“If a guy is an impact player I don’t care what position he plays,” Steve Keim recently said. “To me, you take him and you don’t look back.”
For those who don’t know (and many of you probably don’t), Steve Keim is the General Manager of the Arizona Cardinals. His attitude toward free agency and the draft helped the Arizona Cardinals go from a laughing stock in 2012 to 13-3 last season. Four years ago the Cards used four starting quarterbacks and none of them are still with the team. Kevin Kolb, Brian Hoyer, Ryan Lindley and John Skelton have not gone on to become household names!
Since then, free agent acquisition Carson Palmer has led a team of hand-picked free agents and some excellent draft picks (particularly in the middle rounds) to playoffs, their winningest season in team history and high expectations for 2016.
So who is that impact player in this year’s draft? Speculation has primarily centered on defenisve players since the draft is definitely deep on that side of the ball. But at #29 is there an impact defensive player that fits the bill? There may be if Keim is willing to take another gamble. Jaylon Smith, the Notre Dame linebacker, was considered by many to be a top five pick in this year’s draft before a horrific knee injury suffered in a bowl game at the end of last season.
Do Keim and Head Coach Bruce Arians use their first round pick on a player that probably won’t be a contributor in 2016? They don’t have any glaring needs, but definitely could use upgrades in several positions. How risky would it be to spend their only pick in the first two rounds on a player that may or may not be back to full speed in 2017?
It is the sort of move Keim is known for. Tyrann Mathieu fell to the third round due to off-field issues and the Cardinals have had no regrets for taking a chance on him. Last year’s rookie sensation – David Johnson – was also a third round pick whose selection was based primarily on combine speed and amazing physical tools. Teams frequently take a player considered to be a project or reach. So will the Cardinals gamble on Smith’s nerve damage healing?
Or will the Cards go after Ryan Kelly, a center from Alabama, and clearly the best center in the draft? He would be the last piece in a rebuilt offensive line that was able to protect Carson Palmer for all sixteen regular season games and allow the team to advance to the NFC Championship game. He probably isn’t first round talent from a physical standpoint, but he is the best center by far. Would Keim pass on a potential impact player to fill a need?
We will find out in five days!