Draft Strategy

Well, it's that time of year again in the Valley of the Sun.  Time to assess your needs, set up the Big Board, and figure out who you're going to draft with your Top 10 pick this year.  And it has been like that for years. In A FREE PREVIEW OF CONTINUING PREMIUM CONTENT, Brad Keller talks strategy.

The idea of the draft system is that, eventually, the winning teams will become losing teams because they continually draft lower each and every year and thus have access to a lower quality of player.  And vice versa.  However the Cardinals, Saints, and (until recently) Bengals had proven that system to be flawed because it operates under the assumption that all personnel departments and prospects are created equal.  This is not the case.  If you know who to draft, when to draft them, and how they fit your system, you will win more often than you lose, regardless of your draft position.


Look at the New England Patriots last year.  They drafted Logan Mankins (who many draft experts had a third round grade on) in the first round.  Mankins ended up starting every game for the Patriots last season and performed admirably on a line that saw considerable turnover among its ranks.


And in answer to your question, yes, I do realize that this is an article about the Cardinals.  However, I am proving a point.  My point is that the Cardinals need to drastically re-think their approach to football operations or they will continue to draft in the top 10 every year.


Historically, they have made personnel moves based on character, sprinkled in with performance.  Pete Kendall, L.J. Shelton, Simeon Rice, and Jake Plummer were all either released or allowed to walk because of "character issues."  I would agree with the "character over physical ability" stance that the Cardinals have taken over the years, because I believe that everyone in the NFL is physically gifted and can succeed; it's just a matter of who wants it the most.


But, while the Cardinals have taken the high road regarding character they've often fallen in love with prospects that put up great numbers and passed the eyeball test at the combine.  Granted, they weren't deterred by Larry Fitzgerald's poor workout numbers and still drafted him #3 overall, but you can only draft in the top 10 every year for so long before someone labels one (or more) of your picks as a bust.  Just ask the Lions.


Therefore, this year's strategy must focus on need, position, and character, with more focus on collegiate production than workout numbers.


When you put all those priorities into one sentence, you can't help but think of Winston Justice, the offensive tackle from Southern Cal.  He passes the eyeball test, somehow managing to look slim at 6'6", 320 pounds.  He has outstanding workouts, posting a 4.43 time in the short shuttle (a drill used to judge quickness and agility; to put it in perspective, the average linebacker or tight end runs a short shuttle in that time).  But… he's been suspended numerous times for disciplinary measures and doesn't seem to try hard on every play.  Ultimately, I picture him as that frat buddy from college.  Imagine if your frat buddy received a $10 million signing bonus to work six months out of the year.  On his six months off, he'd eat Oatmeal Crème Pies.  His six months on, he'd work just hard enough not to get fired.


Does that sound like someone you want to take with the 10th overall pick?  I didn't think so, either.


Other areas of need for the Cardinals: LB, OG, QB, FS, or DT. 


Particularly weak-side linebacker and left guard, but we'll leave the floor open to generalities.  They don't need a strong safety, since Adrian Wilson seems to have come into his own, but Robert Griffith was old back when he played for the Browns.  In 2002.  They have two young, emerging linebackers on the strong side and in the middle and two young, Pro Bowl caliber guys at DE in Chike Okeafor and Bertrand Berry.  And, cornerback seems to be set with last year's #1 Antrelle Rolle coming back from injury.  And, obviously, they have no needs at receiver with Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin heading a deep and talented young corps.


Obviously, everyone could use another talented tight end, but that's not a mission critical position for them at this juncture.  Couple that with the fact that the TE position is the deepest in this draft and you find yourself wondering if they'd be reaching to take one in the 6th round.


So… we know who they shouldn't take (Justice), we know what they need, so it's a matter of finding out who they should take based on need, position, and character.

Brad Keller continues his breakdown of the Cardinals draft needs all this week.

To read more from Keller go to www.thesportsfarm.com/kellerhome.htm.

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