The Arizona Cardinals did a great job in the 2013 NFL draft. There are a few mild criticisms, but they addressed all of their needs. So let’s take a look at the Cardinals 2013 draft class, and find out what roles you’re getting out of these players.
Round 1: Jonathan Cooper, OG, North Carolina
A first impression of this pick is that it’s a big reach, because guards are low value players in the NFL. They don’t throw touchdowns, they help in the running game, but teams that invest in linemen over quarterbacks don’t win games. Just look at the Miami Dolphins who took Jake Long over Matt Ryan in 2008. However, there was no Matt Ryan like quarterback in this draft class or even Ryan Tannehill like quarterbacks. So the most impactful player would have been Jonathan Cooper.
Cooper is a good guard that has the ability to be Elite with the right coaching. He’s not Elite now, and Chance Warmack would have been the better pick, because he is Elite. The only advantage in Cooper over Warmack is Cooper’s athleticism. Cooper is the better athlete compared to Warmack, but the same bully mentality is not there in Cooper like it is in Warmack. Overall it’s the best pick in the circumstances in this draft, because it was the most impactful pick. Cooper will have an immediate impact on the Cardinals offensive line, and they’re going to need it to compete in the NFC West.
Round 2: Kevin Minter, ILB, LSU
Stewart Bradley was released this offseason and it was deserved, because he underperformed in his stay with the Cardinals. This pick had nothing to do with Daryl Washington’s suspension and more to do with needing a sidekick for Washington. Minter is a solid football player, but nothing more. He’s not very explosive, not very quick, but he’s a very smart football player that’s going to be where he needs to be on any given play. Overall Minter is not a second-round talent linebacker, but this class doesn’t have that many second-round talent linebackers. It’s that kind of draft, but Minter should turn into a solid starter in tandem with Washington.
Round 3: Tyrann Mathieu, CB, LSU
The Cardinals address their free safety need with Mathieu and it’s a great move. Mathieu is a little undersized for the position at 5’9’’ 186 pounds, but his biggest strengths are as a center fielder type of safety. Mathieu has a natural instinct to turn the ball over, whether it’s an interception, forced fumble, etc. His personal past will always haunt this man, and he’ll need to stay away from his former friends at LSU and start over. Something that’s harder said than done, but if he can stay on the right track he can be an Elite free safety in the NFL.
Round 4: Alex Okafor, DE, Texas
Alex Okafor should have gone earlier in the draft, but medical probably pushed him down due to an ankle injury. He’s an adept bull rusher, probably the best in this class, but doesn’t have that many pass rush moves. He’ll need to be coached up, but he’s perfect in tandem with another pass rusher. He might never be a solo pass rusher who can succeed without help from another pass rusher on the other side, because when he was the solo pass rusher at Texas teams found ways to contain Okafor. However, the Cardinals have Sam Acho on the strongside that will take attention off Okafor to make him very productive in his first season.
Round 5: Earl Watford, OG, James Madison
Another guard with a similar skill set to Jonathan Cooper. Watford is a big, athletic and powerful guard. He’s a strong hands and strong punch already as a blocker. He’s solid in almost every aspect except for his stance. He needs to “get his butt down” as one of my former coaches once said to keep leverage off the snap. However, Watford in tandem with Jonathan Cooper makes a statement that this offensive line is going to run the football down their opponents’ throats. This is a great pick to shore up the offensive line, and Watford can be a starter in 2013.
Round 5: Stepfan Taylor, RB, Stanford
Stepfan Taylor is a very subtle runner, but he has below average speed for a running back in the NFL. It has nothing to do with his 40 time, but what’s on tape. He’s a downhill runner that can break tackles, but he’s not as powerful as you might think. His best asset is he is a very patient runner and makes good decisions with the ball. Taylor is one of the better pass protectors in this draft class too, and that means he has a good shot to make the roster if not start outright. However, his skill set might be as dynamic to make him a starter caliber player.
Round 6: Ryan Swope, WR, Texas A&M
It was shocking to see Ryan Swope drop to the sixth-round, but it was because of having four concussions in college. NFL teams are scaried of concussion prone players, because of what happened to Detroit Lions running back Jahvid Best. However, if Swope can stay concussion free he has the potential to be a superstar. It’s not draft hype either. Swope can make plays in tight coverage, has great ball skills, deceptive speed to setup defenders and is an underrated run blocker. He’s not a typical white slot receiver, and if he can overcome his concussion issues he has a chance to make a huge impact in 2013.
Round 6: Andre Ellington, RB, Clemson
Ellington is the opposite of Stepfan Taylor, because he has the physical tools to be a starting running back in the NFL. However, his execution through his technique will hold him back, but he’s a sixth-round pick. This is a great pick in the sixth-round, because Ellington is a project running back. He telegraphs his blocks to defenders and tries to make the big play instead of making the right decision in the hole. He could be one of those running backs that just got bored with how gifted he is, and wanted to try to do things harder for fun, but in the NFL you have to make the right decisions. This is still a great pickup by the Cardinals and Taylor and Ellington will make a great combination in a couple of years.
Round 7: D.C. Jefferson, TE, Rutgers
D.C. Jefferson is a project tight end, but he is a former quarterback out of high school meaning he has some hand-eye coordination. That excellent hand-eye coordination shows when he catches the football with his hands rather than his body. He needs time to develop his route-running and blocking. However, Jefferson’s skills as a pass catcher can translate into a starting tight end at the next level. He’s a project, but a project that is worth the effort.
Overall Draft Grade: A that can be A+ if Mathieu matures
The Arizona Cardinals made the right decisions throughout the draft and filled all of their needs. I see five starters on the team out of this draft class in Cooper, Minter, Mathieu, Okafor and Watford. In addition to the other picks in Ellington, Jefferson and Swope that can become starters in the future. Swope can be a starter on any other team, but he’s not beating out Larry Fitzgerald and Andre Roberts in year one. Overall this draft class is rock solid with a lot of good football players with the only real question mark in Mathieu. It’s the first step in reloading a football team that might surprise the NFC West in 2013.
James Cobern is a NFC West Division Leader for TPF and can be contacted at JCobern@ThePenaltyFlagBlog.com or follow him on Twitter @Jmcobern1