Breaking Down the Cardinals’ 2016 Draft Class
There’s a lot of it, but for me, it starts with Evan Boehm. A four-year starter at Missouri – the interior offensive lineman turned heads with his toughness after playing his entire freshman season with a high-ankle sprain he suffered in his collegiate opener. While his versatility allows him to play both center and guard, the Cardinals will surely use him as their center, slotted between Mike Iupati and Evan Mathis. At 6’2” 309 pounds, Boehm is slightly undersized for an NFL offensive lineman, but as a four-year starter in the SEC, the Cardinals’ fourth-round pick has the experience and toughness to make it work. Don’t be surprised to see Boehm starting Week 1.
Robert Nkemdiche could be an absolute game changer. Consider the following for a moment. The Cardinals were one of few teams strongly considering drafting Alabama center, Ryan Kelly in the first round. Even had Kelly still been on the board when the 29th pick came around, one has to think Nkemdiche’s 2.5 tackle-for-loss game against Alabama would have been enough to deter them. After all, how could you pass up the defensive lineman who single-handedly made the three-year anchor on Alabama’s offensive line look like a scrub? As long as the Cardinals can keep Nkemdiche away from windows, they may have found exactly what they needed to put some much-needed pressure on opposing quarterbacks next year.
While Boehm and Nkemdiche seem to be sure things, the remaining four picks are all projects with tremendous upside. Brandon Williams is the wildcard of this draft to me. After playing running back for three years in college, the Aggie made the switch to cornerback to get more playing time. Williams, who broke up seven passes during his senior year, before putting together quite the combine performance, now finds himself competing for a spot in one of the NFL’s top secondary units. Sure, his senior year wasn’t all that special, but the fact that Williams, having no prior experience playing cornerback, held his own playing against SEC offenses, suggests that he is a quick learner and could adapt to the NFL sooner rather than later.
Marqui Christian and Harlan Miller are two very similar prospects. Both had uber-productive college careers, but are coming from smaller programs, playing against lesser competition. This tends to scare scouts and organizations, but if even one of them can pan out, it would pay huge dividends for the Cardinals’ defense.
Cole Toner addressed the final need for this team. With four of five positions on the offensive line now accounted for, Carson Palmer needed a big body to anchor the right side of his line. Toner, a former basketball player figures to be athletic enough to move with some of the NFC West’s better pass-rushers. Unfortunately, his hips appear to be stiff, and his tape shows him to be rigid at times. At 6’5”, Toner looks like an NFL pass-protecting tackle, but in order to play like one, he must clean up his technique. D.J. Humphries, whom the Cardinals selected in the first round of the 2015 draft, failed to make it on the field after rumors of poor work ethic circulated. If Humphries still hasn’t figured it out, it may be Toner who gets thrown into the gauntlet from the start.
Arizona desperately needs a legitimate backup quarterback. Carson Palmer played in all 16 games in two of the last three seasons, so maybe the Cardinals are relying on more of the same. But all it takes is one freak play, and the next thing you know, Drew Stanton and his career 54.6 completion percentage is starting under center. While Keim did a great job addressing the team’s needs, he certainly should have looked to find a legitimate back quarterback. This is certainly a pressing need moving forward.