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Cardinals fill three key spots with first three draft picks

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The Cardinals took wide receiver Andre Roberts in the third round Friday.
 
 
Cardinals' defensive coordinator Bill Davis was considering where the Cardinals were back in early March, the day Anquan Boldin was traded and Karlos Dansby and Antrel Rolle left as free agents.

"We knew it was a possibility," Davis said. "And we had a plan.

"It felt like we were prepared and never panicked in all situations."

Methodically, the Cardinals have climbed out of that hole, to the point that, through two days of the three-day NFL draft, the team is feeling comfortable.

Piecing together some help through free agency, the Cardinals then went after what they saw as needs with their first three draft picks – feeling excited (if not giddy) about each one. It's easy to feel secure on draft day, when every player still has the potential for success, but there is little question of the team's confidence.

After watching nose tackle Dan Williams fall to them in the first round, the Cards traded up in the second round to get inside linebacker Daryl Washington to replace the aforementioned Dansby. In the third round, seeking both a punt returner to relieve Steve Breaston of that burden and a slot receiver to aid in the departure of Boldin, the Cards took Citadel wide receiver Andre Roberts.

"The question becomes, 'How do you address those (losses) as a team?' " coach Ken Whisenhunt said. "The way we have been able to address it in free agency and the draft so far certainly gives you a lot of comfort."

The addition of Washington was the key to the day. The Cards didn't blink in having to surrender a third-round pick in order to trade up for him; Whisenhunt acknowledged Friday evening that multiple teams had called since the pick to say they would have taken Washington before the Cards would have had a chance at their original spot.

(Davis even said the Cards figured they'd lose out on Penn State linebacker Sean Lee, another player they were looking at, and Lee went four picks in front of the Cards' original second-round slot).

In theory, both Washington and Williams can make a relatively immediate impact, although the Cards' coaching staff famously brings along rookies slowly.

"If we're right they become starting NFL players at some point," Davis said. "They come in, we evaluate them, we see how they interact, how quick they pick things up, how big-eyed they are … You can interview kids a 1,000 times but that doesn't tell you if, when the big-boy lights come on, they are going to get spooked."

Roberts jumped on the radar of the NFL and the Cardinals with his work at the Senior Bowl and the scouting combine. He had 77 catches for 792 yards and eight touchdowns as a senior and averaged 15.5 yards a punt return. As a junior, he had 95 catches for 1,334 and 14 touchdowns, and averaged 19.2 yards a punt return with three touchdowns.

Whisenhunt said he was "leery" about using Breaston as a punt returner last season when Boldin was hurt, and wants to move Breaston out as he plays more as the No. 2 receiver.

"It's going to be hard because Steve isn't going to want to give that up," Whisenhunt said. "Whether Andre can compare to (Breaston), until we get him here and see what he does with a different football, that remains to be seen. But the fact he had production, that does excite us."
 
"We (also) felt having traded Anquan we needed another guy to go inside as a compliment to Early and he has that knack."

The Cardinals have three picks left – one each in the fourth, sixth and seventh rounds. Whisenhunt acknowledged the Cards would like to come out of it with a defensive back and offensive lineman, but knows it may not work out that way.

"We'll see how the board shapes up," general manager Rod Graves said.

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