NFL DRAFT: Cardinals could go many ways with No. 29 pick
FILE – in this Jan. 25, 2016, file photo, Arizona Cardinals coach Bruce Arians speaks to reporters in Tempe, Ariz. The Cardinals have the 30th pick in the first round in next week’s NFL draft in Chicago. (AP Photo/Matt York, File)
TEMPE, Ariz. — Long gone are the days when the Arizona Cardinals perennially had one of the top draft picks. For years, they lost and lost and lost some more.
Now, they are among the NFL’s elite, winners of 34 regular-season games in Bruce Arians’ three seasons as coach. Coming off a 13-3 season, the Cardinals have the 29th overall pick.
And what they will do with it is pretty much anybody’s guess.
‘You’d always like (the pick) to have an immediate impact,’ Cardinals general manager Steve Keim said. ‘But when you’re picking so late, it’s so hard to forecast what happens the 28 picks prior.’
The roster is loaded with talent, and the Cardinals addressed their biggest need by acquiring outside linebacker Chandler Jones in a trade with the Patriots. They also signed free agent guard Evan Mathis to fill another important role.
They still are looking for a center and Keim and Arians have said they want to add length and athleticism to the secondary.
But the Cardinals have a draft board with 120 names on it, ranked in order, and Arians said it’s a mistake to fill a need and pass on more talented players.
‘Take the talented player,’ Arians said. ‘You’ll miss on the needs. The needs will get you fired.’
Here are some things to look for when the Cardinals make their picks in next year’s draft:
CENTER OF ATTENTION: The two top centers in this year’s draft are Ryan Kelly of Alabama and Nick Martin of Notre Dame. But there are plenty of others to consider, Keim said.
‘In this draft, there are several opportunities to draft centers in all rounds,’ Keim said. ‘Some of those guys are projections. There are some guys in the second, third, fourth rounds who are going to be guys who played left tackle or they played guard at the collegiate level, who we worked out at center or they played center previously in their career that we think has the skill set.
‘There are going to be opportunities to address that position if we feel necessary.’
QUARTERBACK? Someday, the Cardinals are going to have to find a quarterback to succeed Carson Palmer, who turned 36 last December.
The three quarterbacks expected to go in the first round will be gone by the time Arizona gets its pick. The only possible exception would be Paxton Lynch of Memphis, and the Cardinals are willing to use their pick on a player who wouldn’t play right away.
‘Our roster is so good,’ Arians said, ‘that there’s not a need. So, if the quarterback fell to us at 29 we’d just say, ‘Hey, the future’s now.”
The Cardinals have worked out several quarterbacks as possible later-round choices.
‘There are a bunch of them,’ Arians said. ‘There are about five guys that are 6-5, got big arms. … All move well, come out of solid programs. There are five or six, which hasn’t been in the past, that could go from Round 2 to 6.’
EMPTY SECOND: The Cardinals sent their second-round pick to New England in the Jones trade. The only way they could get one is via some kind of trade. But Keim and Arians aren’t lamenting the loss.
‘Just write Chandler Jones on a tag,’ Arians said, ‘you’ll be happy. At that pick, there’s not anybody going to be like Chandler Jones.’
LUCKY THIRD: The third round has been kind to the Cardinals in recent years. They chose running back David Johnson and wide receiver John Brown there.
‘I think it’s trusting the system,’ Keim said. ‘We rank and we grade players, and at this time of year, you can get so caught up in the buzz or the hype, and you hear that this player’s going to go here or this player’s going to go higher than you have graded him. I think you have to trust in the process.’
SECONDARY FLEXIBILITY: In the Cardinals’ system, flexibility in the secondary is a must. And it figures prominently in their evaluation of this year’s draft class.
‘Interchangeable parts are the best thing because of the disguises we run,’ Arians said. ‘When you do multiple things, especially with your safeties, you can do so many different things defensively.’
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