It is said that “Those who do not study history are doomed to repeat it.” This was the fear of the long suffering Arizona Cardinals fans as the team prepared for its 2013 draft. Late in each of the less-than-stellar past seasons, Cardinal fans have accepted late season losses since it would result in a higher draft pick for the following season. Then, once the draft comes along, there is routinely little to create optimism. Let’s face it—the Cardinals have not exactly garnered a reputation for their draft prowess and there was the potential for history to repeat itself once again. What happens, though, when you compare the rankings of the current top 100 NFL players against the 50 biggest busts in NFL draft history? You recognize just how great the Arizona Cardinals 2013 draft will turn out to be.
The Bleacher Report recently published its two lists. While neither was scientific, the conclusions are worthy of further analysis. Their biggest NFL draft busts of all time are dominated by quarterbacks, comprising over 50% of all position players (including Matt Leinert, weighing in at #20 on the list). The least likely position to result in a draft bust? Offensive line, comprising only 4% of the total draft busts. Compare that with Bleacher Reports’ list of the top 100 current NFL players. On that list, the offensive linemen represent the second largest group (16%) of the top overall current players, just behind wide receivers (at 19%). What does this tell us? The glamour picks involving quarterbacks make headlines on draft day, but the blue collar picks such as offensive linemen are far more likely to become impact players during their careers.
During the weeks leading up to the draft, Cardinals fans fantasized about the next Kurt Warner, hoping that disguised among the available quarterbacks in the 2013 draft would be another Russell Wilson or Colin Kaepernick. However, all reviews of the quarterback class of 2013 were fairly universal that selection of any quarterback in the early rounds would be the proverbial “reach,” at best.
So, the question is whether the Cardinals have learned from history or whether there was some other intervening event that prevented them from repeating history. Many have and will rightfully argue that this draft was a reflection of the Keim/Arians brain trust. Clark Judge of CBS Sports wrote after the 2013 draft that “if you haven’t heard of Steve Keim, Arizona’s rookie general manager, please stand by. You will.” There is therefore every reason to believe that the merit to this draft is a direct function of those doing the drafting.
If the success of the Cardinals 2013 draft is not the result of great decision-making by management, perhaps the likely success comes in the form of two words: Carson Palmer. To be clear, Carson Palmer may not be the answer to the quarterback dilemma that is the Cardinals. However, his presence ensured that the team approached the draft without a sense of desperation at the quarterback position. Absent were the “reach” picks involving players with high upside potential (translation: “We hope that he can some day develop into an elite player”), such as Geno Smith, EJ Manuel (what were the Bills thinking?), Ryan Nassib, Mike Glennon or Matt Barkley. Each may develop the skills to be an upper tier quarterback in the NFL, but only if given the time to mature and learn behind an experienced and seasoned quarterback.
Rather than reaching, the Cardinals grabbed Jonathan Cooper and Earl Watford, two outstanding additions to the otherwise porous offensive line. With the addition of ILB Kevin Minter and the CB/Safety Tyrann “Honey Badger” Mathieu (including his baggage), there is reason to believe that the Bayou magic of LSU’s vaunted defense will be reincarnated when they join Patrick Peterson. The Cardinals nabbed Texas DE Alex Okafor in the 4th round, who many believe that if healthy, would have been a late first to mid second round prospect. As for running backs, the experts have debated whether Stepfan Taylor or Andre Ellington will be more successful, but they have agreed that both are potential steals of the draft. Mel Kiper Jr. assigned the title of “late round steal” to Ellington and Coach Herm Edwards predicted that Taylor will be a perennial starter in the NFL. Wide receiver Ryan Swope is lightening-fast, and if he can avoid blows to the head his value will far exceed his 6th round selection. Drafting D.C. Jefferson in the 7th round required little investment but since he only recently converted from quarterback to tight end, there is good cause to be optimistic about the future of this 6’6”, 255 pound force who has shown a knack for the football. ESPN’s Ron Jaworski chose the Cardinals as having the best draft among all NFC teams and Jason Cole of Yahoo Sports graded the team with an “A” for their overall draft.
Generally, history has not been kind to the Cardinals when it comes to draft picks. There is reason to believe, however, that the Cardinals’ Draft Class of 2013 will make history, all in a good way.