Pressure Of Picking No. 1 Can't Be Factor For Cardinals

General Manager Steve Keim holds the key to April's draft since the Cardinals are picking first overall.
General Manager Steve Keim holds the key to April's draft since the Cardinals are picking first overall.

INDIANAPOLIS – No team can keep the Cardinals from picking the player they want most in April’s NFL draft.

That can be a liberating feeling, holding the No. 1 overall selection. But it also can build the pressure – a team, coming off a poor season, knowing it can’t afford to miss.

As the Scouting combine gets underway this week in Indiana, the Cardinals and General Manager Steve Keim are already deep into the scouting process. Figuring out which player makes the most sense as the top pick is a big goal.

“There’s no doubt there is more attention, and obviously when you hold the No. 1 pick, you’re talking about being discussed in the national media every day,” Keim said. “It’s not just viewed by your local media. It’s everybody. And when you’ve drafted a (first-round) quarterback the year before, you’re in a unique situation, because generally the team picking first is a quarterback-needy team.

“The pressure, it’s what you put upon yourself, and that’s no different than every year.”

The quarterback question, one that was seemingly put to rest last year when the Cardinals took Josh Rosen 10th overall, hasn’t faded – not because of Ohio State’s Dwayne Haskins, who some think is the best quarterback available, but because of Kyler Murray, the Heisman-winning one-year starter who has already become this year’s draft darling/wild card.

Inevitably, Murray will be one of the subjects brought up to Keim and coach Kliff Kingsbury when they hold their combine press conferences Wednesday morning in Indianapolis.

The speculation won’t stop, although that probably benefits the Cardinals, at least for now. Trading away the top pick is always a possibility in a year in which there is no obvious No. 1, and the Cardinals want to keep options open.

That’ll change as players go through the combine and pro days, as the Cardinals get through free agency and begin their final stretch of draft meetings to cull their to-do list on draft weekend.

“We are in the unique situation of having the No. 1 pick, but again, me personally, I’m not putting any more added pressure on myself to do anything differently than years past, whether we had the 15th pick or 29th pick,” scout Adrian Wilson said. “You just have to keep doing your due diligence in terms of gathering the information and bringing the information to the table for Steve and (director of college scouting) Dru (Grigson) and (vice president of player personnel) Terry (McDonough).”

As ideal as picking first might be, it’s no guarantee. There were still a handful of what could be called misses over the last 30 No. 1 overall picks, either because of injuries or play or both. Greatness is usually expected from a pick so high – and that’s a much higher bar to reach.

The Cardinals don’t figure to take a quarterback. Do they go defense or offense? Even at the top of the candidates list right now, there are debates of whether the better pass rusher is Nick Bosa or Josh Allen, or how consistently dominant defensive tackle Quinnen Williams can be. Maybe another player finds his way into the conversation once April nears.

Whoever it is, the spotlight will be intense. Both on the player, and the team that chooses him.

“The bottom line, to get in this business, you have to be able to take the criticism,” Keim said. “It comes with the territory. I don’t think it’s unfair. We get paid good money, and this is the dream job for almost anybody who is in it. With this opportunity comes pressure, some criticism. Those first three years of your career we had quite a bit of success, so as you look at your career, you never get as high as the highs and you never think you are as good as people might be patting you on the back about, and whenever you are at the bottom you don’t think you’re that bad.

“At the end of the day you have to have supreme confidence in yourself you have the ability to get the job done.”

Images of the Cardinals at the NFL Scouting combine in past years

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