The Cardinals picked up Harvard tackle Cole Toner with their second fifth-round selection.
After plucking big-school prospects with their first three choices, the Cardinals dipped into the small-school ranks in the fifth round of the NFL draft on Saturday.
They selected Midwestern State safety Marqui Christian, who won the Cliff Harris Award as the country's top small-college defensive player in 2015, with the No. 167 overall selection and added Harvard guard Cole Toner four picks later.
General Manager Steve Keim has found success in the past with small-school players, grabbing wide receiver John Brown in 2014 and running back David Johnson, defensive tackle Rodney Gunter and wide receiver J.J. Nelson in 2015.
Christian, 5-foot-10 and 196 pounds, said he had a handful of visits with the Cardinals before the draft and had a feeling they could be one of his possible destinations. Former star safety Adrian Wilson, a new scout in the team's front office, came back from an All-Star game with a raving review after watching Christian play.
"He went to the NFLPA game and came back with his jaw dropping," Keim said. "He felt like this kid had all the physical tools."
Christian had 95 tackles, two forced fumbles, three fumble recoveries, a sack and a defensive touchdown as a senior. He said the Cardinals laid out their plan for him defensively.
"They talked about a hybrid-type guy, a safety playing down in the box," Christian said. "Just using my different talents – blitzing off the edge, man-to-man in the slot, zone and being interchangeable at safety."
Toner, 6-foot-5 and 306 pounds, was an All-Ivy League selection in 2014 and 2015. He said the Cardinals and the Seahawks showed the most interest in him during the pre-draft process. Toner played tackle in college but is expected to play guard in the NFL.
"I definitely think I can be a guard," Toner said. "I think I can play anywhere, really. If they have injuries, I think I can step in at tackle, for sure. I can play guard, and I can even play center, if possible. I haven't played center in college, but I started snapping this offseason and I feel really comfortable doing that."
Toner has family in Arizona and has visited yearly since he was a kid. He said his Phoenix-area relatives are all Cardinals fans, with some of them owning season tickets.
"They're loving this," Toner said.
SECOND CORNERBACK DRAFTED IN SIXTH ROUND
The Cardinals stayed with the theme and drafted a small-schooler with their final choice, choosing cornerback Harlan Miller from Southeastern Louisiana in the sixth round.
Miller joins third-rounder Brandon
Williams as the pair of cornerbacks chosen by the Cardinals. He distinguished himself at the Senior Bowl against top-flight competition.
"It didn't raise my confidence a lot," Miller said. "Going into it, I had my own confidence. Confidence wasn't the issue. It was just going out there and doing what I had to do."
Keim said that type of attitude is important for small-school rookies as they transition to the NFL.
"When you get to know them as people, you want them to exude some type of passion, and more than anything, a confidence in themselves," Keim said.
A SPECIAL TEAMS FOCUS
The coverage units had some issues last season, and the front office was intent on addressing that problem in the draft. All three defensive backs drafted – Williams, Christian and Miller – could excel in on special teams.
"I think that's one of the major factors for all of them," Arians said. "They're all very good at it. They have box and space, they can play both on special teams. And speed. That's the beauty of all of them, they have speed."
Arians said Miller will compete for the punt returner spot, although wide receiver J.J. Nelson is the favorite at this juncture. The Cardinals also need a long snapper and could look at some of the undrafted free agents after the draft to compete for the spot.
Images of the players the Cardinals chose on the third day of the NFL draft