Cards Steal the Show with Tennessee Williams

I’ m not sure everyone will get the playwright reference in the title, but in any event there’s no time to bask in the glory of the absolute robbery the Cardinals pulled last night.  Rounds two and three steamroll our way tonight starting at 6:00 p.m. ET.  Apparently I need to put up a story because my Dad asked me at 9:00 a.m. this morning, “Who are the Cardinals going to take in the second round?”  Well, I don’t know, but we can take a look.

Ok, maybe a little basking first.   The Cardinals are absolutely thrilled with the selection; for good reason.  It’s the second year in a row that Arizona has, for lack of a better phrase, lucked up.  Whisenhunt and Graves had Williams at number eleven on their board so when he fell to the 26th pick they were proof positive on their selection.  Whisenhunt reflected on the first round experience this year:

The idea of Dan Williams being available at our pick was not something we realistically thought was going to happen

Whenever you see a player like that, someone that’s hard to find, when he was six, seven, eight picks away from us, you let your mind start to think ‘We’re going to have a chance to get this player,’ and then you start to worry.”

Whisenhunt certainly doesn’t have to worry about whether they got value for their late first round pick; they got it in spades.  In all the excitement, however, Whisenhunt stressed that Williams, like all rookies on his team, have to earn their playing time; think about Tim Hightower, Beanie Wells and Steve Breaston.  Despite these words of caution, Williams should be given every opportunity to make an immediate impact if the new Cardinal continues his high motor, attitude driven style of play.  There’s no doubt he’ll battle with Gabe Watson (the current starting nose tackle) during camp this summer.

Nose tackle wasa huge need for the Cardinals, especially in a 3-4 defense.  It’s so difficult to be successful in that scheme if you’re being brutalized up front in the middle because you’re options for your inside linebackers and strong safety become limited.  Instead of freeing your linebackers and strong safety to be playmakers/blitzers etc., they have to stay home and guard against clock eating, morale crushing smash mouth runs.  Williams is a dream come true for the Cardinals because they will finally have a big space eater and vicious run stopper.  Adrian Wilson won’t be making 8-10 tackles a game and Gerald Hayes won’t be eating offensive guards left and right.  Williams, therefore, can make a huge impact on the entire defense; his position is that important. 

Williams had an absolute star studed senior year during which he compiled 70 tackles as an interior lineman in the SEC; think about that; 70 tackles down in the trenches.  It’s not realistic to think he’ll hit that mark right away at the pro level, but it bolsters Williams’ reputation as a big time anchor in the interior line.  Let’s move on to the second round material before I get carried away and crown a rookie that hasn’t played a down as an All Pro nose tackle.

Let’s take a look at what the Cardinals still need.  Inside linebacker is now number one on the list.  After that, wide receiver, quarterback, and offensive line (in no particular order) appear to be the other target areas.  From this point forward, look for the Cardinals to take the best player available because they did fill a major need in the first round with Williams.  Make no mistake, the Cards will definitely come out of this draft with a linebacker, but in which round is less important than getting a high quality talent with each pick. 

Having said that, ILB Sean Lee (6-2, 236 lbs.) of Penn State could still be around at the Cards’ 58th pick, which would be great because it would be a high quality player that fills another huge need.  Who doesn’t love a linebacker from Penn State and Lee is exactly what you’d expect out of a Nittany Lion.  He’s the number two ranked ILB behind Rolando McClain.  In addition, Lee had a very impressive Pro Day where he ran 4.60 and 4.64 in the 40, had a 4.16 short shuttle, and a 6.89 three-cone drill.  Further, Lee is an extremely intelligent football player who’s work ethic and leadership skills are beyond question.  He’s fundamentally sound and is blue collar player who just gets the job done.  He did, however, tear his ACL in 2008, but has since recovered.  In 2009, Lee finished 3rd on the team with 86 total tackles, 11 tackles for loss, and 2 sacks.  He would be a fantastic pick up for the Cards.  Here’s the CBSsports.com full scouting report:

Read & React: Excellent football intelligence. Rarely blows an assignment. Reads his keys almost instantly and runs to the ball with no wasted motion. Shows controlled aggression against play-action. Quickly diagnoses screens and misdirection.

Run defense: Time away from the field allowed him to increase his upper- body strength. Relies on quick hands and feet to disengage from blocks, and is not afraid of taking on linemen in the hole. Still struggles to release when effectively tied up. Flows through the traffic efficiently. Good lateral agility and balance to protect his legs. Good straight-line speed in pursuit, especially for the inside linebacker position. High effort player who takes good angles in pursuit. Has the speed to meet ballcarriers on the edge at the college level but will not get to the outside against most NFL backs.

Pass defense: Understands routes and has enough straight-line speed to stay with most running backs and tight ends. High backpedal, but has improved his drop to get deep enough to prevent first downs. Can change direction when running downhill smoothly, but doesn’t flip his hips quickly. Very good key-and-diagnose skills and a good burst to close, but is clearly more comfortable moving forward to the line of scrimmage than in reverse. Has trouble recovering in the few instances in which he bites on play action.

Tackling: One of Lee’s greatest assets. Fundamentally sound wrap-up tackler who could provide the animated examples for hit-lift-drive. Plays on the balls of his feet and has the body control to break down in space and tackle smaller, shiftier ballcarriers. Long arms and accurate hands to trip up the ballcarrier. Could develop more explosiveness as a hitter. Reliable open-field tackler, but not an intimidator.

Pass Rush/Blitz: Often asked to blitz in this scheme as a stand-up rusher. Good initial burst from the outside to get past the tackle. Needs to improve his explosiveness to quickly disengage from blockers. Shows some lower-body strength and use of leverage for the bull rush, but could improve in this area. Only marginal use of pass-rush technique — relies on his good lateral agility and straight-line speed to elude. Good closing speed on the quarterback and has the body control to re-direct. Times his blitzes effectively with the snap count.

Intangibles: Unquestioned leader of the defense despite missing the 2008 season with a torn ACL in his right knee. Traveled with the team as a coach on the sideline and during practice. Held out of spring practices and returned this fall after nearly 15 months away from football. Blue-collar work ethic.”

If the Cards miss on Lee in Round 2, Brandon Spikes (6-3, 241 lbs.) from Florida is a Round 3 option at ILB; remember the Cardinals have two Round 3 picks (88th and 89th) via the Boldin trade.  According to NFL.com Spikes is “a big, strong physical defender that missed some time in 2009 after being suspended for a game due to an on the field incident early in the season.  Spikes is best attacking the line of scrimmage and is a solid tackler in the open field.  He uses his hands well to ward off blockers and leverage the ball and understands angles and run fits in the Gators defense.  He is an instinctive player that is best versus the run but appears to have limitations in coverage.  Spikes is quicker than fast and reacts quickly as plays develop but will need lots of technique work (especially defending the pass) at the next level.  Spikes has excellent blood lines and is a good football player that brings attitude and leadership to the linebacker position.”

In terms of quarterbacks, there are a couple of big names left on the board, specifically Jimmy Clausen (Notre Dame) and Colt McCoy (Texas).  Clausen would be a no-brainer at the 58th pick, with McCoy not far behind in that regard.  There are at least four teams, however, that could scoop up both.  Cleveland (38th pick), Oakland (39th), Buffalo (41st), and the 49ers (49th ironically enough) all pick before the Cardinals in the second round.  It’s difficult to imagine McCoy and extremely difficult to imagine Clausen slipping past that cluster.  But, if only one of the Browns, Raiders, and Bills select a QB (presumably Clausen) and the 49ers don’t bite on McCoy, there isn’t another team that needs a QB until the Cards.  In that scenario, the Cards would almost cetainly grab McCoy, which would be a great value.  If both of those quarterbacks are gone, which again is most likely, the Cardinals will probably not pick a signal caller with the 58th selection; linebacker is much closer to the mark.  It’s  likely they would use one of their 3rd round picks to grab someone like Tony Pike (6-6, 223 lbs., Cincinnati) or  Dan LeFevour (6-3, 230 lbs.) of Central Michigan.  Dizzy yet?

Let’s wrap things up quickly with a look at WR and OL.  In terms of WR, Arrelious Benn (6-1, 219 lbs., Illinois), Dexter McCluster (5-9, 172 lbs., Mississippi), Damian Williams (6-1, 197 lbs., Southern California), and Eric Decker (6-3, 217 lbs., Minnesota) may all be in play at the 58th pick.  They are listed in order of their prospect rankings.  I don’t see the Cardinals picking a WR in the second round unless Sean Lee, Colt McCoy, and Jimmy Clausen are all gone.  The Cards are looking for a 4th receiver and it’s doubtful they would blow their 2nd Round selection on a player that will be 4th on the depth chart at any position other than quarterback.

Finally, there’s the ever important offensive line.  Like WR, I think the Cardinals go after OL in the third or even fourth round.  There’s too much LB talent floating around to focus on an offensive line that’s pretty well set in terms of depth.  In any event, if Vladimir Ducasse (6-5, 332 lbs., Massachusetts) is still around the Cards may pull the trigger.  Ducasse is reported to be a reliable pass protector and an agile run blocker that is able to fire out quickly and get up into the second level and beyond if necessary.  Scouts report, however, that he needs a considerable amount of work before he can be successful at the NFL level.  In addition, the Cardinals already have a couple of works-in-progress on the OL in Brandon Keith and Herman Johnson.  If the Cards, however, are going to take an offensive player in Round 2 that isn’t a quarterback, OT is definitely the way to go.

In conclusion, ILB Sean Lee or QBs Jimmy Clausen or McCoy at the 58th pick would be outstanding.  Lee would fill the biggest need, but McCoy or Clausen would be tremendous value picks in terms of talent in the second round.  If the Cardinals miss on all three, which is possible, QB gets pushed into the 3rd round and the team will probably go with the most talented player available at the 58th pick.  There’s really no telling who that might be, but we’ll find out soon enough.  Alright I can’t resist:

58th pick: ILB Sean Lee, Penn St.

88th pick: QB Tony Pike, Cincinnati

89th pick: WR Eric Decker, Minnesota


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