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The rookies and their impact

Posted by Darren Urban on July 7, 2011 – 11:30 am

So ESPN.com’s K.C. Joyner — theĀ  “Football Scientist” — wrote an Insider article about No. 1 pick Patrick Peterson and the possibility he could bring the Cards’ secondary elite status this season. Joyner uses football metrics (fancy stats) to prove his point. He compares the Cards’ move to that of Bill Walsh and the 49ers back in 1981 when they added future star Ronnie Lott.

“This combination of traits helped the 49ers pass defense improve to top-five rankings in passer rating allowed, passing yards per attempt (YPA), passing yards allowed and interceptions in the 1981 campaign, all of which were key elements in San Francisco’s Super Bowl run that season,” Joyner writes.

“Fast forward to this year’s draft. It’s very hard to project any draft pick to be as impactful as Lott — who was a star at cornerback before he was eventually shifted to safety — but Whisenhunt and the Cardinals’ brain trust may have had the same idea in mind when they drafted LSU cornerback Patrick Peterson with the No. 5 pick.”

Joyner also writes “It may sound hard to believe given how bad Arizona’s pass defense statistics were last year, but the metrics show that the addition of Peterson and an achievable turnaround by former Pro Bowl cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie could give the Cardinals a truly elite secondary.”

Of course, that would be huge for the Cards if Peterson indeed did so (while noting DRC also has to up his play). But it also got me wondering about the entire rookie class. The way coach Ken Whisenhunt likes to break in rookies, there is usually a waiting period for them to make a large impact. Add in the complete loss of the offseason — so that this rookie class with have absolutely zero idea about life in the NFL and what this coaching staff expects until we are two weeks away from an actual preseason game — and you have to think the learning curve will be that much steeper.

Peterson, of course, should get a chance to play early. But with DRC and Greg Toler, there doesn’t have to be a rush into the starting lineup. The Cards can afford to pick-and-choose his spots (which may, again, slow down that scenario Joyner envisions). The same goes for second-round running back Ryan Williams, since the Cards obviously have running backs already in place — even if one of the guys already on the roster isn’t there once the season begins, which remains a possibility.

Interestingly, it’s the next four picks that really could be the ones to watch, depending on how free agency turns out. Third-round tight end Rob Housler is a pass-catching piece the Cards could use right away, if he can quickly assimilate. Fourth-round outside linebacker Sam Acho will have to learn the position, but given the Cards’ need for pass rushers and the ability to spot-play such guys, he too could be used early. And the Cards will probably carry only one fullback, so if fifth-rounder Anthony Sherman is the guy, he’ll have to be the blocker right out of the gate. Meanwhile, sixth-round linebacker Quan Sturdivant will find that there is playing time to be had in the middle — again, if he can quickly learn on the job.

(Sixth-round DL David Carter and seventh-round WR DeMarco Sampson, to me, are depth at best and will be fighting just to get on the roster.)

Until these guys get on the field, it’s always easy to be optimistic what they can add right away. History shows the free agents the Cards bring it — whomever they will be — will be more important, one way or the other, at first. That may just be underscored with this absent offseason.


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