Draft Prospectus: The Backfield

Depth. That's the word we keep hearing. A deep team, a team that can survive injuries. That's what Michael Bidwell and Denny Green want to build, especially after last season's Cardinal MASH unit. But can the Cardinals really be looking for backfield help in the draft after signing the best Unrestricted Free Agent back in the draft?

Why bother evaluating the running backs?  Why ask questions?  Why not just sit back and enjoy the biggest free agent signing in the history of the Arizona Cardinals?  Why not just say it over and over?  EDGE--errin.  Why not just spend the time coming up with catchy headlines like "On the EDGE of the playoffs" or "Razor Sharp EDGE"? 

Why?  Because the season hasn't started yet, this is the NFL, and people have to block for him, spell him for a down or two, and...well...no...we won't go there with the injury thing.

Especially since the conventional wisdom prior to the Edgerrin James signing was that the Cardinals would be looking at Lendale White, the less heralded (but only slightly less talented) backfield mate of Reggie Bush at USC.

The draft is the draft.  There are players to be taken.  Perhaps they are destined for the practice squad, or NFL Europe, or the scrap heap, but perhaps when the Edge is ready to hang 'em up, one of these guys might be the next big thing.  And as for his backfield mate, the Cardinals most unsung signing this offseason was reupping with Obafemi Ayanbadejo, who might not have impressed as a part time running back, but who, will a little improvement in his blocking, could become a perfect compliment to James, catching balls out of the backfield, opening holes, and having just enough speed to be an effective decoy for Edge.

So the starters are set.  That means just one thing, don't expect a back taken in the first round...or second, third or probably fourth for that matter.  But there will be backs taken, likely a fullback, and the names are ones that perhaps the casual fan won't know right away, but you can bet James will be a big fan of.

Perhaps the top full back on the Cardinals draft board would be University of Arizona full back Gilbert Harris.  Though Harris' work ethic has drawn some scrutiny he would likely not be taken on the first day and when he finishes he is as good a lead blocker as there is in the draft.

Even Harris' perceived weakness, he's not a great pass catcher, might not be a problem for the Cardinals, who will certainly be looking to get the ball in James' hands as often as possible.

Even lower in the draft, and perhaps simply as a free agent after, would be Brown's Nicholas Hartigan.  A tenacious blocker who will rarely run by anyone, but who is has been described as 'selfless' so often it has become a cliché, his ability to understand and adapt to defensive assignments could be exactly what the Cardinals are looking for, both in the run game and as a pass blocker.

While it seems likely that the Cardinals will target at least one running back in the later rounds, it is far from a certainty because their depth at that position is enviable.  Of course James is the starter, and will (barring injury) get 85%+ of the carries this season, but the Cardinals are not quite ready to give up on J.J. Arrington, and Roger Robinson, whom the Cardinals signed in January, had an impressive debut in NFL Europe, and could challenge for a third back spot.  Which begets the question, what happens to Marcel Shipp?  The back has shown flashes of brilliance, interspersed with long stretches of injury and ineffectiveness.  James is an every-down back, so Shipp's primary value, as a pass catcher on third down, will be limited, and he's at the end of his four year deal.  Trade?  Release?  He's likely to drop in value as the season progresses and he touches the ball less and less, but is there any value for him now? 

Regardless, the 'glut' of running backs make any draftee a long shot to even make the team.


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