Cardinals stay flexible on last day of the draft
TEMPE — The fifth draft conducted by the Arizona Cardinals duo of general manager Steve Keim and coach Bruce Arians followed a familiar pattern.
Keim and Arians, obviously, have this drill down pat.
The theme, Arians said, was “position flexibility,” players who can fill more than one role.
The first two picks, linebacker Haason Reddick and safety Budda Baker, fit that bill. So do two big linemen who were picked on the final day.
The third-round choice was wide receiver Chad Williams.
That’s the same round that gave the Cardinals Tyrann Mathieu, John Brown and David Johnson. Brown and Johnson came from lesser-known schools.
Two big linemen and a player with the speed that Arians loves were added on the final day.
But still, there’s no young quarterback to groom as Carson Palmer’s eventual replacement. This team remains in a “win-now” mode. Future issues, like the next quarterback, will have to wait.
Some observations from the Cardinals draft:
QUARTERBACK: The question that still hovers over the franchise when will it find the heir apparent to the 37-year-old Palmer? Keim said the Cardinals refuse to panic over the situation, despite the fact this could be Palmer’s final season.
“Would you love to find one? Absolutely,” Keim said. “But at the same time you can’t force the pick and you can’t leave better players on the board, and that is what we would have done this year if we didn’t take the approach we did. We will continue to build the roster the right way.”
NICKEL HELP: Of the past two first-round picks, offensive tackle D.J. Humphries and defensive tackle Robert Nkemdiche, one didn’t play at all as a rookie (McKenzie), one played very little (Nkemdiche).
But the Cardinals say they expect Reddick to play right away. Arizona’s “nickel” defense, which it uses more than its base set, is loaded with linebackers. Reddick showed at the combine and, especially, at the Senior Bowl, that he can play inside or outside.
The nickel scheme also uses multiple safeties, which brings us to Baker. The Cardinals wanted him so badly they traded up nine spots to get him.
Baker, who left Washington after his junior season, is listed as a safety but plays any of the secondary positions. Arizona uses as many as four safeties in its nickel defense and lost Tony Jefferson and D.J. Swearinger to free agency.
THIRD-ROUND FIND? There’s a good chance Larry Fitzgerald is entering his final season, so there should be a welcome roster spot for Williams.
Williams, the first Grambling player to be drafted since 2006, caught 90 passes for 1,337 yards as a senior. After being suspended for the season opener, he caught 13 passes for 152 yards against the Arizona Wildcats in Tucson.
SPEED, SPEED, SPEED: Arians loves speed and he found some in fifth-round pick T.J. Logan, a running back/kick returner from North Carolina State. Logan had the fastest combine time at 40 yards of any running back in 4.37 seconds.
“I pride myself on being able to run by guys,” he said. “I feel like he’s not as fast as me, I’ll try and leave him in the dust.”
LIVER ISSUES: Fourth-round pick Dorian Johnson, a guard from Pittsburgh, was projected to go much higher but fell due to concerns about a liver condition.
Johnson explained that his liver enzymes are about five times higher than normal, but he keeps the condition under control with medication.
“I guess that just raised a lot of concern,” he said, “but I’m completely healthy. No issues with it.”
After joking about the conditions of his and Arians’ liver, Keim turned serious and said team doctors with the Cardinals and Pitt assured that the liver issue wouldn’t be a problem.
CORNERBACK, FINALLY: The Cardinals have long been looking for a cornerback to play effectively opposite Patrick Peterson. It didn’t appear they were going to draft one until, in the final hours Saturday, they traded their two seventh-round picks to Oakland and selected Rudy Ford of Auburn.
Ford played safety last season, but in pre-draft workouts, the Cardinals made it clear they see him as a cornerback.
At first, Ford will be counted on for special teams.
“A hell of a gunner,” Arians said.
And the coaches will see how he fits in at cornerback. Peterson and ex-Cardinal Rod Hood worked out Ford in the offseason.