Each Wednesday leading up to the NFL draft (April 22-24), the ESPN.com blog network will take a division-by-division look at key aspects of the draft. Today’s topic: Draft approach.
The Cardinals have shown better draft-day discipline over the last two seasons, with positive results. The trend should continue after Arizona signed coach Ken Whisenhunt and general manager Rod Graves to contract extensions through the 2013 season.
Graves and player personnel director Steve Keim have been with the organization since the 1990s. Arizona has stability and continuity.
The Cardinals should have learned valuable lessons in 2007, Whisenhunt's first as head coach. That was the year Arizona emphasized need over value in the first two rounds, with predictable results. The team went with tackle Levi Brown at No. 5 when running back Adrian Peterson was available. Arizona then sent the 38th and 105th choices to Oakland for the 33rd choice, a pick the team used for nose tackle Alan Branch.
Arizona holds an extra third-round choice this year, giving the team ammunition to trade up in a round. But the last couple of seasons have shown there's value in patience. Cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and running back Beanie Wells landed in Arizona over the last two drafts without the Cardinals maneuvering to get them.
The Rams have taken a play-it-safe approach in the draft over the last couple of years.
The Rams have indicated they could be more open to a wider range of personalities as they seek to upgrade their talent level. Their general approach should not change, but a dire need for playmakers might make it tougher to rule out all higher-risk players. General manager Billy Devaney has said he feels much better about the culture at Rams Park, making it easier for the team to consider higher-risk prospects.
Oklahoma State receiver Dez Bryant comes to mind. He's a top-10 or top-15 talent whose immaturity could push him down in the draft. Could the Rams resist him if he somehow fell to them at No. 33?
The Rams could also use additional picks, and that second-round choice could hold additional value as the NFL shifts to a new television-friendly draft format. I also think there's a chance some teams could try to move into the late first round to avoid having to wait overnight. Having a team trade into the first round for a shot at quarterback Colt McCoy could affect the Rams' options at No. 33 and, in turn, their approach.
The 49ers had become a very deliberate, value-oriented drafting team under general manager Scot McCloughan. Their decision to select receiver Michael Crabtree at the expense of more pressing positional needs demonstrated the approach last year.
It's unclear how much the approach might change now that McCloughan has left the organization. Player personnel director Trent Baalke, a McCloughan confidant, shares his former boss' philosophy. One question could be to what extent others in the organization, including coach Mike Singletary, influence the process on draft day itself.
Singletary is known for his enthusiasm. What kind of poker player might he make during a draft without a true GM in place? If the 49ers reach for, say, an offensive tackle, might it be because McCloughan wasn't there to make sure the team stuck with its board?
The Seahawks are a little harder to predict because they have a diverse mix of new leadership.
Coach Pete Carroll has the most personnel power ultimately, but general manager John Schneider ranks a close second and the philosophy he brings from Green Bay should help guide the draft. Offensive assistants Jeremy Bates and Alex Gibbs also could influence the approach based on the specific types of players they value.
The Packers accumulated more picks than any other NFL team once Schneider's mentor, Ted Thompson, took over for the 2005 draft. Seattle has also been accumulating choices. Schneider has described himself as more aggressive than Thompson. Carroll oozes energy and aggressiveness.
That combination could lead to a bolder approach in this draft. A trade for Broncos receiver Brandon Marshall would affirm such thinking.