Reviewing the 2023 Cardinal Draft

Harry

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I figured since someone posted one of these I’d better roll this out. We don’t have very much data on Ossenfort. However, it seems worthwhile to look at his personnel moves in 2023 to see if we can gain any insight into 2024. First here’s what I see from the draft.

Paris Johnson started every game at RT. He showed excellent strength and agility. About halfway through the season he clearly hit a wall. To his credit he got a second wind and finished strong. I am absolutely certain the Cards are very pleased with him, but I’m not sure that extends to moving him to LT. He has proved to be a solid choice. Sure there’s room for improvement, but this guy is a certain part of the new foundation.

BJ Ojulari came to camp with an injury. I can’t overly stress how much that sets back the development of a rookie. It’s the best time to work on technique and to develop an in-depth understanding of the defensive schemes. It also is a great time to work on body shaping and peak conditioning. Nonetheless he showed flashes of being able to pressure the passer. It’s impossible to estimate how much his conditioning was set back. He too seemed to hit a wall. So it’s not surprising his performance was uneven. That said he should at least be a situational contributor. Based on his brother’s development, he could still become an impact player. It will take another season to assess what the Cards have.

The third round choices are perhaps the most interesting. The selection of another injured player, Garrett Williams, tells us one of two things. Either Ossenfort looks to the long term value or he knew 2023 was lost and was thinking 2024 value. In either case this was a strong pick. Good CBs are hard to find. Williams looks like a keeper. It’s complicated to see how good he was because he was mostly on the field with a terrible CB, Wilson or Thomas, who were so weak opponents focused their attack on them. Still Williams never fell into that category and was at least good enough, opponents avoided him for the most part. He should start regularly in 2024 and if surrounded by a better cast, he will be easier to evaluate. I am confident he can play in the NFL.

The second third round pick was the mystery of the year, Michael Wilson. I panned him when drafted due to a extensive injury history, then post some other analysts wrote me saying I might be wrong. So, I posted that. He flashed a little after a couple of games. Then disappeared. Then he was injured. He returned to the field and some said perhaps that lack of impact was injury related. I cannot believe the Cards would risk him on the field if he weren’t completely sound physically. So how does a useful player simply disappear? He struggled to get even minimal separation. I thought he was done. When he missed an audible in Philly that resulted in a pick 6, I slammed him. Then suddenly everything changed. My experience tells me he didn’t have an epiphany. Someone said something on the sideline, maybe to Murray as well. Uncharacteristically Murray made a pointed effort to focus on him with the passing game. All of a sudden Wilson came alive. He got aggressive and succeeded. We saw more of this against Seattle. If he can sustain this level of play, he will be an asset. The issue is can he be counted on? I keep him, but relying on him is a mistake if they want to contend for the playoffs. I think the Cards need to acquire 3 useful WRs and anything you get from Wilson is a plus. If he beats one of them out, all the better. Overall it was a gamble that might still work out.

Jon Gaines was the fourth pick. While never officially announced, it’s widely believed he was targeted to play center. The Cards were extremely fortunate that when Gaines was perpetually injured, Froholdt proved very durable. Gaines was not an outstanding college player, though competent. This was a lost year and whether or not he eventually contributes is a complete unknown. I don’t see this as a strong pick, but more of a reach.

Clayton Tune was the first of two, fifth choices. His play was very controversial. From my point of view he showed exceptional potential for a fifth round choice. Clearly if the Cards intended to compete for the playoffs, he wouldn’t have been chosen as the QB backup. He certainly had a dramatic baptism when he was thrown to the wolves in his only start. Against a top defense the Cards OL failed to give Tune a real opportunity to establish a passing game. I saw enough in preseason to believe this guy can at least be a backup in this league. I’m not certain he even gets a chance to show what he can do if the Cards feel they will contend. Still something tells me we will hear more from this guy as time goes on. He has a big arm and is very mobile. Typically you don’t give up on a guy like that without giving him a full shot.

Round five also saw the Cards select Owen Pappoe. He’s another mystery. No one takes issue with his athleticism. As I reviewed him in games, I thought he must be one of those foreign born players who came late to the game. He was actually a highly sought high school recruit. Keep in mind HS players typically just do their thing on defense. Schemes are often very basic. So I contacted my Auburn source and he told me the coaches were somewhat frustrated with Pappoe. While a great athlete, he seemed very short on football instincts. He never became an impact player at Auburn. This pick was a risk, which depended greatly on the Cards’ player development abilities. To that end perhaps it was a test case.

Round six was a stellar testament to Ossenfort and the Cards scouting staff to find useful players late in the draft. I want to note this is happening with other teams as well. Look at the Rams draft. This trend further supports my contention that the Portal has dramatically deepened the quality of the draft pool. The first of 2 in this round was Kei’Trel Clark. Useful CBs are rarely found this late. Somehow he appears to have spent much time in Gannon’s doghouse, but I think he can play in this league. He’s fast and agile. Equally importantly he doesn’t seem to get discouraged when beaten. Even the best CBs get beat. It’s the ability to bounce back that makes all the difference. It the Cards don’t ruin him, I think he’s an asset.

Incredibly the other successful 6th round pick was also at a hard to find position, DL. Dante Stills was a revelation. He had to fight for playing time and once he got it, he was a permanent member of the rotation. He penetrated to collapse pockets and get sacks. He was an efficient tackler against the run. He needs to build more strength the become a better anchor. Even with his current skill set, he a solid catch.

The Cards also hit on an UDFA when they selected RB Emari Demercado. He became the QB’s primary protector on passing downs. He also proved reliable as situational RB, though Carter has mostly replaced him in that role. To stay on the team he’ll have to improve his skills as a receiver. Whether with the Cards or elsewhere, I think he plays in this league for several years.

So what can we conclude about Ossenfort’s style as a drafter? He values athleticism. You might think that’s a given for all GMs, but it isn’t. Some put more stock in results. Ossenfort wants results, but also wants players with an upside. You have to have athleticism to have upside. He trusts in his coaches ability to develop players. Ossenfort’s isn’t scared off by injury if the medicals are positive. The Cowboys have won big with that strategy for years. He looks at need. Clearly this draft doesn’t scream BPA. It may be BPA at needed positions. That’s a strategy I’ve affirmed for years long before it was popular. He is potentially focused on hard to find positions. He takes his chances where wins could be big.

This was an extremely effective draft. It wasn’t perfect, but those hardly ever happen. He took calculated risks and often was rewarded. If he can match this effort in 2024 and have even a modicum of success in free agency, the Cards are better than even money to contend for the playoffs in 2024.

Tomorrow I’ll cover non-drafted player acquisitions.
 

TheCardFan

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Ossenfort’s isn’t scared off by injury if the medicals are positive.

Thank you Harry - love your insight.

Based on your statement above - I wonder if Jonathon Brooks is on the Cardinals radar.

We need a RBOF but not in 2024 - Brooks has time to heal and get some experience for 2025.

If medicals are positive - he has starter potential.

We have 3 third round picks - seems like a good way to use one.
 
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Harry

Harry

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Thank you Harry - love your insight.

Based on your statement above - I wonder if Jonathon Brooks is on the Cardinals radar.

We need a RBOF but not in 2024 - Brooks has time to heal and get some experience for 2025.

If medicals are positive - he has starter potential.

We have 3 third round picks - seems like a good way to use one.
I think Kiper has him the #1 RB in the draft, so you’ve got good taste. I would love to see the Cards get a back with breakaway ability, but his cost would be prohibited (high pick). Also I think they feel good about what they have. If they take a back I think it will be a late pick. Maybe the last 3 at the earliest.
 

Garthshort

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I think Kiper has him the #1 RB in the draft, so you’ve got good taste. I would love to see the Cards get a back with breakaway ability, but his cost would be prohibited (high pick). Also I think they feel good about what they have. If they take a back I think it will be a late pick. Maybe the last 3 at the earliest.
Does Carter fit that role, breakaway?
 
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Harry

Harry

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Does Carter fit that role, breakaway?
Not really. He can get you 10-15, but that’s about it. He is an excellent receiver, but the Cards seldom used him that way. Of course, since they weren’t playing to win I seriously doubt the exposed the whole playbook.
 
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