Arizona Cardinals: 2014 NFL draft

TEMPE, Ariz. -- Less than 24 hours after the NFL draft concluded, the Arizona Cardinals’ 2014 draft class has been rated better than average.

ESPN NFL draft Insider Mel Kiper Jr. gave the Cardinals’ haul a "B." His grades for all 32 teams are on ESPN InsiderInsider.

“The Cardinals did pretty well, and hit some needs,” Kiper wrote.

Kiper thought drafting hard-hitting strong safety Deone Bucannon was a good compliment to quicker free safety Tyrann Mathieu.

Although Kiper thought Arizona needed an outside linebacker, he said North Carolina defensive end Kareem Martin was “a good fit.”

“He’s a better athlete than he is a performer but he could be good,” Kiper wrote.

Adding Notre Dame tight end Troy Niklas will remind coach Bruce Arians of Heath Miller, Kiper said. Kiper also liked Pitt State wide receiver John Brown because of his explosiveness.

However, I don’t agree with Kiper’s assessment that Brown will be the Cardinals' third wide receiver. I think that job is Ted Ginn’s and Brown will be a specialty receiver, who’ll be used to take the top off defenses. And Ginn will be Arizona’s primary kick returner and will be the Cardinals’ choice to take punt returns instead of Patrick Peterson, not Brown.

Kiper’s main question surrounding Arizona’s pick of quarterback Logan Thomas is what everyone’s thinking: “Will Thomas improve his accuracy?”

“That's the question, and it's not at all easy to say he will, because accuracy and ball placement aren't things that often improve a great deal,” Kiper said. “At worst, he's Colin Kaepernick and Russell Wilson in practice because he can simulate that kind of athleticism.”
TEMPE, Ariz. -- The draft might be over for the Arizona Cardinals, but their work is far from done.

As soon as their final pick was made Saturday, the Cardinals flipped their draft board and began focusing on signing undrafted free agents. It’s a process that is not quite as detailed as preparing for the draft, but has become an integral part of the draft over the past few years.

Arians
Arians
“Now with the ability to bring 90 guys in, the free agency is going to be an important part of the process, where in the past it could be judged as throwing darts,” Cardinals general manager Steve Keim said. “We’ll have some grades up there that are players who we think could make significant contributions.

“So, we have to be smart, not only about the way we draft but then we flip our board and it becomes the free-agent board, and we have to attack that board just as aggressively.”

Keim said Saturday that he wished Arizona had a seventh-round pick, but since it doesn't, the Cardinals can get a leg up on recruiting because "quite frankly, I think that's one of the things Bruce and I do best."

Arizona began recruiting players during the few weeks leading up to the draft. They worked the phones, calling prospects who Arizona thought might not be drafted and pitched the Cardinals.

While Keim didn't have a total number he was hoping to sign in the next day ready, he wants to sign two running backs and three to five offensive linemen.

"Those are some of the positions where we can actually get out and be aggressive, pay some money and make sure we get our guys," Keim said. "When you're talking to the agents and the playeres, they're looking at your depth chart and you're just trying to sell the opportunity."

Once the Cardinals’ draft ended, a scout and assistant coach were paired together, and they began working the phones again. For the hundreds of players whose dreams of getting drafted didn’t pan out, an NFL opportunity could still happen.

“Those guys work in concert together,” Keim said, “and they do a fantastic job recruiting players, selling the opportunity.”
NFC wrap-ups: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South


TEMPE, Ariz. -- A wrap-up of the Arizona Cardinals' draft. Click here for a full list of Cardinals draftees.

[+] EnlargeLogan Thomas
AP Photo/Michael ConroyVirginia Tech's Logan Thomas could be the Cardinals' starter by 2015.
Best move: Drafting Logan Thomas. Quarterback has been a touchy subject around the Cardinals all offseason, especially since Carson Palmer has just one more year on his contract. Adding Thomas gives the Cardinals an option for the future. The best part of drafting Thomas is, as long as Palmer stays healthy, he won’t be forced into action this coming season. The longer Thomas can sit behind Palmer and learn Bruce Arians’ offense, the better he’ll be in the long run. Anyone watching the Cardinals in 2013 saw how long it took for the offense to grasp the intricate scheme Arians installed. Having a young quarterback immersed in it for about 10 months before he’s handed the keys will allow him to make a seamless transition. It’ll also take at least that long for Thomas to be ready to start. He has the physical tools, but there are accuracy issues that need to be addressed. It's a small trade-off for having a quarterback who can eventually be a starter.

Riskiest move: Trading out of the 20th pick in the first round ended up working out for the Cardinals, but it was their riskiest move of the draft. Had the Cardinals missed out on safety Deone Bucannon, the shape of their entire draft would have changed. And if there was one pressing need for Arizona this year it is at safety. Their inability to cover tight ends was no secret, so finding a tall, physical safety in the first round was almost imperative for the Cardinals to make a run at the playoffs. If Bucannon had been off the board before No. 27, the Cardinals would’ve been in trouble.

Most surprising move: Drafting multiple players at the same position. The Cardinals used this draft to stock up at wide receiver and defensive end, but they left a few needs on the board. Arizona wanted to improve at speed receiver but picking John Brown in the third round and then Walt Powell in the sixth round created a logjam. Both bring different attributes to the field, but they’re similar in stature and rely on speed to earn their keep. How many of the same type of player is needed? The same question can be asked about the defensive ends Arizona selected. The Cardinals drafted Kareem Martin in the third round and then Ed Stinson in the fifth. General manager Steve Keim said Stinson was the backup plan if another team had drafted Martin, but Arizona opted for both. Like the receivers, Martin and Stinson are touted as different pass-rushers but either one would’ve fit Arizona’s need. The Cardinals finished the draft with holes at right tackle and linebacker.

File it away: This draft class will have three players who’ll be considered "hits" in a few years. Bucannon can become an instant starter while utilizing his range and size, especially against the run. Tight end Troy Niklas has the size and athleticism to emerge as one of the best tight ends in the league, especially in Arians’ offense. And if Thomas can fix his accuracy issues, he can wind up being the Cardinals starter in 2015.

Cardinals' 2014 draft class

May, 10, 2014
May 10
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TEMPE, Ariz. -- The Arizona Cardinals' 2014 draft is in the books. Here is a quick look at their picks.

Round 1 (27th): Deone Bucannon, S, Washington State

Round 2 (52nd): Troy Niklas, TE, Notre Dame

Round 3 (84th): Kareem Martin, DE, North Carolina

Round 3 (91st): John Brown, WR, Pitt State

Round 4 (120th): Logan Thomas, QB, Virginia Tech

Round 5 (160th): Ed Stinson, DE, Alabama

Round 6 (196th): Walt Powell, WR, Murray State
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.

[+] EnlargeTroy Niklas
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)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."
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TEMPE, Ariz. -- The pick: John Brown, wide receiver, Pittsburg State

My take: He may be fast, having run a 4.34-second 40-yard dash at the NFL combine, but Brown may have trouble making this roster. He has three speed guys ahead of him -- all of whom were hand-picked by Cardinals coach Bruce Arians -- in Ted Ginn, Teddy Williams and Brittan Golden. Brown has been compared to Indianapolis’ T.Y. Hilton and Pittsburgh’s Antonio Brown because of his size and speed. If he finds a role on this team it's because Arians will make sure he plays the Hilton/Antonio Brown role, which John Brown could be very successful at if he stays healthy. With speedy receivers already on the roster, it seemed that going after another one could've been saved for the later rounds.

Role models: If you're a 5-foot-10 wide receiver, there are few options for role models in the NFL. But the two whom Brown looks up to are the ones Arians wants him to emulate (Hilton and Antonio Brown). And they're not a bad pair. If Arians had his way, John Brown's game and career would mirror those of Hilton (5-9) and Antonio Brown (5-10). As long as John Brown can stay healthy, he'll be able to take the top off defenses and will contribute on punt and kick returns.

What’s next: If the Cardinals continue to pick on need, they will be looking at a defensive lineman, linebacker and possibly a running back in their final three picks.
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TEMPE, Ariz. -- The pick: Kareem Martin, DE, North Carolina

My take: Arizona has been in need of an improved pass-rusher, but Martin might not provide the instant upgrade the Cards were searching for. He has the size and strength -- and his numbers are similar to Jadeveon Clowney's, but that's where the comparisons should end -- to eventually turn into a dominant pass-rusher, but Martin has too many areas of concern to provide an instant impact. He's versatile and is willing to learn different positions. He played mostly with his hand in the dirt in a 4-2-5 defense in college.

Building for the future: If he keeps his head in the playbook, Martin will find a way onto the field as a rookie, possibly on special teams. His impact on defense might not be felt for a few more seasons. He has the size to compete in the NFL, and he's still growing, but there are too many holes in his game to see the field on a regular basis. As a rookie, Martin will have the luxury of learning behind another tall lineman, Calais Campbell, which can aid in his growth as much as anything. If the Martin project pans out, it'll be a long-term feather in GM Steve Keim's cap.

What's next: If the Cardinals continue to pick on need, as it appears they will, a defensive lineman, linebacker and possibly a running back could be in store in the Cards' final three picks.
TEMPE, Ariz. -- The pick: Troy Niklas, tight end, Notre Dame.

My take: The Arizona Cardinals addressed another need by going with Niklas, who is the type of tight end coach Bruce Arians covets. He's considered the best blocking tight end in the class and has graded high in pass protection, two areas Arizona struggled with last season. Niklas, who's 6 feet 6, 270 pounds, is a better fit for Arians' two-tight end set than last year's options. He's also a long-term answer and solidifies an offense that didn't get much out of their tight ends in 2013. Niklas can polish his receiving skills but possesses enough ability to make a catch and get a few yards. It's unlikely, with the receiving options Arizona has out wide, that Arians will ask Niklas to do more than block and run short routes. But now Arizona has a stable of big, blocking tight ends that is sure to make Arians' offense run smoother than it did last year.

Housler's future at stake: Niklas' addition gives Arizona seven tight ends, which is about three or four more than they'll have when they start the season. But who'll make the roster? Bringing on a blocking tight end who's capable of running short routes may be the final straw for Rob Housler. He was inherited by Arians and after failing to live up to expectations, Housler finished the year struggling. Housler is more of a receiving tight end, cut from the same basketball-player mold that has become the trend throughout the NFL. But that's not what Arians prefers. Housler did not conform to the blocking tight end Arizona needed and it might cost him his job.

What's next: The Cardinals have two picks in the third round and can use them to target an offensive lineman, linebacker or defensive lineman.
TEMPE, Ariz. -- If you read deeper into what Cardinals coach Bruce Arians said last week about drafting a quarterback, Arizona will have its eyes on one when the second round starts Friday afternoon.

After that, a quarterback may not be worth it.

"If the guy that you believe in is there, then you make the move," Arians said. "But, when you start thinking about a quarterback in the third, fourth, fifth round, is he really going to beat your second and third guy? Why is he in the third, fourth or fifth round? Historically, it doesn't happen in this league."

Arians threw out the one name everybody talks about when they want to make a point about finding a gem late in the draft: Tom Brady. He was went in the sixth round of the 2000 draft to the New England Patriots and went on to win three Super Bowls and three NFL MVPs. But when Arians and Cardinals general manager Steve Keim reconvene in Arizona's war room Friday, they'll have to figure out if someone like Jimmy Garoppolo, AJ McCarron, Tom Savage, Derek Carr, Aaron Murray, Logan Thomas or Zach Mettenberger could be the next Brady.

[+] EnlargeArizona's Bruce Arians
AP Photo/Rick ScuteriBruce Arians prefers and has won with quarterbacks that are 6-foot-3 and taller.
Or at least the Cardinals next starting quarterback.

Preparing for life after Carson Palmer has long been a topic when discussing the Cardinals' draft needs. They went with safety Deone Bucannon in the first round, squashing mock drafts that had Blake Bortles -- who went third -- falling to Arizona at 20th, and silencing rumors that Arizona wanted Derek Carr.

Picking a quarterback on Friday is a distinct possibility. The Cardinals have one pick in the second round (52nd) and two in the third (84th and 91st), heading into Day 2. But picking a quarterback Friday is a play for the future. The Cardinals showed last year when they picked linebacker Kevin Minter and played him just one down in 2013 that they're open to the idea of sitting a second-round pick.

And the Cardinals' brain trust doesn't see an immediate need to replace Palmer.

"We feel good about where Carson is," Keim said. "Just going through this season and now heading into a second season with us, Carson's understanding of our offense has really grown. I think his comfort level with our offense is going to show this year and pay huge dividends. Like any other time, I think you have to always look for quarterbacks of the future.

"There are a few quarterbacks that we like in this draft and we think they fit what we do. I've said this many times before, whether it's at 20, 52 or 84, if they're the best player on our board, we'll take them."

But how many quarterbacks fit the mold Arians prefers and has won with with Peyton Manning, Ben Roethlisberger, Andrew Luck and Carson Palmer? Only four left in this class. McCarron, Savage, Mettenberger and Thomas are the only quarterbacks among ESPN's Top 11 that are 6-foot-3 or taller. McCarron and Savage will likely go in the second round, leaving Mettenberger and Thomas to fall.

Arians worked out Thomas, the Virginia Tech quarterback, in April.

"Tremendous athlete," Arians said. "Probably one of the strongest arms in the last 10 years to go with good athleticism and good size. (He) was (with) a couple different offensive coordinators and philosophies of offense.

"I think (he's) a guy that when he was a sophomore, had really good players around him that deteriorated, speaking as an alumnus."

Arizona won't pick a quarterback just for the sake of it. With Palmer under contract for one more season, a new quarterback will have to be someone the Cardinals can entrust the offense in after Palmer's days in the desert are over. Anything less won't be worth it.

"Guys are on your roster for a reason," Arians said. "They're pretty damn good. So to think that you just draft one in the third round and he's going to beat out Ryan Lindley, that's tough to do."
TEMPE, Ariz. -- Sometimes Arizona Cardinals general manager Steve Keim may be too smart for his own good.

In the lead-up to the draft, Keim was open and honest about his intentions this week: he wanted to move back and collect more picks. After the Miami Dolphins completed the 19th pick on Thursday night, Arizona went on the clock with its eventual pick, Washington State safety Deone Bucannon, still on the board. But Keim stayed true to his philosophy, entertaining trade offers that would’ve allowed Arizona to add to its six picks.

[+] EnlargeDeone Bucannon
AP Photo/Michael ConroyTrading down in the draft on Thursday night didn't prevent the Cardinals from nabbing physical safety Deone Bucannon.
With Bucannon and another safety, Alabama’s Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, available at 20th, the Cards struck a deal with New Orleans, trading back to 27th and acquiring a third-round pick, 91st overall.

“We didn’t want to go back too far because we didn’t want to lose the player,” Keim said.

It was a risky move. Instead of picking Bucannon at 20th and preparing for Friday’s second and third rounds, Keim hedged his bets that Bucannon would last seven more picks.

“I think you measure the risks versus the reward, and we had enough players on our board that we felt comfortable with,” Keim said. “He’s the guy we could’ve taken at 20 but we took a gamble and we were thrilled. We’re very excited to get him at 27.”

Yet Arizona ran the risk of letting its biggest need slip away at the cost of another third-round pick that the Cardinals “so badly wanted,” Keim said.

But when a defense struggles to stop tight ends and wide receivers as much as the Cardinals last season, when is that risk too great? Of the 29 touchdowns the Cards gave up in 2013, 17 were to tight ends. It’s been written about before but that was the difference between watching the playoffs and playing in them.

The Cardinals’ decision makers had a common refrain throughout the past few months: They didn’t have a glaring need. But Keim and Cardinals coach Bruce Arians used the word “need” often Thursday night, so, obviously, there was a desire to pick a good safety early. When Arizona went on the clock at 20th, Clinton-Dix had slipped right into their grasp. At 6-foot-1 and 208 pounds, Clinton-Dix would’ve filled the “specific need” Keim had talked about. Then Arizona traded down.

“We liked Clinton,” Keim said.

“Nothing that we didn’t like about him,” Arians said.

“It was just that this guy’s size, speed and his physicality, we felt like was a better fit,” Keim said of Bucannon.

Then why not take Bucannon at 20 and eliminate the risk of losing him? After a successful 2013 draft, Keim hasn’t made any mistakes, yet, that would warrant crucifixion by type. But he definitely was playing with fire Thursday night.

After the pick, Keim explained why obtaining another third-round pick was so crucial.

“Just looking at the players that are potentially there and what it also allows us to do if we want to move, it just gives you great ammunition and get a potential impact player in this draft in the third round – now two of them,” he said. “Or, potentially, maybe package something and get two second-rounders. It just gives you a lot of ammunition.”

Stocking up on picks and players on Friday and Saturday makes sense and, as the Cardinals proved last year, could produce impact players. But at what risk? Arizona should feel fortunate Bucannon was still there at 27th.

The Cardinals got their man and their picks. High risk. High reward.
 

TEMPE, Ariz. -- Steve Keim hesitated for a second.

Deone Bucannon had been an Arizona Cardinals draft pick for barely 15 minutes when general manager Keim tried to avoid the comparison, but it was hard to talk around it.

"I don't want to mention him in the same breath as Adrian Wilson, but there are some physical similarities and the same type of mentality that we were looking for," Keim said.

"[Bucannon] is a headhunter and he's extremely physical."

[+] EnlargeDeone Bucannon
Shanna Lockwood/USA TODAY SportsArizona's selection of Deone Bucannon, right, brought with it quick comparisons to Cardinals great Adrian Wilson.
Around the team's headquarters, Wilson is revered, held in the same esteem saved for only those in Arizona's ring of honor. Wilson will be there someday, but Thursday night hadn't even finished before Bucannon had his first taste of the NFL's overhyped expectations.

While Bucannon is years away from reaching Wilson's level, he'll enter the league in his shadow but with a similar reputation. Bucannon built his draft stock by hitting. He had 100 or more tackles in his last two seasons at Washington State.

"In our division, you better like to hit," Cardinals coach Bruce Arians said. "That's one of the things, he brings passion and that's what we loved about him. He plays with a lot of passion and he's going to be a great fit in our locker room.

"He's a humble kid who just loves to play the game and wants to learn from the best and we've got some good guys here to teach him and give him opportunities to knock the crap out of people in our division."

But it wasn't his physicality that initially attracted Keim.

He watched Bucannon run a 4.48-second 40-yard dash at the NFL scouting combine in Indianapolis last February and instantly knew he'd be the Cardinals' primary target. Then Keim looked at Bucannon's résumé and watched his tape. He was sold. A four-year starter for the Cougars, Bucannon had 15 interceptions -- six as a senior -- and made 222 plays against the run throughout his career.

At 6-foot-1, 211 pounds, Bucannon was a prospect Keim didn't want to miss on. Yet, he almost did -- on his own accord. The Cardinals traded out of the 20th spot with Bucannon still on the board. They flipped first-round picks with the New Orleans Saints, taking over the 27th pick and adding the 91st. But waiting for them near the end of the first round was the hard-hitting, long-range safety Arizona has needed.

"I'm a playmaker," Bucannon said. "I'm an aggressive person. I love being around the ball. I'm going to do whatever it takes to help the team.

"I'm here to complement my team and hopefully they'll be able to feed off my playmaking and my aggressive energy," he added. "I'm not afraid to go in there and stick my nose in anything or anybody. It doesn't matter how big you are, I'm coming downhill regardless. I'm not going to change my style of play. I just want to bring a change of pace to the team."video
videoTEMPE, Ariz. -- The pick: Deone Bucannon, S, Washington State.

My take: The Arizona Cardinals addressed an immediate need on defense by drafting a safety. With his height and length, Bucannon can help defend tight ends and tall receivers, which gave the Cardinals’ defense fits last season. He’ll be slotted as a starter and seals a secondary that got deeper this offseason. This could be the piece that Arizona needs to close the gap between itself and both Seattle and San Francisco. Bucannon could be the factor in making the playoffs. He’s a big hitter who will fit right in with a secondary that includes Patrick Peterson, Tyrann Mathieu, Rashad Johnson and Antonio Cromartie.

Veteran experience: As a four-year starter at Washington State, Bucannon comes to Arizona with knowledge and experience that will aid his transition to the starting lineup. He’ll allow the Cardinals to instantly start building off last season, in which their defense finished sixth in the NFL. Bucannon is already being compared to former Cardinals safety Adrian Wilson because of his size and passion for hitting. Another physical defensive back gives Arizona one of the deepest and toughest secondaries in the league, but Bucannon’s collegiate experience will benefit him against the run. At Washington State, he made 222 plays against the run -- 10 percent of which came on third-down plays, another area of concern for the Cardinals in 2013. His 15 interceptions complemented his physical prowess. He allowed just one touchdown during his collegiate career.

What’s next: With Arizona’s biggest need out of the way, the Cardinals can focus on landing a versatile linebacker who can help rush off the edge, an offensive lineman who can solidify the right side and start looking for a quarterback with their two picks in the third round.
TEMPE, Ariz. -- The Arizona Cardinals traded down from their first-round pick.

Arizona swapped its 20th pick for the New Orleans Saints' 27th pick and 91st pick, which now gives the Cards two picks in the third round.

A safety was prime for the taking when Arizona went on the clock, but throughout the draft process, Cardinals general manager Steve Keim has said his goal was to accumulate more picks.
All the mock drafts have been put to bed. The predictions have been made. All that’s left is for the Arizona Cardinals to call Radio City Music Hall.

Atop the Cards’ 120-player board are the top 20 prospects Arizona has targeted during a year of evaluations. But, in reality, about 15 of those 20 aren’t realistic possibilities for the Cardinals.

After scouring dozens of mock drafts across the Internet and participating in the ESPN NFL Nation Mock Draft, I’ve settled on about eight players I believe Arizona’s pick will come from.

Here’s my pool of Cards’ draft possibilities:

Ryan Shazier, LB, Ohio State

C.J. Mosley, LB, Alabama

Morgan Moses, OT, Virginia

Cyrus Kouandjio, OT, Alabama

Deone Bucannon, S, Washington State

Ra'Shede Hageman, DT, Minnesota

Justin Gilbert, CB, Oklahoma State

Odell Beckham Jr., WR, LSU
There’s a reason the first round of the NFL draft has its own day.

These are the players fans want to see, the elite of the college crop, the men whose jerseys they’ll be wearing someday.

First-round picks carry an extra burden. The Arizona Cardinals will expect more out of their pick than those players drafted in Rounds 2-7. It’s not just because the Cards will invest the most money in him, it’s because Arizona hedged the most on it. With hundreds of prospects available, the Cards believed their pick at No. 20 on Thursday night is better than the rest.

[+] EnlargeMatt Leinart
AP Photo/Ed BetzMatt Leinart was a first-round draft pick who didn't pan out.
Talk about pressure.

But when Cardinals general manager Steve Keim, coach Bruce Arians and their team of scouts began evaluating potential first-round picks, determining who was the best talent was the easiest part. It’s judging the intangibles that is the biggest risk.

So, what does Arizona want out of its pick tonight?

“Probably the guy that has the most passion, the best football player available, because we really don’t have a glaring need and a guy that would play for free -- a guy that loves to play the game,” Arians said. “You’re going to pay him anyway, but he’d play for free. He brings that kind of passion and excitement to the building.”

Not every first-round pick is a success. There are the notable busts like Ryan Leaf or JaMarcus Russell and the local failures like Levi Brown or Matt Leinart.

It’s a gamble in every sense of the word. Teams pay first-rounders a lot of money with the hope that they perform. Sometimes there's just not a return on investment.

“I’ve said this many times before: It’s an inexact science because it’s hard to judge the heart and the mind,” Keim said.

Potential first-round picks have been passed over for character issues, drug problems or nagging injuries. Teams have also skipped by players in the first round who weren’t football smart. Seeing how a potential pick thinks on the field can be the difference between drafting him or not.

During their pre-draft meetings, the Cardinals -- and all teams -- will test a player’s knowledge of schemes and packages. They’ll have players diagram plays and explain their role in the action. Coaches will throw out scenarios to see how players react. They want to find out how quickly a player, especially a first rounder, can understand the largest playbook they will have seen.

Those interviews can make or break a player’s future with a team, or at the very least cause them to drop out of the first round. Arians has seen it happen but he relies on nearly 40 years of coaching experience to figure people out.

“You can get a lot of information whether a guy works hard at his college -- is he the last one in or is he first one in? Is he the last one to leave or the first one to leave? Where does he go when he leaves? You can get all that information,” Arians said. “You want that gym rat guy who is also a great athlete. They don’t always come in the same package but he has to be a good mix of those two.”

In order to be a first-round pick, a college prospect is usually the first one to arrive and last one to leave. These days, with the proliferation of technology, it’s tough for a player to ever be out of the spotlight. Everything they do is tracked and splashed on social media. While an annoyance, it’s good preparation for the NFL.

Yet while expectations off the field are accelerated for the first 32 picks, teams want to see them produce on the field. And quickly.

Arians hopes the Cardinals' first-round pick will make an impact immediately.

“I would think you would want that,” Arians said. “The only position that you would ever consider not doing that would be a quarterback that you feel needs to sit for a year.”

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