BY: ED COLE
GLENDALE, Ariz. – It’s been a long and exhausting process for Cardinals General Manager Steve Keim, Head Coach Bruce Arians, and their respective staffs, but they’ve finally finished their 120 board, which is a listing of their top 120 prospects coming out in the 2016 NFL Draft.
“We have had great conversations, great debates, and I personally want to thank all of our scouts and coaches for a phenomenal job,” Keim said. “In four years together, it truly couldn’t be much better. The lines of communications that we have, the relationships that have been built in that room, it’s as good as I’ve been around.”
The Cardinals have changed their approach to the NFL Draft this year, by 1.) Sending their coaches out on the road more to individual workouts, and 2.) Giving each player they scouted a football character grade and a character grade.
“The time that those guys have put in on the road has been really beneficial for us,” Keim said. “Not only do those guys get out and have a chance to work out players individually, they get to know a little bit more about the person. They get to spend more time with them on the board.”
Being able to spend more time with the prospects allowed the coaches to do a much more thorough evaluation of them, and come up with two separate grades they submitted to Keim and Arians upon their return and their initial debriefing with them.
“It essentially is a checks and balances system, where players are graded from A to F on personal character and graded from A to F on football character,” Keim said. “So, there may be players who have had some issues in the past. Off the field, a lot of these college kids make mistakes, and it’s a great balance to understand, ‘OK, he’s made some mistakes, but his football character is tremendous. He’s been a hard worker. He’s got great intangibles. He’s a great teammate.’ So if we’re willing to take a risk, it’s going to be a risk on a guy who has great football character.”
“When our coaches go out and they come back and we talk to them in meetings, we want to understand how far along is this guy mentally,” Keim said. “Is he going to be a rep guy? Is he going to take some time to grow and develop? Again, leave no stone unturned in this process.”
Arizona is currently slated to have the 29th overall pick in the first round of the draft come next Thursday night. Keim didn’t specifically say which position the team was looking at addressing with the pick (if they keep it at all). He says the team is all about taking the best available player at the time, with the hopes that he will come in and be an impact player from the start.
“I think that’s the goal,” Keim said. “You’d always like to have an immediate impact. But, when you’re picking so late, it’s so hard to forecast what happens the 28 picks prior. The thing I will tell you is that we will be prepared. Coach (Arians) and I have talked through scenarios of trading up, trading back, drawing a line in the sand of here’s an area where after this player we’d be willing to go back and roll the dice to acquire more picks. The hard part of it for us, at this point, is in four years together, we feel like we’ve gotten significantly better as a roster. Acquiring more picks gives you the obvious, which is to hit on more players. Yet at the same time, because of our roster and the depth that we currently have, it’s harder to make our football team, so it can go both ways. But there’s no question in our mind that we’d love to have an impact player there at number 29.”
Keim and his coaches can watch as much game film on players as they want, and he can send his coaches to as many individual workouts and Pro Days as they can stand, and the players they’re scouting can look as high-powered as they want to in those workouts, but when it comes down to it, they’ll never really know if the players they draft are ready for the professional stage until they suit up and run out of the tunnel for the first time.
Keim says a lot of times when the Cardinals are selecting players, a lot of luck is involved in that process.
“There’s always a degree of luck, but again, from a preparation standpoint, if you do everything you can and you have all the information at hand, it makes it a lot easier,” Keim said.
Arians says one factor that trumps it all is the injury factor, and how the player works through that when it comes.
“Injuries change everything and some guys have some tough luck, and never have been hurt in college,” Arians said. “then all of a sudden, they get here and they get two or three freaky injuries and everybody says the guy’s a bust, but that’s not true. Not true at all. The guy’s the player you thought he was; he just got hurt.”
The whole evaluation process really is a tricky situation, because Keim, Arians and everyone else involved in the War Room are watching a player’s game film, along with their workout/Pro Day film, not to mention seeing them if they attend the NFL Scouting Combine.
It really is enough to have Keim’s head spinning.
“There’s no question an evaluation is a puzzle that has different parts, whether it’s the Combine testing and all of that,” Keim said. “I tell them all the time, I say, ‘let’s grade them on what you see on tape.’ Now the Combine stuff is nice and it supports usually what your grade says, or it makes you question and maybe have to go back and look and double check, because it’s again a checks and balances system. But, there have been too many good players who have had success in the NFL who didn’t test particularly well. You go down the list with the Anquan Boldins or whoever it may be, but now if they do not test well and they’re not great test athletes, they better have compensating abilities, whether it’s suddenness in a short area, mental toughness, ball skills, all those things. You have to have compensating ability to make up for those physical deficiencies if you’re going to have success.”
“At the end of the day, it’s an interesting process. I tell our scouts all the time, we go out in the fall and we fall in love with the players on tape, then in the spring we confuse ourselves because we go back and in underwear he didn’t jump as high or run as fast as you thought. It’s a part of the puzzle, but to me, I think you can confuse yourself and you can overthink it.”