Through five games this season, the Arizona Cardinals' 2016 draft class has struggled to make even a mild impact, which has helped contribute to the team's concerning 2-3 start.
The troubles of the Cardinals' rookies came to a head in week four, when the Los Angeles Rams had as many Cardinals' draft picks active on game day as Arizona did in the NFC West showdown.
That day, Cardinals' fifth round draft choice Marqui Christian suited up for Los Angeles as a special teams asset, claimed off waivers during the week, while the only Arizona draft pick who took the field was fourth round selection Evan Boehm.
Entering the Cardinals' sixth game of the season, we look at the team's draft picks performances to date, and what realistic goals are for each player for the rest of the season.
1st round: Robert Nkemdiche
To date: The Cardinals have received almost nothing from their first round draft choice, who was a high-ceiling, high-risk player selected at the end of the first round. Nkemdiche has a world of talent that was on display during training camp when he wasn't sidelined with an ankle injury, but it appears he has never played in a truly disciplined system. Bruce Arians insists Nkemdiche struggles with mental errors and assignment errors more often than just about any other player during practice, and that will need to change if he hopes to see the field.
To strive for: At this point, Nkemdiche should set a goal of being active on game days for the remainder of the regular season. Though it's unlikely to happen this week, Nkemdiche has enough talent that the Cardinals surely can use and he needs to make sure he understands proper alignment and assignment responsibilities. Once Nkemdiche cracks the rotation, he can set production goals from there, but at this point in the season, he's running out of excuses for continually appearing on the team's inactive list.
3rd round: Brandon Williams
To date: The Cardinals' opening day starter at cornerback, Williams promptly lost his job when Arians realized he wasn't going to be able to handle starting receivers on an every series -- much less every game -- basis. Williams was the Cardinals' top performing rookie during fall camp, but as the season rolls along, that distinction is looking less impressive by the week as Arizona has had no production from rookies since the second week of the season and Williams has been limited to a special teams role.
To strive for: There's a slim chance Williams ever beats out Marcus Cooper for reps at cornerback during the regular season again, so Williams needs to make special teams his top priority. The Texas A&M product can definitely have an impact as a gunner on the punt team or on the Cardinals' kick coverage unit, and with his lack of playing time defensively, there's no doubt he can focus on these roles.
4th round: Evan Boehm
To date: Heading into the season, we thought Boehm might have a chance to challenge veteran A.Q. Shipley for the starting center job. We were clearly wrong, even though we still think Boehm's ceiling is much higher than Shipley's. Arians wants and needs a confident dissector of defenses directing traffic at the line of scrimmage, which is why he brought back Lyle Sendlein last year even when Sendlein's production was lacking. Boehm has played special teams thus far, and that's not likely to change.
To strive for: A complete and total mastery of the playbook, weeks of practice at a time without a mental error, and technical improvements during practice are Boehm's best bet of cracking the starting lineup in 2017. It has become quite clear that unless Shipley suffers an injury, Boehm won't receive meaningful reps at center, but there's no denying Boehm has the talent to play at this level and that could happen within the next year.
5th round: Cole Toner
To date: Toner entered training camp with the frame and agility of an undrafted free agent, but over the course of a few weeks, he was demonstrably stronger and more equipped to play guard. By the end of training camp, we were convinced Toner would end up on the active roster, but spend most weeks on the inactive list and that's exactly what has happened so far.
To strive for: If Iupati or Watford were to suffer an injury in the latter half of the season, Toner should strive to be the man the Cardinals call on to replace the starters up front. Right now, it's not all that surprising that the team tabbed John Wetzel, and not Toner to take Iupati's place against San Francisco, but Toner should do everything in his power to make that a much tougher decision for the Cardinals' brass. Much like Boehm, it will take a lot of studying the playbook and physical improvement, but it's not out of the question.
6th round: Harlan Miller
To date: Miller began the season on the Cardinals' practice squad, after failing to mount a serious challenge for a roster spot. By the end of training camp, a few undrafted free agents had even passed Miller on the team's depth chart, which isn't a resounding vote of confidence.
To strive for: Miller should hope to stick with the Cardinals' practice squad for the remainder of the season, and give the active roster another shot next fall. Arizona will need help at cornerback again, and the Cardinals have quite a few pressing needs to address through the draft that it's not out of the realm of possibilities just yet that Miller could progress in time to make the team next year.null