It’s a wondrous thing, that draft board the Arizona Cardinals set up for Saturday. Searching as always for the best player available, the Cardinals just happened to end up with Miami cornerback Antrel Rolle with their first-round pick, California running back J.J. Arrington with their second-round pick and Virginia Tech cornerback Eric Green with the first of two third-round picks.
Players, by the way, that just happened to fit the team’s two greatest needs.
Coincidence? Perhaps. But there was no arguing with the selections, which propelled the Cards to what looks like a second straight successful draft, and there was no arguing with coach Dennis Green that the Cards would always be looking at the "best player available."
"Next year, we’re going to be picking in the 20s," coach Dennis Green said with a smile, referencing the idea the Cardinals will be a playoff team. "So it’ll be a little bit different strategy. But this is the strategy to build a program."
The Cardinals also got Virginia linebacker Darryl Blackstock with their second thirdround pick of the day, another need area after the team cut linebackers Raynoch Thompson and LeVar Woods earlier this month.
Whether the Cards stacked their board toward their need positions or not, judging by pre-draft evaluations, their draft list will get good grades from those who do such things. Third-round picks Green and Blackstock sneaked into the bottom parts of some mock drafts, and both sat on the top of ESPN draft guru Mel Kiper’s best remaining players when each was picked.
Arrington might have been the only stretch, but he was clearly the best running back available after the "big three" of Ronnie Brown, Cedric Benson and Carnell Williams were all chosen in the first five picks.
Besides, Coach Green had been raving about Arrington since the scouting combine and he was clearly a Cards target for weeks.
"If he were obviously a bigger back, he would have gotten consideration at a much higher level," vice president of football operations Rod Graves said. "It’s a great value pick for us."
The Cardinals would have liked to pick up a back in the first round, but with cornerback another nagging opening, Arizona found its top two choices — Rolle and Auburn’s Carlos Rogers — both available. Rolle was the choice, a dynamic, physical cover guy who can also return punts.
"I know I bring the whole package to the table," Rolle said.
Perhaps the only knock against Rolle has been a lack of blazing speed. But defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast, who suddenly has a young, energetic and speedy defense to work with, has no worries about Rolle.
"The definition of football player covers up a lot of that," Pendergast said. "I didn’t see anybody run away from him on film. If you dissect a player enough, people will always find something wrong with them. We look for guys who just play football."
That’s how the Cardinals went through the draft as well. There are still some holes that the team would like to fill, like tight end, guard and perhaps a speed receiver.
But Green and Graves made no promises about the draft’s second half today. It’s working well enough this way, taking the guy at the top of the board.
Like last season, "we didn’t move, we didn’t jump, we didn’t panic," Green said about the first four picks.
Instead, the Cards let the draft come to them. And for a second straight year, it worked.