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First Things First For First-Round Picks Like Haason Reddick

Linebacker Haason Reddick diagnoses a play against the 49ers last weekend.
Linebacker Haason Reddick diagnoses a play against the 49ers last weekend.

Sometimes, Haason Reddick acknowledges, he can feel the weight of expectations from being a first-round draft pick.

The linebacker, once a defensive end in college, sees “a lot of stuff I didn’t know would come with this, especially with me learning a new position.” But he also makes it clear he never wishes he had been anything less.

“I take my blessing seriously,” Reddick said. “I’d never think, ‘I wish I wasn’t.’ That’d be like spitting in God’s face.”

Reddick is coming off his best overall game as a Cardinal, especially with the new defense of coach Steve Wilks and coordinator Al Holcomb. His crucial strip-sack Sunday in San Francisco led to the game-winning points, and he played every single one of the 98 defensive snaps available. There were also mistakes that need to be fixed.

How his season plays out will be in the spotlight – because he was drafted in the first round. It’s the same reason fellow linebacker Deone Bucannon, who played only four defensive snaps against the 49ers after playing a lot the week before against Seattle, has drawn so much attention (and now, some trade rumors.)

It’s why defensive tackle Robert Nkemdiche still is monitored so closely, why so many wondered about tackle D.J. Humphries sitting out his rookie season in 2015 and why it’s so important for the Cardinals to be right about quarterback Josh Rosen.

“There are times when you draft guys in the third, fourth or fifth round and they don’t have success until their third or fourth year and people are already down on them,” General Manager Steve Keim said. “It only magnifies when you are a first-round pick. It comes with a lot of expectations and it certainly has to be a stressful deal, but at the same time, it would be everyone’s goal to be a first-round pick to have those kind of accolades. You’ve got to live up to expectations, but that goes for all of us.”

Coach Steve Wilks has said multiple times that the best players will be on the field, the concept most coaches preach. More importantly, Wilks said everyone gets enough opportunities to show they are worth playing time.

“If you’re a first-round draft pick, we expect you to play to those standards,” Wilks said.

Humphries believes he was strong enough mentally to make it through a disappointing rookie year in which he never was active for a game, but “some guys don’t make it out of that stuff.”

“You’re definitely under a bigger microscope when you’re that first-round guy,” Humphries said. “It’s, ‘We’ve invested a lot in you so we’re expecting a lot out of you.’ That’s what is really going on. Being a first-round guy, you just have to understand that and the highs and lows that come with that.”

The Cardinals have a handful of first-round picks in the locker room, including seven of the team’s own: Bucannon, Humphries, Nkemdiche, Reddick, Rosen, Larry Fitzgerald and Patrick Peterson. Chandler Jones, Justin Pugh, Mike Iupati, Andre Smith, Sam Bradford, Jermaine Gresham and Kendall Wright were first-round picks for other franchises.

Keim’s original first-round pick, guard Jonathan Cooper, was dealt away in the Jones trade. Nkemdiche seems to have benefitted from the change in coaches and subsequent system, Bucannon not so much. Humphries is still trying to solidify his place as an upper-echelon starter.

“When I came in, I knew I wanted to be a first-round draft pick but I wanted to live up to that standard,” Peterson said. “I wanted to do everything possible so that I didn’t sell myself short and be successful. … Even when I was in college, my whole mentality was, ‘They’re always looking to replace me.’ I don’t want that to happen. I want to go out on my terms.”

That’s what Reddick wants.

The patience that sometimes would be ideal – for instance, a guy like Reddick who was mainly a rush defensive end in college before transitioning to linebacker – sometimes just isn’t available. Reddick understands the timeline he must work within and is anxious to be productive.

“This is the elite of the elite and they expect you to be elite,” Reddick said. “It’s a lot of ups and downs … if you are someone who wants to be great, and I want to be great, and you feel like you’re not playing to your best ability or you do something wrong, it kind of gets to you.

“I’m just going to take what comes with it and try to be the best I can be.”

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