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Bruce Arians talks quarterback evaluation process

Arizona Cardinals' head coach Bruce Arians spoke at the NFL Combine Wednesday about the qualities he looks for when evaluating quarterbacks.

The 2017 NFL Draft could offer Arizona Cardinals' general manager Steve Keim and head coach Bruce Arians the opportunity to start a new chapter together.

Though the pair has worked together in Arizona since the start of the 2013 season, the duo has never had to start from scratch and throw their trust in a quarterback the organization drafted.

While Arizona did select former Virginia Tech quarterback Logan Thomas in the fourth round of the 2014 NFL Draft, the Cardinals expected starter Carson Palmer to continue on as the team's signal-caller in the coming years.

Now, entering the 2017 season, Palmer could be entering the final stage of his NFL career, and both Keim and Arians have acknowledged Arizona may need to use an early round draft choice to select the quarterback of the future for the Cardinals' franchise. 

At the NFL Combine in Indianapolis, Arians spoke Wednesday about the traits he looks for in young quarterbacks when he evaluates them prior to the start of the draft each year. 

"You look at every aspect of the quarterback," Arians said. "Mental aspect, heart and head, they're the hardest thing to evaluate. I can see his arm strength, I can see his speed, I can see him jump, but the two things he plays with are his brain and his heart. They're really hard to evaluate and that's this process that starts now and goes up until the draft."

Though Arians said teams nowadays have more options early in the draft thanks to the proliferation of spread offenses and high-powered passing attacks at the college level, he said that the nuances and differences between the college game and the professional game have extended the amount of time it takes for quarterbacks to process the game in the NFL. 

"The spread offense and the other offenses that they're playing in, it's just a little bit more developmental time. They're good players and they're excellent in their offense, but the developmental time to become an elite NFL player, that's the line you're looking for."

Arizona knows that it has at least one year -- and potentially two if Palmer plays out the duration of his contract-- to develop and train Palmer's successor, and said that having that luxury gives the organization more freedom when it comes to selecting a quarterback in this year's draft.

Arians and Keim have both indicated they won't hesitate to pass up a signal-caller if the right opportunity presents itself, but Arians indicated Wednesday that having a longer window to help a quarterback assimilate to the professional ranks gives Arizona more options. 

"Do you need a guy right away?" Arians said. "If I needed a guy right away, I'd be looking for a certain type of player that might come out of a different system that is more NFL ready. But he's still got to have the arm strength and the talent to play the game, he has to have the physical stature to play the position. Along with that mental approach and the heart."

In various mock drafts, the Cardinals have been tied to Clemson's Deshaun Watson, North Carolina's Mitch Trubisky, and perhaps most frequently, Notre Dame's DeShone Kizer. All of those quarterbacks will likely be off the board by the end of the first round, so if Arizona waits until the second round to select a passer, perhaps Texas Tech's Patrick Mahomes or Cal's Davis Webb are options the Cardinals would consider.

At this point of the evaluation process, Arians said that there are five to six quarterbacks he's looked at who have the arm talent to find success in the NFL, but moving forward, he wants to evaluate each player's mental approach to determine if Arizona should use an early-round selection on a signal-caller. 

"So far, five to six really good arms, guys with good stature and now my job is to go out and find those other two things," Arians said. "To find out more and more about them starting here. I don't put as much stock in them throwing here at the Combine as I do in their tape."

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