Cards Draft Recap: No Need Left Behind

The Cardinals managed to fill immediate needs and plan for the future, occasionally accomplishing both missions with the same picks. The brain trust entered the weekend believing that it didn't have an aching need at any position. Yet, the Cardinals filled two of them on the first day, selecting cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and defensive end Calais Campbell.

As high as team officials are on those players, they aren't counting on either one of them to start this year. But both players provide immediate depth and give the team some insurance in the coming years.

Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie will battle starters Eric Green and Rod Hood for the starting job. That won't be an easy task if Green and Hood play as well as they did last year, said coach Ken Whisenhunt.

But Rodgers-Cromartie should play a lot in nickel situations and it's important to note that Green is playing on a one-year deal.

The Cardinals resisted offers to trade down because they were afraid the elite corners would be gone.

"When we do this process of evaluation, we are always looking at where the biggest margin of improvement is for our football team for the 2008 season," Whisenhunt said.

Calais Campbell also will fill an important reserve role this year, playing behind starters Antonio Smith and Darnell Dockett. The Cardinals had virtually no talent rookie defensive ends on the roster and needed to get a few in the developmental process.

It's important to note that Smith is playing under a one-year deal, and Dockett has stayed away from offseason workouts because of dissatisfaction with his deal, which runs for three more years.

The major disappointment with the team's draft is that it didn't upgrade its speed on offense. Receiver Early Doucet, the third-round pick, runs in the 4.5 range. The starters, Anquan Boldin and Larry Fitzgerald, aren't burners, either, and the club could have used a speed receiver.


RB Tim Hightower
AP

The team went into the draft seeking a runner who would give them "home-run ability," Whisenhunt said before the draft.

Instead, they took Tim Hightower from Richmond in the fifth round. He's a versatile back who can catch and block but he runs the 40-yard dash in 4.6 seconds. He's no threat, it appears, to challenge Edgerrin James for the starting job.

BEST PICK: Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie in the first round. Selecting the best corner remaining at No. 16 didn't take a lot of thought for the Cardinals, but at least the team took a player who filled an immediate need. Rodgers-Cromartie has all the physical tools, and the only question about him is how he'll play against top-flight competition.

COULD SURPRISE: DE Kenny Iwebema out of Iowa could be a find. The fourth-round pick didn't have great production his last two years in college, but the Cardinals are confident he can be a solid 3-4 defensive end. Defensive line coach Ron Aiken recruited Iwebema to Iowa and coached him his first three seasons with the Hawkeyes. Aiken is an excellent teacher and Iwebema is a willing student. It should be a good combination.

A closer look at the Cardinals' picks:

Round 1/16 -- Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, CB, 6-2, 182, Tennessee State

The Cardinals love his cover skills. They didn't want a strictly zone corner, because they play a lot of man coverage. Rodgers-Cromartie is fast (4.29 in the 40) and can play the ball. He'll have a hard time beating out starters Eric Green and Rod Hood right away. But the Cardinals had little depth at corner because of Antrel Rolle's move to free safety.

Round 2/50 -- Calais Campbell, DE, 6-8, 282, Miami (Fla.)

Campbell had a disappointing season in 2007 with only six sacks. But he played great as a sophomore with 20 tackles for loss. He'll back up Darnell Dockett and Antonio Smith but he could figure in the team's nickel packages. On first and second down, he'll play end in the 3-4, but he could move inside when the team goes to a 4-3 front in passing situations. His long frame could give offenses trouble because he should be hard to throw over. Like Rodgers-Cromartie, Campbell might be a year away from starting.


WR Early Doucet
Miller Safrit/Scout.com

Round 3/81 -- Early Doucet, WR, 6-0, 211, Louisiana State

The Cardinals didn't plan on taking a receiver this early in the draft, but likewise didn't think they could pass on Doucet. He had a disappointing senior year mostly because of a groin injury, and he isn't particularly fast. But the Cardinals think he was a productive player as a junior and could fill the team's No. 3 job, which opened when Bryant Johnson left for the 49ers via free agency.

Round 4/116 -- Kenny Iwebema, DE, 6-4, 274, Iowa

The Cardinals needed an infusion of young defensive ends, and Iwebema might develop. Line coach Ron Aiken coached Iwebema at Iowa and thinks he has the skills to be a solid end in the 3-4. That might be a year or two away, however. Iwebema's sack numbers dropped over his final two years and he had a nagging shoulder injury during that time, but also was learning a new scheme.

Round 5/149 -- Tim Hightower, RB, 6-0, 224, Richmond

The Cardinals needed a back with speed and settled for Hightower, who runs the 40 in the 4.6-second range. It looks like Edgerrin James' job is safe for another year. The Cardinals think Hightower is a complete back who can catch and block, too. He can make yards after contact, but it doesn't look like he's going to outrun many defensive backs.

Round 6/185 -- Chris Harrington, OLB, 6-5, 264, Texas A&M

He played defensive end in college but the Cardinals will move him to outside linebacker in the 3-4. He's known as a hard-working overachiever with not a lot of athletic skills. But under Whisenhunt, the Cardinals have elected to pick overachievers instead of underachievers late in the draft. Harrington is a long-range prospect who might be able to contribute on special teams.

Round 7/225 -- Brandon Keith, OT, 6-5, 343, Northern Iowa

He has good athletic ability for a man his size but little experience. He played at a junior college before attending Oklahoma and then transferring to Northern Iowa. He was a full-time starter only one season, his senior year. The Cardinals are hoping he develops under the tutoring of line coach Russ Grimm.

NOTES, QUOTES

--The Cardinals have a number of players with pass-rush potential. Two free agents -- Clark Haggans and Travis LaBoy -- should help, as does the addition of Calais Campbell, the Cardinals' second-round pick. Campbell, who is 6-foot-8, could move inside to tackle when the team goes to a 4-3 front in nickel situations.

"When you have a big guy who can force pressure on the quarterback from the inside, shutdown the throwing lanes with a big wing span, it definitely helps," coach Ken Whisenhunt said.

--Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie thought the Saints were going to pick him after they worked him out two days before the draft. So he was getting antsy as he fell to No. 16. When the Cardinals chose him, "I just sat down, closed my eyes and said a quick prayer. It was a dream come true," said Rodgers-Cromartie.

--Second-round pick Calais Campbell once was regarded as a first-round selection, but his production dropped in his senior year. He blamed poor technique. "It wasn't as good as it could have been," he said. "That's why I think coach (Ron) Aiken is going to be good for me. He's all about technique."

--Early Doucet, the team's third-round pick, admits he's not the fastest guy in the world. "I'm not a 4.3 guy," he said. "I never will be. But I'm a football player, so that's all that really matters."


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