When Cardinals fans look at the 2006 Draft years from now, it will be remembered as the year Leinart fell to us. As I see it, that's the most significant thing that you can take away from this year's draft. Sure, I thought that it was a solid draft overall, but no one's going to remember Leonard Pope in the 3rd round or Gabe Watson in the 4th in 5 or 10 years. They're going to remember that we got our franchise quarterback in 2006.
Now, like a lot of people, I'm not 100% sold on Leinart's arm strength or his athletic ability. I couldn't tell you definitively whether Leinart, Vince Young, or Jay Cutler is going to have the most success in the NFL. I do know, however, that Leinart has been a winner everywhere he's been and that he has more than enough arm and intelligence to help a team (especially the Cardinals) win on Sunday.
And, in Arizona, he fell into the perfect situation. I had mentioned previously that I was worried about Leinart getting drafted by a team in the top 5, subsequently signing with them, becoming the face of the organization, starting too early, taking a severe beating, and losing the one thing that separates him from every other quarterback taken this April: his confidence. Leinart was never reckless with the ball at USC, but he was always decisive and never shied away from taking a chance with the ball with the game on the line. If he got drafted by a team that was less talented than the Cardinals… his protection starting breaking down, his running game wasn't supporting him, his receivers were dropping balls… that would erode his confidence and make him just another noodle-armed lefty with a big salary cap number.
However, with time to learn the offense, establish timing with the receivers, and learn a thing or two from Kurt Warner (who knows what it's like to take a beating), Leinart should blossom in the desert. Add in the fact that Dennis Green's offense doesn't stress arm strength as much as it stresses good, quick decisions, a quick release, and the ability to throw a very catchable ball, and you get the feeling that when Warner gets hurt halfway through the season, we'll be in very good hands.
The rest of Day 1 was similar to the picks on Day 1: solidly unspectacular. I'd like to say that I was "wowed" or "blown away" by the Deuce Taitusi or Leonard Pope, but I wasn't. I think that they'll both be solid starters for years to come (provided they stay healthy), but that's about all they'll be: solid starters. Neither is a Pro Bowl caliber guy. Pope is too tall, awkward, and not fast enough to be "the next Antonio Gates," and Taitusi likes the free buffets and isn't fast or agile enough to be "the next Steve Hutchinson." At best, Pope will be the next Jerramy Stevens and Taitusi will be the next Kendall Simmons. And there's nothing wrong with that. The Cardinals have impact/Pro Bowl caliber guys at other positions, so these two only need to be what they are: solid, if unspectacular starters.
The defensive theme of Day 2 was definitely necessary, given the fact that no defensive players were taken by the Cardinals on Day 1 (even though everyone else seemed to have a defense fever). I can definitely say this about the guys picked on Day 2: Clancy Pendergrast had better be as talented a motivator as everyone says he is. If so, I think we got some real bargains here.
Gabe Watson is a 1st round talent with a 6th round work ethic. He's the kind of explosive, gap penetrating DT that the Cardinals need to disrupt opponents on the inside. He has a great first step to the ball and uses his hands extremely well. The only trouble is, he takes every other play off and no one knows for sure if he'll ever reach his enormous potential. Here's hoping he realizes that he can really cash in on his second contract if he plays hard during his first one.
Brandon Johnson is very tall, very skinny, and very fast. Those types of guys are usually best suited to play special teams, but given his frame (6'5", 227), he could add some bulk without losing too much in the way of speed and possibly compete for an OLB job on the weak side. And, given the recent trend of taking safeties and turning them into linebackers (Thomas Davis, Cato June), we could see Johnson in the starting line-up some day. Out of all the Cardinals' selections, this one was the biggest boom-or-bust proposition.
I really like the fact that they took three consecutive defenders and grabbed two DTs that look like they might be able to contribute this year and beyond. Granted, our lack of talent and depth at the DT position makes a 6th round prospect like Jon Lewis look better than he is, but fresh players with very little talent are better than tired players with very little talent. If nothing else, the defensive line got deeper and bigger, since Lewis (6'1", 310), definitely eats his Wheaties.
And, I must say, I have no idea why Todd Watkins was drafted. Maybe Green just went with his board and Watkins was the next guy up, but I'm not sure why a team that's as deep as Arizona at wide receiver would draft one in the 7th round. I'd assume that they'd be better off drafting at a position of need and possibly getting lucky as opposed to drafting someone to cut them. Who knows? Maybe he'll be the only prospect from the 2006 Draft that's still on the team in 5 years. I just don't see it.
All in all, I think that they drafted at least 2 immediate starters (Taitusi and Pope), one eventual starter (Leinart), two guys that could make an immediate impact (Watson and Johnson) and two guys that will probably be lucky to make the team (Lewis and Watkins). However, if you can grab 5 potential starters in 7 rounds, including the future of your franchise, you're doing quite well. And, it looks as though at least the Day 1 picks, if not Watson, will play out their first contract. And that, my friends, is quite impressive.
Overall Grade: A-