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Cardinals close out draft of filling holes

April 27, 2013

TEMPE, Ariz. (AP) — Steve Keim and Bruce Arians went into their first draft running the Arizona Cardinals board saying that they wouldn’t draft for need.

The best available player would be taken, regardless of whether it filled a hole.

Well, the best player seemed to fill a need every time the Cardinals picked.

Addressing some of their most glaring holes, the Cardinals’ brain trust picked up a pass rusher, a second interior offensive lineman and added depth with a pair of running backs on the final day of the NFL draft.

“I (couldn’t) stop smiling,” Arians said. “Every time we would want a player, the board would just fall for us. I’ve only been in one other draft that was like that, last year in Indianapolis. They had a dream team at the right spot and that’s basically how this one fell. It was like, holy cow, this one was in the stars for us.”

Arizona used its first-round pick on North Carolina guard Jonathan Cooper on Thursday, then added two LSU players on Friday: hard-hitting linebacker Kevin Minter and talented-but-troubled defensive back/kick returner Tyrann Mathieu.

The Cardinals continued to plug holes on Saturday, picking up Texas defensive end Alex Okafor and James Madison guard Earl Watford in the fourth round. Arizona took Stanford running back Stepfan Taylor in the fifth round and picked up Clemson’s Andre Ellington in sixth.

The Cardinals also selected Texas A&M speedster Ryan Swope in the sixth round and closed out the draft with Rutgers tight end D.C. Jefferson in the seventh.

All nine of Arizona’s 2013 draft picks were captains of their teams and filled needs the team needed.

“Going back to the philosophy, we filled needs feeling like we got pretty good football players at the same time,” Keim said.

One of Arizona’s priorities in the draft was to pick up an elite pass rusher and Okafor could be a good fit.

A versatile player at 6-foot-4, 261 pounds, he played defensive tackle as a sophomore, switched to defensive end his final two seasons and can play outside linebacker, where the Cardinals have him pegged.

Okafor had a knack for getting to the quarterback, finishing ninth nationally with 12.5 sacks as a senior, including an Alamo Bowl record of 4.5 against Oregon State. He finished his career with 23 sacks and had seven forced fumbles.

“He’s long, he has good athleticism and a natural knack for rushing the passer,” Keim said.

Okafor also will have a familiar face to help his transition into the NFL.

Sam Acho, who played two seasons with him in Austin, is a starting linebacker with the Cardinals after being selected with the 103rd overall pick — just like Okafor — of the 2011 draft.

“It’s great because one of the things you have to transition to in the NFL is making all new friends on the team and getting to know people,” Okafor said. “But I get to come in with a guy that I played two years with and was already a mentor of mine. It’s a perfect situation.”

The 6-foot-3, 300-pound Watford was a versatile player at James Madison, playing tackle and guard early before starting the final 23 games of his career at left guard. With him as the anchor, the Dukes finished 12th in the Football Championship Subdivision in rushing yards.

The big knock on Watford heading into the draft was that he didn’t face the toughest competition while playing in the Colonial Athletic Association, a notion he waved off and Keim backed up.

“I played a lot of good players,” he said. “They might not be SEC schools or anything like that, but I’ve played against good competition and I’ve proved that I can play against good competition being in the All-Star game. I’m a hard worker, so I’m excited to show what I can do in the NFL on Sundays.”

The hard-running Taylor and speedy Ellington should give the Cardinals some much-needed depth at running back.

Arizona signed Rashard Mendenhall as a free agent after releasing Beanie Wells, but injury-plagued Ryan Williams is the leading returning rusher.

The 5-foot-9, 216-pound Taylor was durable — he never missed a game with injury and left as Stanford’s all-time leader in rushing yards with 4,300 yards and in total touchdowns with 45.

Ellington is undersized at 5-foot-9, 199 pounds, but has good speed and quickness with a knack for grinding out tough yards inside. He was first team All-ACC last season after finishing with 1,313 total yards and nine touchdowns and was a solid special teams player, averaging nearly 25 yards on kickoff returns.

“For me, you can’t have enough (running backs),” Arians said. ”

Swope could be an intriguing addition.

He left Texas A&M as the school’s all-time leader in receptions with 252 and wowed scouts with the second-fastest time at the NFL combine, covering the 40-yard dash in 4.34 seconds.

Swope was once considered a third-round prospect, but a rash of concussions at College Station sent up red flags and dropped him into the later rounds.

“I never missed any games because of any head injuries,” Swope said. “I’ve always been a fast healer. They’ve (the concussions) never been real serious. They’ve been very minor.”

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