Head Coach Bruce Arians, General Manager Steve Keim and President Michael Bidwill in the draft room during the draft.
Since Steve Keim was named the Cardinals' general manager January, he's made his draft theory well-known to anyone who will listen.
He wanted his early picks to contribute immediately. There won't be time for them to sit around and develop. With guard Jonathan Cooper taken seventh overall, and linebacker Kevin Minter and safety Tyrann Mathieu in the second and third rounds, respectively, the Cardinals found three players who could make an instant impact.
Then came six picks in the final four rounds Saturday. By the time the Cardinals' first draft under the direction of Keim and coach Bruce Arians wrapped up, all nine picks from the weekend appeared to have a fighting chance in training camp.
"When you build your board and you build it with the best player available motto, I've said before, you have to take into some account how that player will impact your football team," Keim said. "There was a point in the draft, I think it was after
the fifth round, when Bruce and I looked at each other and went down every name and we truly feel like every guy has a chance to come in and make an immediate impact in some way or the other."
Facing a roster of new faces isn't new to Arians, who led the Indianapolis Colts to the playoffs last season with 37 new players throughout the season. The Cardinals already had 13 new free agents and quarterback Carson Palmer, who was acquired from Oakland through a trade, before the draft. Add in the nine new draftees and the undrafted rookie free agents the Cardinals were working on signing Saturday night, and a youth movement has invaded the locker room.
This year's crop was the product of a perfect storm. The Cardinals' brain trust sat in front of a 120-man draft board in the third-floor draft room armed with a list of needs. Keim and Arians stayed committed to another draft philosophy of taking the best player available. This year the best players available when their number came up coincided with a need.
"I was extremely pleased," Arians said. "I haven't stopped smiling. Every time we would want a player at a position, the board would just fall for us.
"I've only been at one other draft that was like that and that was last year in Indianapolis. We had a dream team and there they all were at the right spot. That's basically how this one fell. It's like, 'Holy cow.' This is how it (started) for us this year because every time I say, 'Wow, we could use another lineman,' I look over and Steve says, 'There's the next best guy right there.'
"It was such an easy draft."
They added two extra picks through two trades, one in the second and another in the fourth round. On Friday, the Cardinals traded the 38th selection to San Diego Chargers, who chose Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te'o, for the 45th and the 110th picks. On Saturday, the Cardinals traded the 110th pick to the New York Giants, who chose quarterback Ryan Nassib, for the 116th and 187th choices.
By filling so many needs in the draft, the Cardinals are relying on youth instead of experience. Cooper (7th overall) helped solidify an offensive line that surrendered 58 sacks in 2012. Minter (45th) will be needed during the first four games while Daryl Washington is suspended for violating the league's substance-abuse policy. Mathieu (69th) added another option in the secondary and on punt returns. Linebacker Alex Okafor (103rd) may compete for a starting job outside in Todd Bowles' 3-4 defense. Guard Earl Watford (116th) is a Keim and Arians' favorite. Running backs Stepfan Taylor (140th) and Andre Ellington (187th) will add depth and competition to running back.
"I want to get on the field any way," Taylor said. "Make team, special teams, and then starting running back. Those are the steps. You've got to start from the bottom coming in and prove your worth. Things aren't handed to you."
Wide receiver Ryan Swope (174th) can help extend the field. And tight end D.C. Jefferson (219th) is another pass blocker who has a history at quarterback.
"We (filled) needs," Keim said, "while feeling like we got pretty good football players at the same time."