1. Deone Bucannon, S Washington State
2. Troy Niklas, TE Notre Dame
3. Kareem Martin, DE North Carolina
3. Jonathan Brown, Pittsburg State
4. Logan Thomas, QB Virginia Tech
5. Ed Stinson, DE Alabama
6. Walter Powell, WR Murray State
The Arizona Cardinals came into the 2014 NFL Draft with some big holes on their team, but seemingly ignored some of them as they put a stamp on a few positions. They got some players that have some huge upside and could end up being huge assets for them, but they have a couple spots left perilously thin and could bite them this year. Overall, the Cardinals draft is perhaps more of a ‘wait and see’ class than any that were put together this past year.
The first pick of the Cardinals draft was a surprise for a few reasons. First, it was a surprise they went with a safety there. Second, the player they took was someone that had been discussed as a first round pick but it was a surprise that Arizona is the team that picked him. Third and last is going to be how they plan to employ him.
I was a huge fan of Deone Bucannon. He is regarded as an extremely high character player and leader that was somewhat hidden because Washington State has struggled to be truly relevant, especially on defense. Bucannon is also really well built for a safety and had one of the best overall physiques at the Reese’s Senior Bowl with a huge pair of shoulders.
Some liked Bucannon better as an in-the-box safety. Personally, I liked him better as a free safety that looked good playing the deep part of the field with range. This is where the usage is going to be a major question with the Cardinals. If they want to put Bucannon in the box, it could work, but I would be far more excited for his prospects especially with their corners if they are having play like a free safety that can come up and hit.
Patrick Peterson and Antonio Cromartie give the Cardinals a unique combination of athleticism and length on the outside, but neither one of them is terribly interested in tackling. In that respect, Bucannon makes a great deal of sense inside and down in the box almost as an extra linebacker. When it comes to passing downs, he could help in man coverage against tight ends, but I am higher on him when he can float around in the deep part of the field and go make plays on the football as well as being able to intimidate opponents. The Cardinals could use him in a number of different looks, so it will interesting to see how they balance what he brings with teammate Tyrann Mathieu, coming off of the ACL injury or Rashad Johnson.
In the second round, the Cardinals pounced on a nice value with significant upside in Troy Niklas. I thought there was a chance he could end up going in the first round because of his immense athletic gifts, though he is still raw. Niklas looks like Rob Gronkowski and is able to help both as a blocker and a receiving threat, but needs to get more refined at both.
As a blocker, Niklas tends to lunge far too much and can over extend and be too hit or miss. As a receiver, he has the ability to stretch the field and likes to work the seam but is still developing in that area. The move was a little surprise, but it gives the Cardinals options on offense.
First, Niklas can help them run the football and help them go right and run with power. Secondly, he can be an inline receiving threat while Rob Housler works in space from the slot. That is all before Larry Fitzgerald and Michael Floyd enter the picture, so the Cardinals can use play action and give Carson Palmer more protection and a ton of options.
With the first of two third round picks, the Cardinals picked up Kareem Martin. There was some talk that Martin could play outside linebacker, something the Cardinals really do need, but he is a far better fit to be a 5-technique defensive end. He is physically outstanding and has a huge frame with a ton of strength while also being explosive. And like Bucannon, is a player that really impressed people with his character and interviews.
Martin has the opportunity to learn and work behind Calais Campbell on the right side, but gives them options when they go with subpackages as well. Martin has been a successful pass rusher, so if the Cardinals want to slide Campbell inside along with Darnell Dockett, they can move John Abraham down and put Martin at end. Martin could also be the player that comes in as the rush tackle and keep Campbell at the end spot. That is the type of versatility he brings. He comes into a great situation and should have trouble getting to the weight they want and being able to adapt with the possibility of contributing for the Cardinals as a rookie.
Later in the third, the Cardinals added another wide receiver in Jonathan Brown. Brown was a speed receiver from Pittsburg State and impressed teams in workouts. Nevertheless, it was a surprise that he went this early, but the Cardinals insist they were in love with him. The pick is a little confusing until it becomes clear speed was a huge issue on the Cardinals roster. Outside of Brown, it is Ted Ginn and a bunch of guys who are bigger, stronger receiving threats; no one that can really stretch the field and give Palmer a pure speed threat. Now, they have a player they believe can take the top of a defense and create openings underneath for other players.
In round four, the Cardinals picked up Logan Thomas. Thomas has everything that head coach Bruce Arians loves in quarterbacks. He is extremely big, strong, athletic and has a cannon for an arm. This might have been the best possible situation for Thomas because of Arians’ background with Peyton Manning, but moreso recently with Ben Roethlisberger and Andrew Luck who have the size and dual threat capabilities that Thomas does.
Thomas has as much upside as any player, let alone quarterback in this draft. The problem is there are significant issues that he needs to improve upon and while Thomas is regarded as extremely intelligent, it is unclear if some of these issues are fixable at this point.
First and foremost, Thomas has no touch. He fires everything and his velocity and raw strength are incredible, able to fit lasers into tight spots. The problem is that he is so strong and puts so much zip on the ball that he leaves himself almost no room for error, so he misses more passes than other quarterbacks would with weaker arms; their receivers have more time to adjust to passes.
Everything about this pick makes sense except for the fact that the Cardinals have already hedged on it, announcing that they will move him to tight end if he cannot make it at quarterback. The pick made a lot of sense, but I am not sure I agree with coming right out and saying that helps. If Thomas struggles, the question will be one that continues to be lobbed at Thomas as well as the organization rather than being able to focus on being a quarterback. I think the Cardinals were a little too honest there.
In round five, the Cardinals took more depth for their defensive line in Ed Stinson. He is projected to compete for depth behind Darnell Dockett at the defensive tackle spot, but his experience at Alabama I as a 5-technique, so he could be a player that could help at one or both spots. The Cardinals have a ton of defensive linemen on their roster, so if Stinson can show promise, he could jump some of them and they could end up being waived at some point during the process as they try to get younger with some developmental upside.
With their last pick of the draft, the Cardinals took Walter Powell out of Murray State. The Cardinals like what they have in Fitzgerald and Floyd as well as fellow rookie Jonathan Brown. If Powell can show value, he may end up replacing some of their end of the roster receivers and perhaps Ted Ginn at least in his usage as a receiver, allowing Ginn to focus on special teams and occasional plays as a receiver. With their excitement over Brown, Ginn’s role in the offense may be far less critical and Powell could fill that hole.
The Cardinals got an interesting group of players in this draft. The biggest issue that was not addressed was outside linebacker that seemed like a given. And as it turns out, they needed inside linebacker help as their star linebacker Daryl Washington is suspended for the entire year. They also did not address the offensive line. Partly, that was due to their ability to bring in Jared Veldheer and they have what they hope is a healthy Jonathan Cooper coming back, but it went unaddressed in this draft entirely, which can be questioned. The players they took could be big for them, but seem like they are really thin at a few spots and a key injury could leave them in real trouble, giving this draft a huge element of risk in the short term.
If they can get through this season healthy, this draft will immediately look better as they can breathe a sigh of relief and bolster some of those other spots. Meanwhile, they could have a few players that pay off big time both in the short and the long run, maximizing on talent as opposed to addressing needs. In a long term vision, which usually pays off, provided those picks are right. As a result, the Cardinals could be really strong in a few key areas, but the class as a whole is a “wait and see”.