Keim's draft process eliminates emotion

TEMPE, Ariz. -- When the Arizona Cardinals began preparing for next week’s NFL draft a year ago, the process mirrored that of making a guest list for a wedding.

Last May, general manager Steve Keim and his team of scouts began with 13,000 names of college seniors and draft-eligible juniors. Then they pared that down to 2,000 NFL-caliber prospects. Then they began making the Cardinals’ draft board with 591 players. That list was then whittled down to 120.

“It’s been a long year,” Keim said.

Going from one plateau to another took a lot of time and effort from Keim, coach Bruce Arians, vice president of player personnel Terry McDonough and about seven scouts who scour the country looking to unearth football gems. But the first cut, from 13,000 down to 2,000, might have been the easiest because the Cardinals eliminated players who they didn’t think were worthy of being drafted based on their measurables and stats.

The next cut, down from 2,000 to 591, took place over the course of three sets of meetings.

“It’s a long process,” Keim said. “It’s one of those things that you put so much time and effort into this process throughout the year, and it comes down to three days.

“And then after it’s over, you kind of have this feeling of, ‘Wow, it’s all over with after all that work.’”

With their research and evaluations producing a list of almost 600 prospects, the Cardinals' scouting department reconvened this week for about four days of meetings. A horizontal draft board was used at first, Keim said, on which players were graded by position. Once the 591 players were listed, Keim used a “Cardinal filter” to vet prospects and eliminate those with character or medical concerns, as well as players who just don’t fit Arizona’s scheme.

The result was a 120-player draft board, which the Cardinals will draft from next week. that list are the top 20 players the team wants.

Making a board wasn’t done just to organize Arizona’s year-long stash of research and scouting. It was ultimately built to take the emotion out of drafting.

In the past, the war room would become the scene of heated conversations bordering on table-turning arguments. And that was when the team was on the clock. With Keim’s top 120 board, any discussions about who to take where and when are hashed out before the draft begins.

“I’m telling you, the momentum sometimes in these draft rooms can go crazy and next thing you know a player that you had down here, you’re looking at two rounds higher just because of the excitement or need at that position,” Keim said. “This takes the emotion out of it. We’ve already had these conversations, so it’s next man up.”

Take 2013 for example.

Arizona had selected running back Stepfan Taylor in the fifth round, and when they found themselves on the clock for a second time in the sixth round, sitting atop the Cardinals draft board was another running back, Andre Ellington. Because they had committed to their philosophy of following the board, the Cards went with Ellington. It seemed to have worked out for the better.

“A lot of times, if emotion played into it, you’d say, ‘Well, we already took the back,’” Keim said. “The good thing is we had those conversations and we knew we couldn’t pass on Andre because of his grade.”

With all the work done and all the emotions suppressed for now, it’s time for Keim and his team to wait until Thursday when all they will have to do is look at their board.