Arizona Cardinals: Grading the 2014 NFL Draft

The Arizona Cardinals had themselves a pretty polarizing draft.

On the one hand, Steve Keim and company fulfilled many of the team’s needs, nabbing a potential safety of the future in Deone Bucannon, tight end of the future in Troy Niklas, and two pretty good rotational defensive linemen in Kareem Martin and Ed Stinson. They also picked up two speed receivers in Walt Powell and John Brown as well as a long-term project quarterback in Logan Thomas.

Cards fans may be a little bitter. Logan Thomas is no Johnny Manziel or even a Derek Carr. Bucannon doesn’t have the big-time recognition of Calvin Pryor or Ha-Ha Clinton-Dix (who was available to the Cardinals at 20). Two of the players come from schools you probably couldn’t find on a map.

But that doesn’t mean this was a bad draft. Some picks just don’t have that “wow” factor. But enough overview, let’s get into the individual picks…

Pick 1: 27th overall
Deone Bucannon, S, Washington State

Deone Bucannon will have to rein in his wild spirit to avoid missing elusive players. (Photo credit: Dean Hare)

On the clock for the 20th overall selection, the Arizona Cardinals decided to pass up on highly rated safety Ha-Ha Clinton-Dix, instead trading down to 27 with the New Orleans Saints, getting a 3rd round selection in exchange (the pick used to take John Brown). At 27, Arizona raised a few eyebrows, taking the relatively unknown Deone Bucannon out of Washington State.

The more I read and see about this kid, the more excited I get. He’s a hard-hitting, fleet-footed safety who is as physically imposing as any safety in the draft. He’s more than just a big hitter, though. Bucannon tallied 15 picks in four years while at Washington State, and promises to bring that skill to an already loaded Cardinal secondary.

Adrian Wilson comparisons are already flowing in – which is lofty, but Bucannon has the talent to deliver. Cardinals fans should get excited about this guy for years to come.

Grade: A+

Pick 2: 52nd overall
Troy Niklas, TE, Notre Dame

NiklasTroy Niklas is big. At 6-foot-6, 270 pounds, he passes the eye test for what you want in an NFL tight end. He also blocks and catches the ball well as a tight end should. Even better, his best football is ahead of him – he declared as a junior and still has lots of room to improve. If that’s the case, Niklas instantly becomes the best tight end on the roster, with his ceiling being a Pro-Bowl caliber guy if his all-around game continues to improve.

The one knock on this pick is that it isn’t as sexy as a Kony Ealy or Morgan Moses pick. But I think in two years’ time, it won’t be a question of who was the better choice.

Grade: A

Pick 3: 84th overall
Kareem Martin, DE, UNC

Kareem MartinKareem Martin out of North Carolina is Steve Keim’s answer to pass rush help in this year’s draft. After compiling eleven-and-a-half sacks in his senior season in the talented ACC, he has demonstrated he can produce. But perhaps his best asset is his physique. He is big enough to play as a defensive end in a 4-3 scheme at 6-6, 270, but also fast enough to play outside linebacker in a 3-4, with a 4.7 at the combine. He also has very, very long arms – giving him extra range wherever he does end up. I really like him as a tweener, just because defensive coordinator Todd Bowles has down well with similar guys in John Abraham and Matt Shaughnessy. But he is still a tweener, and may potentially find himself between positions.

Grade: B+

Pick 4: 91st overall
John Brown, WR, Pittsburg State

Speed. That’s all John Brown brings. Well, he’s also a very able receiver, a team captain and special teams ace. But at 4.34, Brown has turn-the-lights-out-in-bed-before-it’s-dark speed, and projects to be Arizona’s answer to TY Hilton, whom Arians had in Indianapolis and potentially sees much of in the young Brown.

That may be for good reason: both ran for 4.34 and measured 5-10, 180 at the NFL Scouting Combine. If Brown can be that, then he could be a key contributor as a fourth receiver, taking pressure away from Floyd and Fitzgerald. In a worst case scenario, he can alleviate some punt return touches from Patrick Peterson. Still, he was projected as a 5th or 6th round guy, making this pick two rounds too early – even if it is a nice pickup.

Grade: B-

Pick 5: 120th overall
Logan Thomas, QB, Virginia Tech

Thomas, LoganWith Carson Palmer getting up there in age, we knew Arizona was going to take a quarterback, even if Bruce Arians didn’t want to admit it. Well, Arizona got their guy in Virginia Tech’s Logan Thomas. 6-6, 250 pounds and the arm to compliment that frame, Thomas is physical freak whose inconsistency with the Hokies debunked his stock. In his early years, he was thought of as a first round talent, but since then he has been in free fall. Arians attributes that to dwindling talent around him, but even then, Thomas has looked far from an NFL quarterback at times.

But there are also times he looks like the real deal, especially when he tucks the ball and puts his tight-end physique to good use. In the league, a good quarterback is hard to find, and with some (well, a lot) work, Thomas can be a poor man’s Cam Newton. But this is a long shot, and the fourth round may have been too early for a long shot, even if Arians has faith in him.

Grade: B-

Pick 6: 160th overall
Ed Stinson, DE, Alabama

I love this pick. Stinson is a big-bodied run-stuffing defensive lineman. Really, there is not much more to it than that. Much like Martin, Stinson can be viewed as a tweener – a defensive tackle playing defensive end, or vice versa. Being from a Nick Saban-coached system, Stinson is very well disciplined, a prototypical trench player and special teams contributor. Again, not a sexy pick, but Stinson can take some snaps away from the aging Dockett – a role he seems incredibly fit for.

Grade: A

Pick 7: 196th overall
Walt Powell, WR, Murray State

With the last pick of the Cardinals’ draft, Keim and company pulled the trigger on Walt Powell from small school Murray State. Listed at 5-11, 190 pounds, Powell ran a 4.64 at the combine, which is incredibly slow for his size. Bruce Arians insisted that he ran on a bad foot at the combine, turning in a 4.44 at his pro day. Even then, he brings much the same things that Brown does a few rounds earlier, making this selection redundant and questionable nonetheless.

Grade: F

Overall Grade: B+

Reception from this draft has been very mixed among fans and media. I have seen everything from a D to an A-minus on various publications, and have even stumbled across some fan feedback that cries foul at Keim and Arians, giving it an F. While I am particularly fond of this draft and the players the Cardinals netted, I can’t ignore certain things – one of which is the seemingly uncharacteristic departure from a “best-player-available-regardless-of-position” philosophy. Value for these picks seems wacky, especially in the case of Powell and Thomas, who would have likely gone undrafted if Arizona let them pass. That feels like the total opposite of last year, and I think Arizona missed out on some pretty good players as a result.

That being said, I love the upside of these picks. Bucannon and Nicklas just smell of future Pro-Bowlers, and Martin, Brown and Stinson will almost certainly see significant playing time in the rotation. Even the Thomas pick rubs me all right, even if it is a questionable use of a pick. Still, I don’t think Arizona got the best value it could have gotten in the later round, and that will keep the grade from becoming an A.