Day One: Cardinals

The jury is and will continue to still be out on the Levi Brown selection. The fact remains that the Cardinals also happened to draft two other guys on Day One. Who are they and how can they help?

Levi Brown, T, Penn State:

Brown was the #1 guy available for Arizona and upgrades a position (and really an entire unit) of need.  Checking in at 6'5", 324, Brown has the kind of size that Russ Grimm and Ken Whisenhunt covet in a right tackle.  While he may very well play left tackle, Reggie Wells and Mike Gandy are actually better suited to play on the left side for Grimm, giving Brown the freedom to do what he does best: Destroy people.

At the most basic level, the Grimm's interior linemen need to be able to pull and trap, the left tackle needs to have good feet, decent size, and active hands, and the right tackle is the enforcer.  Even though Oliver Ross held that position for Grimm when they were both with the Steelers, he is too old and nowhere near as talented as Brown.  I believe that once all the draft picks report to mini-camps, Brown will slide into that position and not move for 10 years.

This opinion has nothing to do with the fact that Matt Leinart throws with his left hand.  It has more to do with Brown's size and mentality. 

When he takes the field, he doesn't simply want to block people, he wants to assassinate them.  Coming from the defensive side of the ball (Joe Paterno had him play defensive tackle when he got there), he does not shy away from contact and looks at blocking as more of a battle of collisions than an art.  He looks to dominate the man across from him until that individual doesn't want to get up any more.  He wants to beat on you mentally and physically until you're a shell of your former self.  That's what he did at Penn State.  And that's just what he'll do when he's on the Cardinals.

The arguments about Brown getting taken too early will not stop until he makes them stop.  Whether or not he'll be looked at as the next Levi Jones or the next, well, Levi Brown is a matter that will be settled down the road.

What's important right now is that Brown will be able to step in and immediately help a unit that is in desperate need of an upgrade in the talent and toughness departments.

Alan Branch, DT, Michigan:

With all the crazy trades that were thrown around yesterday, the one that sent Branch to the Cardinals kind of got lost in the mix.  It was actually a pretty fair trade for both sides.  The Raiders got another pick to add depth to a roster in need of a talent infusion and Arizona got the guy they wanted (and the guy we said they'd draft, by the way).  Given the fact that the Cardinals essentially moved into the first round (the value for the 32nd overall and 33rd overall picks are very close) this trade probably got overlooked because it was logical.

Coming into the draft, the Cardinals needed to get tougher along the offensive line and stronger along the defensive line.  They accomplished both by taking Brown 5th and Branch 33rd.

Branch is simply gigantic (6'6", 324) and can play either tackle in the 4-3 (the position he played at Michigan) or nose in the 3-4.  He gives the Cardinals a lot of options in their front seven and provides a wide body that is very difficult to move in the middle.

Before the Combine, Branch was rated as high as fifth overall.  By the time the final rankings were compiled, he dropped to 29th overall, which made me think that he would slide into the second stanza and be available for the Cardinals.  He slid because of questions about his work ethic.  He showed up to the Combine out of shape (not overweight, out of shape) and looked sluggish and winded by the time the drills concluded.  The same thing happened at his Pro Day.

While this might look like a "fool me once" situation, I do not believe that is the case with Branch.  Which is why I thought Arizona should and would draft him.  Former Michigan teammate and current Cardinals teammate Gabe Watson had the same issues.  He slipped to the fourth round last year because he doesn't have the mass and natural ability that Branch possesses.  Watson exceeded expectations last season and can serve as a mentor to Branch, showing him the ropes, showing him the way to the weight room, and keeping him away from the buffet table.

Strength and conditioning coach John Lott (wearing a clown wig) is a very accomplished and motivated man.  He will make sure that Branch is in playing shape by the time the time Training Camp opens.

Defensive Line Coach Ron Aiken will be tasked with teaching Branch to stop playing so high and to use his natural strength and abilities to penetrate into the backfield.

You can teach a player technique.  You can't teach a player how to be six and a half feet tall with the kind of ability that Branch has.

Buster Davis, LB, Florida State:

This pick surprised me for two reasons:

1.  Gerald Hayes received a contract extension during the 2006 season.

2.  The Cardinals are looking to line up in the 3-4 defense more often in 2007.

First of all, it would seem as though Davis was drafted to replace Hayes.  If that's the case, why extend Hayes' contract?  Both players are effort guys with exceptional instincts that always seem to be around the football.  Davis is more explosive and definitely has more of a nose for the football, given the statistics he put up in Tallahassee, but Hayes is the incumbent.

The reason that Davis slipped to the third round (he was rated 44th overall by Scout.com) is because he is short (5'9") and a little light (239) to be playing on the inside at the NFL level.  He's got an amazing motor and tremendous instincts, but that can only help you out so much.  He tends to get caught up in the garbage in the middle of the field, especially during running plays, because he can't get off the blocker at the point of attack.

Don't worry, there's a silver lining.

The best way to take advantage of his abilities while masking his shortcomings (punt intended) is to place him the Buck position in the 3-4.  The Buck position is what Kendrell Bell played in his time with the Steelers (the most likely model for Whisenhunt's 3-4 schemes).  Basically, Pittsburgh knew that Bell would sacrifice himself and do whatever was necessary to get to the guy with the ball.  They created plays that isolated Bell and gave him a clear avenue to the ball carrier.

While Davis isn't as big or explosive as Bell was in this scheme, he's a lot smarter.  He has more football intelligence.  And, given that he's been playing a big man's game his whole life but still succeeded, more tenacity.

Overall:

They added toughness and size to two units that were sorely lacking in those departments.  They didn't reach as badly as most would say on Brown (Miami at 9 and Houston at 10 both liked Brown and he went 9th overall in the Publisher's Mock Draft).  Davis may prove to be a playmaking linebacker - which they might need more than anything - or he may prove to be too short to play his position at this level.

All that having been said, they snagged the 29th-rated player at 33 and the 44th rated player at 69.  They filled needs, got good value with their picks, and didn't draft solely based on need.

Day One Grade: B+


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