Steve Keim wore a bold blue blazer and a smile to match at his pre-draft press conference last week.
The Cardinals have the No. 1 overall pick on Thursday, and the NFL world remains abuzz with speculation. But if the team’s general manager is sweating the gravity of the choice, he didn’t let on.
“In all the years that I’ve been doing this,” Keim said, “I’ve always gotten excited about those kinds of players and the big grades you slap on them, just never had the chance to get to them. For the first time, now you’re sitting in that spot.”
In a normal year, there would be the natural intrigue that surrounds the No. 1 pick, but nothing over the top. After taking quarterback Josh Rosen No. 10 overall in 2018, the focus would have been squarely on Ohio State edge rusher Nick Bosa, Alabama defensive tackle Quinnen Williams or trade possibilities.
But this entire process has been clouded by the presence of Kyler Murray, the Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback who passed up a lucrative baseball contract to play professional football.
In October, new Cardinals coach Kliff Kingsbury – then at Texas Tech -- made a seemingly innocuous comment about taking Murray “with the first pick of the draft if I could.”
A series of unanticipated events – Kingsbury’s hire, Murray choosing football, the Cardinals ending up with the No. 1 pick – made the hypothetical a realistic option, which has sent the national media into a frenzy.
It has put Keim on center stage, and even with a 52-43-1 overall record and two playoff appearances in six years as GM, it doesn’t feel hyperbolic to say this choice could define his legacy.
If the Cardinals bypass Murray and he becomes a superstar, the move will be panned. If Keim drafts Murray and Rosen goes on to become a star elsewhere, there could be similar second-guessing. If Keim nails the decision, he will be lauded as a brilliant football mind.
Keim is a talent evaluator at heart, and despite all the scrutiny, will lean on his scouting expertise to make the decision.
“The preparation is no different,” Keim said. “The great news for us is that you don’t have to sit and procrastinate of whether that player is going to be there or not. It opens up a lot of different doors for you.”
Kingsbury’s connection to Murray has made him a major player in this situation, but as an NFL newbie, he is still learning the draft evaluation process. Over the past few months, he has enjoyed seeing Keim and the scouting department debate the merits of hundreds of prospects.
“Just the scope of the information that’s been gathered, and just how meticulous they’ve pored through it as a department, it’s been fun to watch,” Kingsbury said. “I’ve never seen it from behind the curtain.”
The synergy between Kingsbury and Keim is apparent.
“I trust him,” Kingsbury said.
Keim is excited to choose from a bevy of players that any evaluator would be drooling to add to his or her roster. He sees a lot of game-changers in the group.
“I wish I had about six more (top picks),” Keim said.
That would make the job easier, but, alas, the Cardinals have but one chance to get this right. While a verdict on the decision won’t come for years, the wheels will be put into motion on Thursday evening, when all of the preparation morphs into a concrete decision.
“It’s an inexact science, so it’s a tough business,” Keim said. “If anybody says they’re 100 percent, that’s certainly not the case. We have to do what’s best for this organization. I say that over and over. What’s going to make the biggest impact on this organization moving forward, and give us a chance for sustainable success?”