With question marks along the defensive line and in the defensive backfield entering the 2016 NFL Draft, the Arizona Cardinals elected to use four of their six selections on players on the defensive side of the ball.
First round pick Robert Nkemdiche, third round selection Brandon Williams, fifth round choice Marqui Christian and sixth round draftee Harlan Miller were all added to the Cardinals to help shore up the team's defensive depth, and all four players have strong chances of competing for final roster spots.
With so much attention devoted to defense through the draft, the Cardinals opted to take chances on more offensive-minded players in the hours following the team's day three selections as Arizona signed 16 undrafted free agents.
Eight members of the 16-man undrafted free agent class play offense, with five playing defense. The Cardinals also added three specialists to the group, including two long snappers who will vie for a roster spot vacated by 17-year NFL veteran Mike Leach who retired this offseason.
On Wednesday morning, we analyzed the tape of the eight offensive players to determine which undrafted free agents have the best opportunity to carve out a role with the organization this fall. Now, we'll take a look at the defensive players and specialists and judge how their skill sets will fare at the professional level.
Eli Bouka, University of Calgary: Bouka is a tremendously difficult prospect to peg not only because he attended college and played football in Canada, but because he's coming off a torn Achilles' that sidelined him for much of the 2015 season. To make matters more challenging, Bouka is a converted wide receiver who was learning the defensive side of the ball before his injury. At 6-foot-1 and 205 pounds, Bouka has the size to play corner in the pros, and he has reportedly run as fast as a 4.41 in the 40-yard dash which suggests he has the speed as well. It's truly impossible to know how Bouka's skills will translate until he arrives at camp, but by the looks of his tape, he possesses natural abilities and could be a valuable special teams asset.
Matthias Farley, Notre Dame: Farley is the type of player who probably overachieved at the college level but will struggle to latch onto an NFL roster. Every year, there are dozens of players who are drafted ahead of guys like Farley because they project well to the NFL and have more measurables pro teams are looking for, but there are always undrafted free agents who were better on tape than they were at the Combine or at their Pro Day who end up making rosters. Farley notched over 200 tackles in college and can play both corner and safety. He was also a team captain at Notre Dame, which is a quality the Cardinals look for in players. While he may not be the fastest guy, have the smoothest back pedal or best pad level when playing in the box, Farley was a key contributor for Notre Dame and it's hard to deny the possibility a coaching staff might like what he brings to the table.
Trevon Hartfield, Southwestern Oklahoma State: Hartfield is another defensive back coming from a very small school who hasn't faced elite competition. One of the things we like about Hartfield is two of the first three plays on his highlight tape are special teams clips, including an outstanding hit he delivered as a gunner on punt coverage. That's the sign of a player who knows how to appeal to a coaching staff. Though Hartfield doesn't appear to possess the elite burst that a draft pick like Williams does, he's somewhat similar to the Cardinals' sixth round pick Miller in that he'll go up and fight for the football and he isn't afraid to come up and lay a hit against a ball carrier. Some of Hartfield's best clips are actually on running plays, but Hartfield will have to learn how to cover elite speed quickly if he wants to hang around.
Lamar Louis, LSU: Louis was never a regular starter at LSU, perhaps because of qualities that make him a bit of a tweener. Louis was listed at 5-foot-11, 232 pounds as a senior, and played primarily outside linebacker for LSU. Louis wasn't quite big enough to stay in the lineup as a pass rusher, and perhaps not fast enough to drop back and play defensive back for the Tigers. At Louis' Pro Day, he worked out at a variety of positions and even considered playing running back to show teams his ball skills, but the bottom line is it's hard to project a player like Louis who never quite fit in at LSU and may have trouble doing so in the pros.
Ronald Zamort, Western Michigan: Zamort is smaller and thinner than most cornerback prospects, but he did a number of things well at Western Michigan that could put him in competition for a practice squad spot. While Zamort may not be able to add much weight to his frame, he could help a team because he has outstanding ball skills and a technical approach when defending passes. Zamort led the nation in passes defended as a junior and almost always has his hands in position to swat the ball away from receivers. Zamort ran a 4.45 40-yard dash at his Pro Day, and it's easy to see why the Cardinals took a chance on him as an undrafted free agent even though his size may never allow him to develop into an NFL-ready corner.
Kameron Canaday, Portland State/Daniel Dillon, Campbell: There's not much of a science to evaluating long snappers on film because their futures in the NFL comes down to how quickly and how accurately they can get the ball back to punters and holders during camp. Canaday and Dillon are the two long snappers the Cardinals signed in an effort to replace the veteran Leach, and clearly, the team is going to do its homework to bring in snappers who will play mistake-free football. Both players have full highlight tapes available of their snaps and punt coverage skills, and it looks like Dillon is the more agile of the two players. Nevertheless, their competition will come down to which player snaps more effectively, and that will all play out in camp.
Garrett Swanson, Fresno State: The Cardinals ranked 30th in the NFL in punting last season as Drew Butler averaged a net of 35.4 yards per punt. It's uncertain whether there will be an actual competition here, but Swanson had a dependable leg at Fresno State and averaged 42.2 yards per punt while placing 18 kicks inside his opponents' 20-yard line. It's difficult to gauge the hang time of Swanson's kicks from his film, but Fresno State's gunners are almost always in position to make tackles at the end of Swanson's kicks. The stronger Swanson performs in camp, the more intense of a competition the Cardinals' will have which could help the team make overall improvements with its punt unit this season.