georgia
  • LB Monty Rice, Georgia
  • DT Carlo Kemp, Michigan
  • RB Chris Evans, Michigan

Obviously, there are other highly talented prospects from other top Power 5 schools as well as some mid-level school stars. But, the top 10 Power 5 school programs are the most winningest programs in the USA for good reasons. Simply put, they are the best recruiters.

Make your three selections (choices A & B) at #16, #49 and #160 from the prospects above. If you could lock those pick in for the Cardinals right now, would you?