American Football

Regrading the 2023 Arizona Cardinals draft

on

Arizona Cardinals v Philadelphia Eagles
How does 2023 #6 overall pick Paris Johnson Jr. grade out after his rookie season? | Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images

Arizona Cardinals GM Monti Ossenfort’s second draft is fast approaching. Let’s look back at his first draft and hand out some grades. How did he do in his first draft as an NFL GM?

In the weeks leading up to the 2024 NFL Draft, eyes around the league are once again upon Arizona Cardinals GM Monti Ossenfort. Like last year, the Cardinals and their top-5 pick are big targets for trade speculation.

In his first draft last year, first-time GM Ossenfort executed several trades, moving up and down the draft board to nab his targets while accumulating plenty of future draft assets. He earned (mostly) rave reviews from draftniks in the national media.

My day job is a college professor, so I always take a special interest in draft grades. Here’s what several of those draftniks gave Ossenfort for his first draft (taken directly from the hyperlinked article above, plus an A+ from PFF):

  • Mel Kiper, ESPN: A-
  • Chad Reuter, NFL: A
  • Vinnie Iyer, Sporting News: D (sure, buddy)
  • Eric D. Williams, Fox Sports: A-
  • Danny Kelly, The Ringer: B+
  • Pro Football Focus: A+
  • Nate Davis, USA Today: A-
  • Pro Football Focus: A+
  • Average: 3.5 GPA (A-)

Not too shabby! (Not sure what the D was about, but there always has to be a contrarian.) But with his second draft approaching and with a year of hindsight, I thought it would be a useful exercise to go back and regrade the Cardinals’ 2023 draft class. After all the wheeling and dealing, how did the players Ossenfort select do on the field?

A Note on Grading: The grades below are entirely subjective, but I took into account draft position, playing time, box score stats, and PFF grades. I weighted on-field performance more heavily for Day 1 and 2 picks (those guys are expected to play and produce) and playing time more heavily for Day 3 picks (those guys aren’t generally expected to play much).

R1 (#6): OT Paris Johnson Jr.

  • Key Stats: 17 starts, 100% offensive snaps, 60.1 PFF grade
  • Grade: B

After trading down from #3 to #12 and then back up to #6, Ossenfort selected Johnson, widely regarded as the top tackle in the class. He wound up starting all 17 games at right tackle and actually played every single offensive snap—an impressive feat for a rookie. But his performance on the field wasn’t nearly as impressive. He held his own, don’t get me wrong, but never really dominated and his play didn’t exactly scream future All-Pro. Perhaps a switch back to left tackle is what he needs? If the team makes that change and he responds well, this grade will look too low this time next year. If not, it might be too high. Johnson’s steadiness and durability were tremendous, and I wouldn’t argue too much if you wanted to go B+ instead of a B, but I can’t go any higher than that for now.

R2 (#41): EDGE BJ Ojulari

  • Key Stats: 17 games, 0 starts, 37% defensive snaps, 40 tackles, 5 TFL, 4 sacks, 1 PD, 64.8 PFF grade
  • Grade: B-

Ojulari missed a lot of time in the offseason with injuries, but he eventually became a solid rotational pass rusher, finishing tied for second on the team in sacks despite not starting a game and only playing a hair over 1/3 of the defensive snaps. He also had the third-highest PFF grade of all Cardinals rookie draft picks. His play was certainly encouraging, but also… he only played about 1/3 of the defensive snaps. Hence the B-. Can he beat out the likes of Zaven Collins, Dennis Gardeck, and Victor Dimukeje for more playing time this season? If so and he can sniff double-digit sacks, this grade might be in the A-range next year.

R3 (#72): CB Garrett Williams

  • Key Stats: 9 games, 6 starts, 33% defensive snaps, 23 tackles, 2 PD, 1 INT, 56.7 PFF grade
  • Grade: C-

Ossenfort drafted the injured Williams knowing that he’d likely miss regular-season games, and that came to pass as he didn’t make his Cardinals debut until Week 7. He wound up starting 7 games despite missing another couple contests with injuries. But when he was on the field, the production just wasn’t there—although that was true of the Cardinals’ CB room as a whole. He gets a (barely) passing grade for making it back to the field and cracking the starting lineup, but the team will need to see much more out of him after his first full offseason as an NFL player.

R3 (#94): WR Michael Wilson

  • Key Stats: 13 games, 12 starts, 63% offensive snaps, 58 targets, 38 receptions, 565 yards, 14.9 YPC, 3 TDs, 68.3 PFF grade
  • Grade: B+

This was one of Monti’s best picks—at times, Wilson looked like the best WR on the field for the Redbirds. He finished just behind the departed Hollywood Brown in most WR box score stats but easily led the team in YPC and most advanced receiving metrics (catch%, yards per target, etc.) You wonder what his numbers would have looked like with a full season playing with Kyler. We should find out soon. Can he perhaps be the Tee Higgins to Marvin Harrison Jr.’s Ja’Marr Chase? For now, he gets a B+ for better-than-expected production, keeping in mind that his actual raw production was fairly modest.

R4 (#122): OL Jon Gaines II

  • Key Stats: 0 games, 0 starts (spent season on IR)
  • Grade: Incomplete

Unfortunately, the Cardinals’ only 4th-round pick injured his knee in the preseason and spent the entire year on IR. The team will be hoping he can make a full recovery and be a factor on the interior of the O-line this year.

R5 (#139): QB Clayton Tune

  • Key Stats: 7 games, 1 start, 5% offensive snaps, 12/21, 62 yards, 3.0 YPA, O TD, 2 INT, 22.6 rating, 1.2 QBR, 34.2 PFF grade
  • Grade: D-

After failing to impress in the preseason (to the point the team had to trade for Josh Dobbs), Tune wound up making what amounts to one emergency start and just flat-out did not look like an NFL player. The team also just traded for Desmond Ridder, so it’s clear Tune is nothing more than a developmental third QB right now. I’d have considered giving him a passing grade if he showed something, anything at all… but he didn’t. The only thing saving him from an F is that he was just a 5th-rounder. But Cardinals fans have to look no further than one of their divisional rivals to see what can happen when you hit on a late-round QB.

R5 (#168): LB Owen Pappoe

  • Key Stats: 16 games, 1 start, 10% defensive snaps, 54% special teams snaps, 11 tackles, 1 PD, 65.3 PFF grade
  • Grade: C

Pappoe made next to no impact on defense but was a solid special teams contributor. That’s about all you should expect out of a 5th-round linebacker, so he gets a passing C grade. There may be opportunities to increase his role on defense this coming season.

R6 (#180): CB Kei’Trel Clark

  • Key Stats: 14 games, 7 starts, 42% defensive snaps, 43 tackles, 4 PD, 53.0 PFF grade
  • Grade: C+

Clark actually started in Week 1 and impressed… but it was all downhill from there. He was largely replaced in the lineup by Williams when he got healthy and only played two games on defense (starts in Weeks 12 and 13) after Week 6. While it’s impressive that a 6th-round rookie was able to start 7 games, he mostly wasn’t very good in those games (again: Cardinals CBs were *bad* last season). He gets a higher grade than Williams because he played more as a lower pick, but Williams still seems to have the higher ceiling.

R7 (#213): Dante Stills

  • Key Stats: 15 games, 8 starts, 48% defensive snaps, 47 tackles, 5 TFL, 3.5 sacks, 1 FR, 59.3 PFF grade
  • Grade: B+

Ossenfort’s final pick might have been his best. Stills led all Cardinals DTs in sacks, finishing tied for third on the team overall, and largely outplayed just about everyone on the D-line (with the likely exception of Ray Lopez). Although the Cardinals have brought in several guys to beef up the D-line (and might add more depth in the draft), Stills has likely earned a spot in the rotation in 2024. Quite impressive for a 7th-round pick.

Overall Draft Class Grade

So how did Monti do overall after taking a look at how each rookie performed last year? I put all the players and grades into my proprietary and very scientific grade calculator. I weighted Round 1 picks as 3 a credit hour lecture, Round 2-3 picks as 2 credit hour labs, and Round 4-7 picks as 1 credit hour seminars. (Note that I did not count Gaines and his incomplete grade.) Here’s what Monti wound up with:

  • 2023 Draft Class Grade: 2.5 GPA (B-/C+)

He wound up right on the B-/C+ cusp. Johnson didn’t perform quite as well as everyone hoped, Ojulari and Williams dealt with offseason injuries that slowed their development, and the team got very little production from the R5/6 guys. Wilson and Stills were nice hits as rookies, though. The mediocre GPA seems about right after one year.

Of course, we have to give Monti a little extra credit for the 2024 draft picks he accrued with all that wheeling and dealing last year. Considering just Day 1 and 2 picks, he wound up with an extra R1 (#27), and two extra R3 picks (#71 and #90). He gets docked a bit since that #27 pick from the Texans was *supposed* to be much higher, but a R1 pick is a R1 pick, and the two extra R3s isn’t anything to sneeze at. So if we give him a B+ for those extra picks (it would have been an A if the Texans pick was in the top 20), here’s what his new grade looks like:

  • 2023 Draft Class “Final” Grade: 2.7 GPA (B)

He gets a solid B for his first NFL draft. But that grade isn’t set in stone—that’s the nature of the NFL Draft. We often don’t know how a draft class truly turned out until 2, 3, 4, 5+ years down the line. That grade could easily go up if Johnson excels at LT, Ojulari has a breakout year, Wilson makes a leap, and one or two of the other guys become solid contributors like Stills last year. And then there’s those extra 2024 picks to consider as well. Maybe Monti gets a starting-caliber front seven player or CB there. That impacts his work in the 2023 draft as well.

But that’s just one man’s grade. What about yours? What would you give Monti for his first draft class knowing what we know now? You know the drill: vote in the poll and sound off in the comments. Gotta love draft season!

You must be logged in to post a comment Login