Arizona Cardinals Rookies Forecast

By Charlie Campbell – @draftcampbell

Solid Starter

Evan Boehm, C, Alabama – Round 4
Alabama center Ryan Kelly was said to be in play for the Cardinals’ first-round pick as they entered the draft with a need at center. After missing out on Kelly, Arizona waited until the fourth round and took Boehm. I wasn’t a big fan of Boehm as a prospect, but the Cardinals have been very good at drafting in recent years, so they deserve the benefit of the doubt. With a solid offensive line around him, Boehm could turn into a quality contributor for Arizona.

Boehm (6-2, 309) has good size for a center, and his run blocking is ahead of his pass protection entering the NFL. He could stand to improve his ability to handle speed rushers and strong nose tackles. Those issues could be seen at the Senior Bowl, but Boehm has the qualities needed to become a starting center.

Arizona has little competition for Boehm. A.Q. Shipley has been inadequate and is Boehm’s prime competitor. Boehm is bigger with more length, while Shipley is 30 years old. It shouldn’t be long before Boehm replaces Shipley as the Cardinals’ starting center, and Boehm could become a solid player for them.

Most Likely To Bust

Robert Nkemdiche, DL, Ole Miss – Round 1
Nkemdiche could easily be the selection for the boom pick. He has a tremendous skill set with the speed and agility of a linebacker. For the NFL, there is no doubt that he has the skill set to be a disruptive presence at the point of attack. Teams across the league felt that he had the talent of a top-10 prospect, but there were on-the-field and off-the-field flaws that hurt him.

I see a few issues for Nkemdiche as a player. I’ve spoken with GMs who share my opinion that Nkemdiche is one of the most overrated players in this draft class. He would consistently break into the backfield, but rarely ever finished a play. He bull rushed some college guards straight down the pocket or blew by an offensive lineman with his speed. However, Nkemdiche rarely made the tackle. Part of the reason for that is Nkemdiche has poor awareness. He also lacks pass-rushing moves. With his great skill set and being a 3-year starter, he should have produced more, yet he only totaled seven sacks in 35 career games. The lack of awareness is a big issue for the Cardinals to focus on fixing.

Prior to the 2016 NFL Draft, multiple teams told me that they had huge off-the-field concerns with Nkemdiche. He ended his college career with an arrest for pot possession, and jumped off a hotel balcony in that process. The incident led him to being suspended for his final game. Some teams felt his older brother Denzel will be part of his entourage where ever Robert Nkemdiche goes, and Denzel is a bad influence. Another team said that Robert Nkemdiche loves the limelight and wants to be a movie star. They’d like to see him have the desire to dominate on the field, but they say he doesn’t seem possessed to be the best football player he can be.

Thus, Nkemdiche is a boom-or-bust prospect with his on-the-field and off-the-field issues. If he doesn’t develop more awareness and pass-rushing moves, Nkemdiche could easily disappoint on the field. Away from the game, he has to mature quickly for the NFL. There are multiple ways where Nkemdiche could fail to pan out, so he seems like the Cardinals’ pick who is most likely to be a potential bust.

Potential Boom Pick

Brandon Williams, CB, Texas A&M – Round 3
Last year, I wrote, “I think that David Johnson is a potential steal for the Cardinals in the third round …. It wouldn’t surprise me if Johnson is the 2015 draft’s mid-round steal at the running back position similar to other backs like Alfred Morris. Johnson could end becoming a superb weapon in the desert.” That prediction turned out to be accurate given Johnson’s tremendous rookie season, but this year, it is much harder given the Cardinals had a smaller draft class.

Williams (5-11, 197) was my choice for a potential boom pick because he has a lot of talent. While he isn’t undersized, Williams is very fast and is able to run with vertical receivers to prevent separation. He needs to improve his eye discipline to not get beat on double moves, but he has a nice skill set to work with.

Another reason why I like Williams’ chances of being a boom pick is Arizona has been excellent at coaching up defensive backs. Aside from the great Patrick Peterson, the Cardinals have developed the likes of Tyrann Mathieu and Deone Bucannon, plus turned D.J. Swearinger from being on the street to playing really well last year. I think Williams could be Arizona’s next project that pays off big time.

Future Depth Player

Harlan Miller, CB, SE Louisiana – Round 4
Miller (6-0, 182) has some size and length to him that will help him to make a NFL roster. He also performed well at the Senior Bowl and rose to the occasion in Mobile. The Cardinals have a lot of secondary talent, and Miller doesn’t have the foot speed to run with fast NFL receivers. Thus, I think he will be more of a backup, but could be a solid depth player who also contributes on special teams.

Walt’s 2016 NFL Draft Grades:

29. Robert Nkemdiche, DE/DT, Ole Miss A Grade
If Robert Nkemdiche were totally clean off the field, he would’ve been a top-10 selection. There’s no doubt about that. There were a lot of things wrong with him, however, and several teams told us that he was completely off their board.

That said, this is a great pick. The Cardinals were completely fine with his attitude, and that carries some weight because they’ve taken chances on players with character issues before like Dan Williams and Tyrann Mathieu. They panned out, and there’s a good chance Nkemdiche will as well. If so, he’s someone who could help put Arizona over the top.

Follow @walterfootball for updates.

92. Brandon Williams, CB, Texas A&M D Grade
Talk about a reach. Brandon Williams was seen as a sixth- or seventh-round prospect from most of the teams we polled. He’s a converted running back who is a major project. Perhaps he’ll pan out, but Arizona could’ve chosen him later. Someone like Graham Glasgow – who was also under consideration – seems like he would have been a much better choice.

128. Evan Boehm, C/G, Missouri B Grade
I was told that the Cardinals wanted a versatile lineman entering the draft. They would’ve chosen Ryan Kelly had he fallen to No. 29. Later, at No. 92, Graham Glasgow was an option. With that in mind, I’m disappointed in myself that I didn’t slot Evan Boehm to Arizona in my re-draft. Boehm has played both center and guard, though he’ll likely slide into the former position in Arizona, addressing a huge need.

167. Marqui Christian, S, Midwestern State C Grade
I didn’t hear much buzz about Marqui Christian being drafted. I also didn’t get the sense that the Cardinals were going to take a safety, as they seemed happy with that situation. This pick is surprising, though perhaps Arizona just views Christian as a core special-teamer.

170. Cole Toner, OT, Harvard B Grade
Cole Toner makes sense as a late fifth-round selection. Level of competition is obviously a concern, but Toner seems to have enough skill to latch on as a swing tackle at the very least. Perhaps he’ll be able to challenge D.J. Humphries at some point.

205. Harlan Miller, CB, SE Louisiana A+ Grade
Along with Jacksonville’s Tyrone Holmes, this might just be the steal of the sixth round. Harlan Miller is a talented cornerback with a third-round skill set, and he also thrived in the Senior Bowl. Miller, unfortunately, flopped at the Combine, but he was just way too good of a football player to pass up in the early 200s.

2016 NFL Draft Team Grade: B . Follow Walter @walterfootball for updates.

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