When the Seattle Seahawks drafted WR D.K. Metcalf in 2019 they drafted him to start opposite Tyler Lockett —- from day one. No ifs, ands or buts.
Whenever an NFL team intends to start a rookie, the team has to be prepared to let the rookie learn on the job and fight his way through initial adversities. That’s what’s called making a commitment —- not only to the player, but to the team’s college scouts and the draft board.
The Old Era of Player Development in Arizona
The hue and cry from Cardinals’ fans about the FO electing to draft Andy Isabella ahead of Metcalf got about as loud as the Seattle 12th man on game days. Cardinals fans had to watch D.K. Metcalf do his thing as a rookie, while watching Andy Isabella languish behind journeyman WR Damiere Byrd.
Imagine how different Andy Isabella’s career might have been if the Cardinals had made a commitment to him as a starter from the get-go.
The great irony, based on the way in which Andy Isabella, Hakeem Butler and KeeSean Johnson were being scrutinized by the Cardinals’ WR coach, Jerry Sullivan —- who had just spent a year at LSU coaching Justin Jefferson, Ja’Marr Chase and Terrace Marshall, Jr. (notice this disparity in talent?) —-there is no guarantee whatsoever that D.K. Metcalf would have been tabbed a starter, from day one, had the Cardinals taken him instead. But he might have had a much better chance had Sullivan been on the staff at the time of the 2019 NFL Draft.
The context of Jerry Sullivan’s hiring which came after the draft is of paramount significance. In my opinion, Steve Keim reached out to Sullivan, a long-time NFL WR guru who had a previous stint with the Cardinals, out of uncertainty about the one assistant coach on the new staff who actually had direct ties to Kliff Kingsbury —- David Raih. Plus, what could have impacted the signing of Sullivan, was Steve Keim’s concerns about Kliff trying to run his spread offense in the NFL.
Oh, What Might Have Been?
Had Sullivan been hired as WR coach from the get-go, one could question whether he would have endorsed any of the Cardinals’ three picks at WR.
Having just coached in the SEC at LSU, Sullivan would have had inside knowledge about the most impressive SEC draft-eligible WRs in that 2019 NFL Draft:
- Deebo Samuel, South Carolina
- A.J. Brown, Mississippi
- Mecole Hardman, Georgia
- D.K. Metcalf, Mississippi
Sullivan could have pounded the table for Samuel, Brown or Hardman in Round 2 at pick #33 —- or at pick #62 for Metcalf or Terry McLaurin of Ohio St.
The point is —- had Sullivan been given his choice —- do you really think that he would have opted to start Damiere Byrd in place of his guy?
A year later at the 2020 NFL Draft, with Jerry Sullivan on board, you might recall that he was pounding the table for Justin Jefferson. But, Steve Keim had already pulled off the DeAndre Hopkins trade and was not in the mood to entertain taking a WR, especially after drafting three WRs with 2nd, 4th and 6th round picks the year before.
We also know that Kyler lobbied for CeeDee Lamb, with DeAndre Hopkins’ enthusiastic approval.
When Sean Kugler came in as OL coach and decided fairly early on that A.Q. Shipley, coming of a year on the IR with an ACL tear, would be the starting center over 2nd year 2018 3rd round draft pick Mason Cole (who had 16 starts under his belt as a rookie and had to play with something like 12 different OL combinations in 2018)) —- it was once again a coach’s decision to start a veteran on a one year deal, who would not be on the team a year later, while stifling the development of Mason Cole, to the point where in 2021 Steve Keim and Kugler felt compelled to give up a 3rd round pick for Rodney Hudson, to then go ahead and trade Cole to Minnesota for a 6th round pick.
There are other prime examples of scenarios where the Cardinals acquired a veteran to play in from of one of their high draft picks, the most egregious of which was signing Devon Kennard to play SOLB ahead of Haason Reddick.
A New Era for Player Development in Arizona?
The good news for Cardinals’ fans today is that new GM Monti Ossenfort, assistant GM Dave Sears, HC Jonathan Gannon, STC Jeff Rodgers, OC Drew Petzing and DC Nick Rallis have vowed to be in a well-orchestrated and keenly construed alignment, not only in their teaching of schemes, but in making strong commitment to draft picks who are catered to fit the offensive and defensive systems as physical and mental prototypes.
- Parris Johnson Jr. has been starting day one at RT
- B.J. Ojulari figures to be a prominent contributor to the edge rotation
- Garrett Williams is expected to be in the CB mix once he’s cleared to play
- Michael Wilson has been a starter at WR from the get-go
- Jon Gaines II has looked good in his transition to center
- Clayton Tune appears to be the backup QB with a chance to work his way into a starter, if and when the time is right
- Owen Pappoe was given the green dot on the 2nd team and has been drawing high praise from Nick Rallis
- Kei’Trel Clark appears to be on the fast track to be a significant contributor at CB
- Dante Stills is on track to be a talented pass rushing cog in the DT rotation
As for the 2023 undrafted free agents, if any of these players receive PT reps in the 1st half versus the Chiefs, then that could indicate how strongly they are being considered for 53 man roster spots:
- RB Emari Demercado
- TE Joel Honingford
- TE Blake Whiteheart
- WR Daniel Arias
- LB Kyle Soelle
- S Kendall Brooks
Young Players (less than 4 years NFL experience) who appear to are on track to start:
- TE Trey McBride
- WR Rondale Moore
- WR Greg Dortch (KR/PR/WR)
- NT Leki Fotu
- DT Jonathan Ledbetter
- SOLB Zaven Collins
- CB Marco Wilson
- S Isaiah Simmons
- P Nolan Cooney
Here is the list of former Cardinals’ draft picks, undrafted free agents and acquisitions (with less than 4 years of NFL experience) who are vying to make the roster or practice squad:
- RB Keaontay Ingram
- RB Ty’Son Williams
- TE Noah Togiai
- TE Bernhard Seikovitz
- WR Andre Baccellia
- WR Brian Obbs
- WR Jayden Davis
- WR Davion Davis
- WR Brandon Smith
- T Josh Jones
- G Marquis Hayes
- C/G Hayden Howerton
- G Lecitus Smith
- DT Rashard Lawrence
- DE Eric Banks
- DE Ben Stille
- DE Jacob Slade
- Edge Cameron Thomas
- Edge Myjai Sanders
- Edge Jesse Luketa
- Edge Victor Dimukeje
- Edge David Anenih
- CB Christian Matthew
- CB Kyler McMichael
- CB Bobby Price
- S Javonte Moffatt
- S Andre Chachere
- S Juju Hughes
That’s a whole lot of young talent, many of whom, with the proper coaching, development, and opportunity could have bright futures with the team.
53 players to be exact.
I believe that Monti Ossenfort and Dave Sears want to comb the waiver wire on August 29 for a handful of young players at key positions of need. The Cardinals are #3 in the waiver claim pecking order behind Chicago and. Houston. The Cardinals would therefore be awarded any waiver wire claim they place whom the Bears and Texans do not claim.
As for signing any more veteran free agents, I believe it is more likely to happen on a need to need basis during the season.
I am hoping that MODS and the coaches will be inclined to favor the younger players for 53 man roster spots, especially over players who are not likely to be on the team in 2024.
Do you agree with the “go young and develop” philosophy for this season?