Saturday, May 10, 2014
Need trumped best player for Cards
By Josh Weinfuss
TEMPE, Ariz. -- For months, the message from Arizona Cardinals general manager Steve Keim was the same.
Arizona would use its 120-man draft board to pick the best player available, regardless of need. And if you asked Cardinals coach Bruce Arians, the team didn't have any glaring needs. But with three rounds of the NFL draft in the books, the Cardinals have four new players and each addressed a specific need.
Troy Niklas is expected to solidify a Cardinals tight end corp that is the foundation of Bruce Arians' offense.
Safety. Tight end. Pass rusher. Speed receiver.
Coincidence? I think not. And Keim all but said it was a smokescreen.
"I told you we were the only two you can believe," Keim said with a smile.
To which Arians followed: "Truth kills, baby."
But this was a draft in which Arizona could get away with picking for need. The work done over the last 16 months has put the Cardinals in a position in which they were a few specific positions away from turning a long-term corner. They addressed a handful -- left tackle, third receiver, kick returner and cornerback -- in free agency. The rest, as Keim would prefer it, would be found through the draft.
"I think that's the emphasis you put into building that board," Keim said. "We saw best player available but there is an emphasis on who impacts our football team the most. We are never going to leave a good player on the board to the side, but we do want to find guys who are going to impact us the most."
Sometimes who that is and who's atop their boards may not match up.
Arizona's first-round pick, Deone Bucannon, plugged a hole at strong safety. Second-round pick Troy Niklas solidified a tight end corps that is the foundation of Arians' offense. The Cardinals used their first third-round pick on Kareem Martin, who can provide relief on the defensive line while evolving into a pass rusher, and their second third-round pick on John Brown, a small-school speedster who can take the top off defenses and return kicks.
Of the group, Bucannon and Niklas probably were among the best players available when Arizona went on the clock. But Martin was a pick with the future in mind. And Arizona was high on Brown from the start.
"You have to almost look at it with a three-year view and understand that when we are talking about certain positions, they may not be the biggest need right now but in 2015, that may be our biggest need," Keim said a week before the draft. "So, if you can continue to have rollover and develop players, young players that can replace those guys when either their contracts are up or players move on, I think that's the way that ultimately you'd love for it to go."
That didn't seem committed to best-player available, rather than to picking for need. By late Friday, Keim said, the Cards' board was starting to look a little picked over.
"There are still quite a few players that we covet that are left," Keim said. "Rounds four, five and six should be fruitful for us. It has been picked pretty good."