Steve Keim: “You can never have enough good players”

GLENDALE, Ariz. – General manager Steve Keim and head coach Bruce Arians usually draw up their “120 Board,” which are the top 120 prospects they look at and study prior to the NFL Draft. With so much talent in the 2015 NFL Draft, Keim and Arians had to bump that up to the “130 Board.”

“We felt like this draft is pretty deep in a lot of different areas,” Keim said. “Essentially we factored in some of the character and medical concerns [and] some players are certainly off our board, as they usually are, but we feel we have a pretty strong board heading into the draft.”

Keim has been incredibly busy ever since taking over for Rod Graves prior to the 2013 season. He made 193 roster moves in his first season as general manager, and he was even busier last season – he made 217 roster moves – when it seemed like the sky was falling most weeks, with players dropping left and right.

Losing 21 players last season to 109 total games could’ve had the average team crumble from within, but Keim didn’t allow that to happen. The NFL Draft is one of the ways Keim was able to keep things moving inside the organization. Of the 53 players that were on last season’s roster, 17 of them were either drafted by Keim, or signed as rookie free agents.

When it comes down to it, Keim says you “gotta trust your gut,” when you’re evaluating prospective talent prior to the draft.

“It’s always enticing to draft for need, particularly when you have some holes on your roster, but you always have to continue to remind yourself that your needs in April in May are always different than they are in September and October,” Keim said. “Whether it’s injuries, or suspensions, or whatever they may be. Needs are always changing, but you can never have enough good players.”

Arians hasn’t shied away from throwing new players into the fire to see what they’re made of. Case in point: Of the seven draft picks from 2014, six of them appeared in multiple games. Kicker Chandler Catanzaro came to the team as a rookie free agent and ended up leading the team in points with 114. Wide receiver John Brown was taken in the third round of the 2014 NFL Draft out of Pittsburg State, and he ended up catching four-game winning touchdown passes last season. This kind of talk can go on for days, but the point is that Arians knows just what to do to get maximum effort out of all newcomers.

Arians says when he was with the Indianapolis Colts, it was because he needed them to play immediately. When he was with the Pittsburgh Steelers, it was to get them ready for Thanksgiving and beyond. With the Cardinals, Arians says the newcomers were pressed into duty simply for depth.

“They have to play, and a lot of times, you can’t wait until Thanksgiving to get a rookie ready to play, so we try to get them ready in case they’re called on [in] the first game or whatever reason,” Arians said. “You can’t find a diamond in the rough standing on the sideline. You can only find him if he’s out there practicing [and] showing you what he’s got. Can he learn? Can he handle the volume and then go out there and play fast?”

Keim is known around the NFL as being one of the top talent evaluators. That’s quite evident from the draft numbers, the players just mentioned, and the impact they had on the Cardinals last season.

Keim says he got his knack of talent evaluation by “being a student of the game.”

“I’ve always been an opinionated guy. I’m not scared to share my thoughts, but at the same time, I’m humble enough to realize I don’t have the answers, and how do I grow and develop and get better,” Keim said. “I’m not ashamed to tell you that every day I’m trying to grow and get better.”

Keim knows his team well enough to see they had needs on the offensive and defensive lines, and at linebacker, and he addressed them all with the free agents they signed at the start of the free agency period. They still have a pressing need at running back, which they very well could address with the No. 24 pick in the first round. Someone who’s been linked with Arizona with that pick in Wisconsin’s Melvin Gordon, who Keim feels has a similar skillset to Kansas City Chiefs’ running back Jamaal Charles.

“He’s a dynamic runner,” Keim said. “You look at him and Todd Gurley, who a lot of people talk about as the top two [running] backs, it’s pick your poison. They’re two different styles: one’s a little more of a straight line banger, and uses his size and physicality [Gordon], and the other guy [Gurley] is a little more of a dynamic perimeter runner.”

“They have [a] different skillset. Both are very good players though,” Keim said.

In less than a week, Keim and Arians will be in their war room at the Cardinals’ Tempe facility making the best moves possible for the football team. It’ll be a more intense situation for Keim, because this is his element. He doesn’t stand on the sideline calling plays. That’s Arians’ job. Keim is the ultimate play caller come next Thursday night.

“When you put as much time and as much stock into the process as we do, to have certain players that you feel good about, it’s not easy when you’re picking 24 because you have to wait a while, but as you get closer and closer to that pick, and you get two to three players away, the adrenaline starts flowing big time,” Keim said. “It’s about as close as a rush for a personnel guy that you can have aside of walking out of the tunnel and hearing the fans yelling and the excitement of the game.”




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