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Arizona Cardinals Draft Overview

First Round Selection: Dominique Rogers-Cromartie

This pick is a bit vexing. In 2007, Arizona was miserable defending #1(26th) and #2(25th) receivers. This offseason, 2005  eighth overall pick Antrel Rolle was finally, mercifully, moved to free safety. That left Eric Green manning the #2 corner spot. The punditry conferred, decided the Buzzsaw must, absolutely must, draft a corner in the first round, phoned Rod Graves, he said “Ev” and it was done. That’s where the complications begin.

One of the major reasons Arizona played so poorly against primary and secondary receivers is that they lacked consistent pass rush. It’s one of those universal laws of football, given enough time, the player who knows where the ball is going will beat the guy who’s guessing. If a team could contain Darnell Dockett and pick up whatever mad scientist blitz Clancy Pendergast schemed, their QB could chuck it from a hammock. That’s eminently clear: From week 10 on, Dockett recorded just one sack. Opposing coordinators adjusted blocking schemes, doubling Dockett with a center or using offset I formations to align a fullback behind the 3 gap. Freed from his harassment, their offenses took off. The shoddy Cardinals D went from allowing a kinda lousy 21.7 points per game in weeks 1-9, to allowing an exploding oil derrick-like 28.1 in weeks 10-17. Aggravating this defensive deficiency, the cash strapped Cardinals lost their best blitzing linebacker, Calvin Pace, to free agency.

We don’t need confirmation that Eric Green sucks. Or that the Cardinals would benefit greatly from upgrading ASAP. But does drafting an unpolished, toolsy cornerback from Tennessee State really accomplish that? Cornerback is definitely a matchup position, and D2 isn’t known for its receiver talent. Put it like this, do you know who David Ball is? Exactly. This isn’t some harrowing story of struggle and redemption, either, Rogers didn’t do shit in high school and college scouts recruited him accordingly. So, when we talk about Rogers phenomenal man coverage skills, his mighty press coverage and general dominance, that’s dominance over a gaggle of receivers considerably worse than David Ball. Recently cut from the Bears’ practice squad, David Ball. All-time D2 touchdown leader, David Ball.

Rookie cornerbacks are known combustibles. The precision and complexity of route running in the NFL is a huge step up from all but the most pro-centric college offenses. Short of Champ Bailey, taking lumps your first few seasons is standard procedure for NFL corners. Rogers must transition from the speed and complexity of D2 football to the NFL. Presumably, as soon as week 1. That task might be less daunting could we assume Rogers dominated his competition at TSU, but I can find no record he did that. Combing through Tennessee State’s box scores, I noticed quite a few big passing days by opponents. Rogers can’t be blamed for his team’s ineptness, but you would expect, if nothing else, that he would limit the opposing #1 receiver. I limited my sample to TSU’s opponents who averaged more than 200 yards per game passing for the season (which, to put this into perspective, eliminated all but 7), defined their #1 receiver as, simply enough, their reception yardage leader among wide receivers and recorded how they performed against TSU. This is a pretty modest group, without a single thousand yard receiver.  That group averaged 5 receptions for 76.6 yards per contest, including 3 100+ yard games. Bad team, bad passing defense, substandard competition and only anecdotal evidence of dominance; it’s not that I know Rogers will bust, only that it seems like a distinct possibility.

Best Pick: Early Doucet

This is a no-brainer for me, as I thought Doucet was among the safer skill position picks in the draft.

Doucet is a well-rounded player with a bevy of supports skills: blocking, rushing and return ability. Doucet doesn't do anything eye-popping, but his broad-base of skills, effectiveness against top competition and team-first mentality make him a low-downside, better than his numbers, above average contributor on a top club.

This Draft Could Turn Depending On: Tim Hightower

I cannot find tape or meaningful information on Hightower. He’s slow, that we can be pretty sure of. I do not devalue him for his less than vaunted alma mater; running back is a solitary position. Someone to watch in the preseason.

Final Grade: C+

Initially, I loved this draft. I bought into super-athlete DRC. No longer. For the second straight season, the Cards drafted a former can’t miss defensive line prospect. Both Calais Campbell and Alan Branch are giants among giants, 6076 and 6056 respectively, and both suffered sizable slides after proving to be inconsistent and ineffective football players. If I haven’t made it clear by now, I’m not a fan of picks whose potential inflates their stock, and whose play deflates it. Campbell, specifically, looks like he may have simply outgrown his speed. Doucet is a no-brainer in the third, but one wonders if a team with little depth and two injury racked starters should have put a greater premium on health. That’s hardly damning though. Chris Harrington is an interesting DE/OLB tweener that recalls the glory days of New England’s once dominant defense. A surprisingly high-upside pick I really like at 185. I don’t have much to add about Kenny Iwebama or Brandon Keith. On paper, the Cardinals could have the foundation of a dominant defense in a few years. By then, it’s very possible their offense will have eroded or skipped town. If Hightower is a real find, a feature back able to perform at a high level for 20+ carries a contest, the Cardinals could compete this year. If he’s not, and he likely isn’t, the Cardinals should, once again, be somewhere hovering around average.

. . .

I have a lot more to add about Seattle's division mates. In terms of total value, Seattle did not have the best draft. But in terms of total talent added through the draft and free agency, young talent, existing talent on roster, coaching stability, depth and cap fitness, the Seahawks stand as a sequoia among saplings. Tomorrow, the first edition of my projected NFC West standings for 2008.