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At 23, Cardinals Ready To Wait And See How Draft Unfolds

Uncertainty about picks reigns across NFL with Thursday's selections

Last year, the Cardinals selected linebacker Zaven Collins in the first round when the draft was in Cleveland; this year's draft is in Las Vegas and starts Thursday.
Last year, the Cardinals selected linebacker Zaven Collins in the first round when the draft was in Cleveland; this year's draft is in Las Vegas and starts Thursday.

The Cardinals weren't picking until 20th in 2014, but GM Steve Keim and the Cardinals' decision-makers still felt comfortable they had a group of four players still on the board as the pick grew nearer.

Surely one would be there by the time they were on the clock.

"We had four guys we absolutely loved, I remember that," Keim said. "They literally went right before we picked."

The Cardinals ended up swapping first-round picks with the Saints, adding a third-round pick that eventually became wide receiver John Brown to go with the traded-for-27th pick, future linebacker Deone Bucannon. (The Saints took wide receiver Brandin Cooks.)

The Cardinals head into Thursday's first round of the draft picking a little further back – 23rd overall – and with a similar sense of unknown.

"You've to be prepared for that," Keim said. "You have to have a strategy whether you're going to stay there and pick or you're going to trade back, or vice versa – if you have someone you love and you want to go get them, go get them."

There are unknowns with what the Cardinals will do. Then again, there are unknowns across the first round, with a less-than-spectacular quarterback class and still haziness to who the first pick will even be.

The Jaguars are expected to take an edge rusher, but will it be Michigan's Aidan Hutchinson, or Georgia's Travon Walker? When will the first QB be taken? Will there be any early trades?

"I don't know that I can remember a year with more uncertainty," NFL Network analyst Daniel Jeremiah said. "The year with Baker Mayfield going one, what was that, '18? That one was unpredictable. We kind of went into that process and it was Josh Allen potentially, it was Sam Darnold, and then Baker came out of left field and ended up being the first pick.

"This is along those lines, but even more so than the top. I talk to teams, and the great example is somebody like (edge George) Karlaftis in this draft from Purdue. There are teams that think he's one of the top 15 players, and then there are teams that think he's not worth a first- or second-round pick. That's how all over the board teams are on some of these guys."

Karlaftis, interestingly, is one of the players that has been linked to the Cardinals in the first round, who need a pass rusher after the free-agent departure of Chandler Jones. Any one of a number of receivers could go at 23, after Christian Kirk left. Adding a piece at cornerback or offensive line (the Cardinals have four of their five offensive line starters in the last year of a contract) is also a realistic option, or beefing up the defensive line.

Moving up in the first round seems unlikely. The Cardinals have picks in the second and third round, but then no more until a host of late picks (two in the sixth, three in the seventh). Moving back, in a draft where the depth has been mentioned but the lack of high-end talent also comes up, is also possible.

Packaging some of the late picks to get back into the fifth or fourth round could happen too.

"We'll just see the way the board falls," Keim said. "That's really the only way I know how to approach it."

The wait to 23 will be fascinating to watch unfold. Keim hopes it doesn't turn into another 2014. Otherwise, the Top 120 board is built, long days spent building up grades and ranks, waiting to see how all the speculation from the fans and the media matches up with how the first round will actually play out.

"Trust your eyes," Keim said. "That's the hardest part when all the buzz sorts of gets moving, the next thing you know you're thinking about how fast these guys ran, what the media is saying. You just have to have tunnel vision, say 'This is what I see,' and trust it."

Images of GM Steve Keim, coach Kliff Kingsbury, owner Michael Bidwill and others on the first day of the draft.