The results are in - the Cardinals won the draft!
Steve Keim’s feeding the hype machine:
Here’s where I get uncomfortable. As much as I think I like the Cardinals’ draft haul, and as much love as local and national media are giving Arizona in late April, a lot of Bernie Madoff’s investors had a lot of good feelings before they tried to get their investments back in cash.
I’ve always liked the underpromise, overdeliver mantra, because expectations lead to resentments.
The Cardinals are dangerously reminiscent of the 2019 Browns. Brand new stud wide receiver via trade, promising quarterback expected to “make the jump” into his sophomore season, and a division full of blue-blood organizations with well-defined brands who simply won’t go away.
The Browns finished third in the AFC North, riddled by unmet expectations.
I imagine the Cardinals with a different fate, at least when it comes to scrutiny. Baker Mayfield is Johnny Manziel lite. Odell Beckham Junior is the only NFL player outside of Tom Brady who transcends national borders. Even the Browns’ old GM, John Dorsey, became famous for his sweater-and-gum-chewing combination.
Kyler Murray is reticent to be cocky, unless it’s at midfield after a victory. DeAndre Hopkins is one of the most under-the-radar pass-catchers in football. Larry Fitzgerald personifies poise. Kliff Kingsbury, for all the talk of his looks, may be the most humble of them all.
Yet, there remains a likely scenario that the 2020 Cardinals will share a similar end-result to the 2019 Browns. Third-place in the division, yearning for the identity teams like the 49ers and Seahawks are able to maintain.
San Francisco added to their defensive line in the first round - something they’ve done five out of the last six years. The only year they didn’t, in 2018, they drafted an offensive lineman, Mike McGlinchey. Then, they traded into the bottom of the first round to draft ASU’s Brandon Aiyuk at pick 25. Those of us that’ve watched Aiyuk know he’ll fit like a glove with 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan, who seems to elevate every skill position player he coaches. They’re still the dominant power in the NFC West.
The Seahawks, meanwhile, went with linebacker Jordyn Brooks at the bottom of the first round, who possesses the type of speed Seattle has coveted since the days of the Legion of Boom. It might not be obvious on the field, but the Seahawks having been intentional in getting back to those days. Since 2015, they’ve spent four of their six top picks on defense players. That is, after all, their brand.
Do the Cardinals have a brand?
I love Isaiah Simmons. I spent the night he was picked watching an hour-and-a-half of his YouTube tape - giddy. When my girlfriend asked why, I knew it would sound silly, but he’s the first defensive player I’ve seen in the last ten years that feels revolutionary. For two decades offenses have been evolving, creating new types of weapons, and capturing fan interest. There’s a reason we’re hiring “offensive innovators” more, and “defensive implementors” less. Where’s the defensive modernization? I think it lies in the hands and feet of Isaiah Simmons. He runs faster than DeAndre Hopkins and Tyrann Mathieu, he has the athleticism to legitimately play nickel cornerback, and he has the football IQ to put his ability to use almost anywhere on the field. But, I can’t help but feel like the Cardinals added just another talented player, rather than a piece to a puzzle that will soon make sense.
Nick Bosa was a final puzzle piece to defensive line dominance for the 49ers. D.K. Metcalf makes total sense for Seattle. He epitomizes what the Seahawks value. Height, weight, speed. What do the Cardinals value? Good players, surely, but so does everyone in the National Football League. Any chef will tell you - you can have the world’s best ingredients, but without a recipe, that’s all they are. Ingredients.
If Keim is the head chef in this scenario, he better hope Vance Joseph can execute his vision.
For now, Cardinals fans and brass can enjoy the spoils of their “victory”. They should: Positives are at a premium during this pandemic. When the season starts - if it starts (please lord) - they’ll be faced with their biggest challenge yet. Between Murray, Drake, Hopkins, Humphries, Peterson, Baker and Simmons, the players are here. Between Kingsbury and Joseph, can the players complete the puzzle?