Draft Strategy: Beyond the First Round

Linebacker? O-Line? How about a QB? There is not one glaring need, but for the first time in a long time there are a couple of positions where there is NOT a need. Still, as the strategy comes into focus it isn't about the 'best athlete on the board.' Knowing when to bite is half the battle.

Need, position and character, those are the factors.  Let's start with need. 


As far as LB and OG, A.J. Hawk is the only LB worth taking in the top 10 and you never, I mean ever take a guard in the top 10.  Which really leaves Michael Huff of Texas (FS), Jay Cutler of Vanderbilt (QB), or Broderick Bunkley of Florida State (DT).


Michael Huff is likely to be gone by the time the Cardinals pick at 10th overall.  Some have him going to the Lions or Raiders before the Cardinals even get excited about him.  However, Huff has the workouts, Huff has the college production, and Huff has the character to succeed at the next level.  He's a terrifically gifted athlete that has figured out coverage schemes and that if you speak in clichés and call all the coaches "sir," you can make millions of dollars.  He's used to the pressure, he's used to a high level of competition, he's used to being left on an island.


If he's not available, I say that the Cards should draft Jay Cutler.  Cutler has played behind an overmatched offensive line against superior competition and excelled.  He's an excellent, confident athlete with good character and mobility.  He might be the best fit for Dennis Green's system since Randall Cunningham.  However, this pick prediction comes with a warning: Green has a great deal of faith in his system.  He took John Navarre, Josh McCown, and Kurt Warner and finished with the #1 passing offense in the NFL last year.  Then again, McCown's gone, John Navarre and Rohan Davey are his other options, and Kurt Warner can't last forever (or, if history is anything to shout about, he might not last the season without getting hurt.)  But, Green may just decide that Huff or Bunkley are too good to pass up, even if Cutler is still available.  After all, he's fond of saying that his teams' offensive success has been tied to the system, not the quarterback.


Bunkley is a big, quick, powerful kid from Florida State.  I seriously believe that's all you need to get drafted in the top 10.  He's comfortable in the 4-3, two-gap scheme that the Cardinals play and would be ideal in Clancy Prendergrast's system.  He just seems a little too perfect and a little too easy for the Cardinals at 10.


And, of course, no discussion of the Cardinals would be complete without some discussion about its offensive line.  What to do about the offensive line?  Since that seems to be the team's albatross that's naked, screaming, and on fire, I would say that it needs to be addressed.


But not with Winston Justice.


I think that the Cardinals' offensive line has actually drawn unfair criticism given the fact that it had to block for the indecisive and ineffective J.J. Arrington as well as the human bulls eye, Kurt Warner.  Granted, Warner is back for a second year, but Arrington is replaced by Edgerrin James, who is a substantial upgrade (incidentally, the words "substantial upgrade" could be written in 312 point font, bold, italicized, and underlined and not properly conveyed the upgrade that James represents).


One of the great secrets of the NFL is that James made a substandard Indianapolis line (at least in terms of run blocking) look exceptional for years.  His ability to avoid initial contact, make the first man miss, gain yards after contact, and create the threat of a running game for the Cardinals cannot be underrated and will vastly improve the offensive line.


This does not mean that the Cards do not need to improve talent and depth along the offensive line (given the recent and not-so-recent defections of Pete Kendall and L.J. Shelton).  However, they can find a tackle in the second round (either Auburn's Marcus McNeil or Miami of Florida's Eric Winston) and a guard in the fourth round (such as Southern Cal's Fred Matua).  And, they still have Elton Brown, a third round pick from last year that many had pegged as a potential late first-rounder. 


They have depth and some quality.  And James will make them better.  What they need to do is to make sure that they don't reach on workout numbers and potential and stick with what makes for a solid draft.

Read more from Brad Keller at http://thesportsfarm.com

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