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Wednesday, May 7, 2014
Keim can't be one-year draft wonder

By Josh Weinfuss

There will be a different type of pressure that will slowly waft through war rooms when NFL commissioner Roger Goodell approaches the podium inside Radio City Music Hall for the first time Thursday night.

This kind of pressure will only be felt by the 32 general managers. Beads of sweat will make themselves at home around their necks. Their heart rates will increase with every pick. The questions will start popping in their heads at a rapid-fire pace: Did they miss anyone? Is their draft board final? Are any draft grades too high? Any too low?

Steve Keim
The Cardinals are looking to Steve Keim to continue the success he has had in the draft.
The double guessing can last all night, but the pressure of hitting in the draft will last all weekend. Arizona Cardinals general manager Steve Keim won't be exempt from the stress of getting it right, especially since he's coming off one of the best drafts in team history.

Keim's rookie foray into being the main shot caller in war room for the Cardinals went well in 2013 -- almost too well. He had what many around the NFL considered one of the best drafts in the league. Keim hit on his first-round pick, guard Jonathan Cooper, and drew rave reviews for taking a risk in the third round on safety Tyrann Mathieu. With the aid of hindsight, drafting Andre Ellington in the sixth round, right after Stepfan Taylor in the fifth, made Keim look like a scouting virtuoso.

But plenty of teams have one good draft. Keim needs to follow last year's performance by doing it again. And the bar is high.

His nine picks in 2013 helped change the fortunes of a franchise. Mathieu, Ellington and Taylor all contributed to the Cardinals' 10-6 record. They'll return this season -- Mathieu when he's healthy -- and will be joined in the lineup by Cooper, who missed last year with a broken leg, and most likely guard Earl Watford and linebacker Kevin Minter. That's six players who are expected to have an impact out of a draft class that's now down to seven because sixth-round pick Ryan Swope retired and seventh-round pick D.C. Jefferson was cut.

Keim has been up front since he was hired about using the draft as his primary method to improve the Cardinals while addressing a few, specific needs via free agency. Last season was an anomaly. Keim was forced to overhaul the majority of Arizona's roster with free agents then he drafted to plug holes while getting younger and better. This season, free agency was used strategically. The draft is where Keim wants to change the mold of this team.

But even that takes time. Keim said it could take two or three drafts to shape a team how he wants.

"But the fans and the media, they don't want to hear that," Keim said. "They want to win now and I completely understand that. That's no different from the mindset that the owner, the head coach and the GM have. That's our mindset, as well. We want to win right now, but, at the same time, as a general manager and a head coach, when you're drafting I think you have to look at the long-term health of your organization."

After one draft, Keim and head coach Bruce Arians gave their fans a winning season, the first since 2009.

But if Keim can't find the draft magic from last season, the Cardinals can easily revert back to the mediocrity they floundered in for years, especially with how good the NFC West is these days. This draft is more critical than the last. Another good haul and the Cardinals can close the gap with the Seattle Seahawks and the San Francisco 49ers, and show the league that the Cardinals aren't just built to win now but could be compete for years to come.

And that all lies on Keim's shoulders.