2016 in review: Kareem Martin

Arizona Cardinals' linebacker Kareem Martin played his best football toward the end of the 2016 season and demonstrated promise heading into his fourth year in the league.

During his tenure as Arizona Cardinals' general manager, Steve Keim has put together an impressive track record of third round draft choices.

Over the past few seasons, Keim has added some of the team's top playmakers, like safety Tyrann Mathieu, running back David Johnson and wide receiver John Brown in the third round of different drafts.

While Keim has developed a strong reputation for his ability to analyze and handpick prospects, one of the Cardinals' third round selections from the 2014 draft has yet to live up to his potential.

A pass-rushing specialist out of North Carolina, outside linebacker Kareem Martin was Arizona's first third round choice in 2014, and has only accumulated 3.5 sacks during his first three seasons in the league.

Though Martin has been buried on the depth chart at times and has found it difficult to crack the team's defensive rotation, when he has been on the field, Martin hasn't demonstrated he's overly capable of routinely challenging opposing quarterbacks.

The 6-foot-6, 272-pounder has an intriguing frame loaded with raw, athletic potential, but so far, Martin has been largely relegated to special teams duties and helping Arizona smooth out its depth. 

Will the Cardinals' finally expand Martin's role entering the final year of his contract? CardinalsSource takes a look at how his progression has played out.

Martin in 2016

When the Cardinals began training camp in late July, Martin found himself in a difficult battle for playing time with Canadian Football League signee Tristan Okpalaugo and former Cardinals' draft choice Shaq Riddick. 

All three players found themselves on the roster bubble, as no member of the trio was the clear-cut fourth option behind Chandler Jones, Markus Golden and Alex Okafor.

As draft choices, Martin and Riddick had the upper hand, but Okpalaugo showcased intriguing pass-rushing capabilities and a large arsenal of pass rushing moves that made him a potential dark horse to earn a roster spot.

However, Martin had one aspect of his game working for him that Riddick and Okpalaugo lacked, and that was Martin's ability to contribute on a variety of Cardinals' special teams units. Because the Cardinals already lacked a variety of special teams options, a player with Martin's length and athleticism gave the organization immediate value, and helped him earn the final roster spot as an outside linebacker ahead of his peers.

Throughout the 2016 season, most of Martin's playing time came on special teams units, as he wound up playing in 13 games and recording a career-high 10 tackles. While Martin hasn't exactly panned out in the way other Cardinals' third round draft picks have in recent seasons, he's a solid backup who provides value in another facet of the game, which is relatively important in NFL circles.

Though Martin hasn't enjoyed the breakout campaign he's been hoping for, it's unlikely that type of a season will come in Arizona due to the team's depth at his primary position, outside linebacker.

Martin in 2017 

Entering the final year of his rookie contract, Martin has plenty of room left for growth and improvement, and he'll hope to tap into that during what could be his last season with the Cardinals. 

In training camp, Martin will likely have to compete for a roster spot with a handful of players signed to futures contracts or undrafted rookie free agents, but if he's able to separate himself with his special teams value, Martin can ensure teams get a closer look at him during the 2017 regular season.

For Martin, the key to his 2017 campaign is making the most of his opportunities as a pass-rusher, and providing teams with a glimpse of his potential moving forward. Because he'll be playing behind Jones and Golden, it's unlikely Martin will get his big break in the coming year. However, with Okafor likely on the way out, Martin could develop into the team's top rotational pass-rusher, which would give him additional opportunities to boost his sack total and prove his value to other organizations.

The key for Martin is to make sure that he's done enough to show other organizations he still belongs in the NFL, and that moving forward, he can be a valuable asset as a 3-4 outside linebacker and as a special teams contributor. 

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