Cardinals fix needs with help at linebacker, running back

TEMPE, Ariz. -- Help is on the way for the Arizona Cardinals.

But only one of their draft picks Friday has the makings of an instant fix.

By drafting outside linebacker Markus Golden in the second round and running back David Johnson in the third, they addressed two specific needs -- fixing a pass rush that had 12 fewer sacks in 2014 than in 2013 and improving a run game that averaged a league-low 3.29 yards per carry.

"It’s funny because it falls that way,” general manager Steve Keim said. “We took an offensive lineman in the first round at 24 and, depending on how it all fell, that wasn’t what our focus was. It was just the best player available."

While Golden put up impressive stats at Missouri, Johnson has the makings of a player who can have an immediate impact out of a small school. He’ll enter offseason workouts with an opportunity to be a three-down running back if he can learn the Cardinals’ offensive scheme, coach Bruce Arians said.

It’s unlikely, however, that he’ll supplant Andre Ellington as the starting running back.

“I think Andre will continue his same role,” Arians said. “We’ll keep him healthy and let him continue to develop as a player, but the nice thing David can do is he can do everything Andre does, so you don’t have to change if there was an injury.”

But after a season in which Arizona lost its top two running backs, having a back with the size and versatility as Johnson will be a welcomed relief.

“He’s got good power, but his receiving ability is as close to Andre’s as anybody I’ve seen,” Arians said.

When Johnson talked to Arians on the phone Friday night, he reminded the coach he can also be a returner. Arians countered by reminding the Northern Iowa product that he hadn’t forgotten. Johnson and “anybody else who can catch it” will compete for the vacant returner job. As a senior, Johnson averaged 36.5 yards per kick return and scored a touchdown.

Golden’s impact might be tempered as he learns how to make up for his size against NFL-caliber tackles, though. At 6-foot-2, he’s shorter than prototypical outside linebackers but hasn’t let that impact his ability to get to the quarterback.

He had 10 sacks in 2014 and 6.5 the year before. Both he, Arians and Keim used the same word to describe Golden’s game: Relentless.

“Markus Golden is a guy who jumps off the tape with his chase, his effort and his motor,” Keim said. “He’s disruptive and, again, his motor and his backside chase are tremendous.”

Golden caught Arizona’s attention when Arians was studying tape of Golden’s Missouri teammate Shane Ray. Arians saw a younger James Harrison. Keim saw another LaMarr Woodley.

“He’s a balls-to-the-wall player,” Arians said. “I just love the way he plays.”