This draft wasn’t underrated because people were saying negative things about it, Arizona had one of the best drafts in the NFL, yet nobody is really talking about it. Of every team in the NFL, Arizona probably had the most steals in the 4th round on, yet picked well in the 1st through 3rd. Let’s recap, shall we?
The Cardinals needed to use their first rounder to bolster their offensive line. In 2012, nearly every player (running backs and quarterbacks) in the Arizona backfield was injured at some point in the season. This is a sure sign that you need help on your offensive front. The Cards had just missed out on the top 3 tackles who went in the first 4 picks. They chose Jonathan Cooper, an elite guard out of UNC who happens to be one of the most athletic guards to ever come out of the draft. Mike Mayock called him “a tackle in a guard’s body.” This was too good of an opportunity for the Cards to pass up, the versatility made up for the consistent dominance Chance Warmack, another elite guard prospect showed throughout his college career. Jonathan Cooper will not only buy the backfield some time, but will upgrade the run game in Arizona much like the addition of Carl Nicks did with Tampa Bay for Doug Martin.
In the 2nd round the Cards took Kevin Minter, who in my opinion, was the second best inside linebacker in the draft after Ogletree. Many would argue Manti Teo was a better linebacker. I personally prefer a run stopper in the middle than a coverage guy. Manti had 7 INTs to Minter’s 1, but Minter had about 10 more TFLs, 4 more sacks and 17 more tackles. He’s a solid inside guy who played much stiffer competition more consistently throughout his college career and performed at a high level in those games. A solid second round pick for Arizona.
In the 3rd, Arizona reached a little bit and took Tyrann Mathieu, a superstar nickelback from LSU to join his teammate Kevin Minter on the Arizona defense. If there’s any pro team where Mathieu can get back on track after his 1 year suspension it’s the Cards who have Patrick Peterson, another LSU product to help mentor and motivate Mathieu into early success. This was a bit of a gamble that probably worried most Card fans when it happened, but with a bunch of late round snags, the Cardinals more than made up for it.
In the 4th, they got maybe the biggest snag in the draft at that point in Texas’ Alex Okafer, a DE/OLB that many thought would go in the late 1st round at the earliest and mid 2nd at the latest. In his senior year, he recorded 12.5 sacks which put opponents back 90 yards and got another 16.5 tackles behind the line for 98 negative yards. One player essentially pushing opponents back 2 touchdowns is a very nice thing to have. Okafor is a potential starter and a definite contributor in his rookie season and is a grand slam pick in the 4th for a team looking to add youth to its defense.
In rounds 5 and 6 the Cards picked up 3 very talented skill position players to give QB, Carson Palmer some firepower. Stepfan Taylor, running back from Stanford went first. He led the Cardinal to the Rose Bowl racking in 1530 rushing yards and 13 touchdowns on the season. Andre Ellington had a similar season with Clemson leading the Tigers to beat SEC power, LSU in the Chick Fil A Bowl and also capping off an 11-2 season. Many thought he was a 2nd round pick, Ladainian Tomlinson even called him his favorite back coming into the league this year; quite a steal for a 6th rounder. The Cardinals rebuilt and most likely upgraded their backfield with 5th and 6th rounder’s which is a feat in itself. To cap it off, they got Ryan Swope, a stand out receiver for the Aggies who was a big help in A&M beating Alabama and Johnny winning the Heisman, in that game he had 11 receptions for 111 yards and a touchdown. His production was down a bit his senior season after freshman, Mike Evans emerged as Johnny Manziel’s favorite receiver but still caught a respectable 913 yards and 8 touchdowns on the season. When playing for Ryan Tannehill, a quarterback who is more like Arizona’s Carson Palmer, he caught 89 passes for 1207 yards and 11 tds. He’s a great guy who can make an impact in the slot immediately, much like Tavon Austin; and like Tavon, he ran for 4.34 seconds in the combine tying the Rams 1st round pick as the 2nd fastest receiver at the combine. Plus that in between Fitzgerald and last year’s first round pick, Michael Floyd and Arizona all the sudden has a receiving corps with play-makers in every spot, any defensive coordinator’s nightmare. The NFC West just got tough!