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Cardinals Ready At 20

With the "120" board built, first-round pick is now a waiting game


General Manager Steve Keim (center) in the draft room with coach Bruce Arians (cap) and fellow front-office personnel and scouts preparing for today's draft.

Twenty makes it a little harder.

Twenty means waiting, means a lot of players are off the board. Twenty means the variables increase, especially in a deep draft such as this one. Picking 20th, in recent years, means guard Kyle Long, wide receiver Kendall Wright, defensive end Adrian Clayborn, cornerback Kareem Jackson and tight end Brandon Pettigrew.

When the Cardinals pick 20th Thursday in the first round of the NFL draft – assuming a trade doesn't change things – it'll be the longest first-round wait for the team since the 2010 draft, when it took nose tackle Dan Williams with the 26th pick.

Regardless, General Manager Steve Keim is willing to wait. Picking 20th means the Cards are coming off a 10-win season. And the Cardinals are in a position, with no glaring holes, to stick to the oft discussed "best player available."

"If you ultimately trust your board, you have the ability to stay patient and stay true to your board and let it fall to you," Keim said. "A lot of times, when you don't panic, players will fall to you that you don't anticipate will fall. We certainly earmark guys we would love to be there, but every draft there are so many things that happen that shock and surprise you, you can never really get a grip on who is really going to be there, especially when you are picking later.

"I know there are 20 players on the board we would love to have. So I am convinced at 20 we will get a good player. I have

counted to 52 (where the Cards pick in the second round) and I am convinced we will get a good player at 52. And I know we will make good decisions throughout the draft to find guys who will fit what we do."

The options at 20 could be numerous, left as much to what the teams do in front of the Cardinals as what the Cardinals would like themselves. In the end, the choice could be a safety like Ha-Ha Clinton-Dix, or a pass rusher like Anthony Barr or a do-everything linebacker like Ryan Shazier. Maybe it's a quarterback like Blake Bortles whom coach Bruce Arians can mold for the future.

It could also be a trade back, generating an extra pick for a team that only has six selections right now and a number Keim would like to increase if it makes sense. Keim's desire every year is to emerge from the draft with at least three players who make an impact and/or become starters. In his first draft at the helm, Keim got running back Andre Ellington and safety Tyrann Mathieu who qualify, and the Cards are convinced injured first-round guard Jonathan Cooper will as well.

Keim wouldn't completely rule out trading up either, although it would take something incredibly special to make that happen in a year where the Cards don't have a ton of draft capital.

Most likely, the Cardinals will be sitting with the 20th pick, checking out their “120” board and making a selection upon which at least some of the Cards' future is supposed to be anchored. Arians believes the first-round pick – and second-rounder, for that matter – need to make an impact at some point. Even with the preparation, that's no guarantee.

"If you look at the percentages of hits and misses, they can really understand that it's an inexact science," Keim said. "It's an inexact science because it's hard to judge the heart and the mind. We can all see the physical tools on tape with their size, their athleticism, their movement skills. But you can't always judge how much they want it."

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