Quarterbacks Sam Darnold (left) and Josh Rosen are projected to be top choices in the NFL draft.
There was plenty to like about the way the Cardinals finished the 2017 season.
By capturing three of its final four games, the team scratched out a .500 record despite myriad injuries, and the Week 17 upset of the Seahawks allowed coach Bruce Arians to retire as the winningest coach in franchise history.
It wasn't great news, though, for the draft order, as the strong finish moved the team down to the No. 15 pick in the first round.
There is a great deal of debate about which of the top four quarterbacks – Sam Darnold, Josh Rosen, Josh Allen or Baker Mayfield – deserves to be taken first, but most analysts believe both Darnold and Rosen will be gobbled up before the Cardinals' selection.
In five years at the helm, General Manager Steve Keim has not moved up in the draft to select a quarterback, but without one currently on the roster, it seems like a more legitimate idea this April than ever before. Keim did make an aggressive play for safety Budda Baker last year, dealing a pair of fourth-round picks to the Bears to move up nine spots in the second round.
"Budda was a guy we had huge grades on, and as the numbers started to fall and I started to look at the board, it certainly made sense, in my opinion, to give up a fourth-round pick at the time to go up and get him," Keim said. "Also knowing there was potential in the third round to drop back and get another fourth-round pick (in return). It all made sense for me, and at the end of the day, we all know that Budda is certainly a budding star, in my opinion."
The price to move up is much higher in the first round, but it may be the only option if Darnold or Rosen piques the interest of the Cardinals' brass. Rosen started for three seasons at UCLA, finishing with 9,340 yards passing, 59 touchdowns and 26 interceptions In 30 games.
He has drawn positive reviews for his mechanics and football IQ, possessing the tools needed to become a successful NFL quarterback. Rosen is an independent thinker, which some teams may appreciate but may make others pull back.
When he spoke to the media at the NFL Scouting combine on Friday, Rosen said it was important for him to broadcast his true personality to each team.
"I'm trying to show who I really am, not who I'm trying to be," Rosen said. "I want them to draft me. I don't want them to draft someone they think they're getting and then not get that guy. I think that's also what your teammates want. Your teammates don't want a fake shell of yourself. Your teammates want you to be you every single day so that you're that reliable rock that they can count on."
Darnold started the past two seasons at USC, throwing for 7,229 yards with 57 touchdowns. He has prototypical size and arm strength for the position, but turned the ball over 22 times in 2017. He had 13 interceptions and lost nine fumbles.
"The number one priority of a quarterback is to protect the football," Darnold said. "I'm aware of that, and I'm aware how much I turn the ball over and that it's not OK. I've been addressing it this offseason. I've been working on keeping two hands (on the ball) in the pocket at all times. The only time I let go of the ball is to throw it."
Since Rosen and Darnold are expected to be top picks, there was a lot of conversation at the combine about their ability to turn a franchise around. But the worst teams aren't the only options, as evidenced by 2016 playoff participants Kansas City and Houston moving up to nab Patrick Mahomes and Deshaun Watson in last year's first round.
While Darnold and Rosen could both be in play for the No. 1 overall pick in the draft, they each professed a desire to land with a team that is the right fit.
"I really want to prove to people that I'm capable of leading a franchise, but it doesn't necessarily have to be the No. 1 team to select me," Darnold said. "It could be any team. Throughout the interview process I'm just going to continue to be myself, and if a team happens to fall in love with me and they take me at No. 1, or they take me wherever in the draft, I'd be happy to go anywhere."
Images of some of the more notable quarterbacks scheduled to hit free agency