Post-draft grades: Arizona Cardinals

Mel Kiper Jr. gave the Arizona Cardinals a B-minus grade for their efforts in the 2011 NFL draft.

He graded them down for not adequately addressing perceived needs at outside linebacker and offensive tackle. He was less concerned about not drafting a quarterback because the options were fewer once the team decided to draft LSU cornerback Patrick Peterson fifth overall.

In my view, the lower grades on the need front reflect a positive development in the Cardinals' drafting strategy. The team seemed driven more by needs in past drafts. Picking earlier this year made it easier to focus on value. The team went after value and seemed to get it multiple times. That strategy will pay off over the long haul.

Perhaps Larry Fitzgerald was right when he said the Cardinals learned a lesson following their experience in the 2007 draft.

The Cardinals held up three of their choices -- Peterson, second-round running back Ryan Williams and fifth-round fullback Anthony Sherman -- as the highest-rated players at their positions. Coach Ken Whisenhunt called it "unusual" to land three such players in one draft. The Cardinals made that happen by selecting Williams despite greater needs at other positions.

Put it this way: Would you rather have the highest-rated running back or, say, the sixth-rated outside linebacker? Two words: Cody Brown.

The Cardinals hit on a couple themes in this draft. Emphasizing value was one. Targeting players with strong intangible qualities another. Singling out playmakers was also a priority.

Peterson projects as a playmaker in the secondary and in the return game. Williams adds a dimension to the running game. Third-round tight end Rob Housler must work on his blocking, but Whisenhunt thinks the team has finally found a receiving threat at the position. Whisenhunt is a former NFL tight end. He should know the position well.

Arizona already has a long list of players with playmaking ability. LaRod Stephens-Howling, Larry Fitzgerald, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, Kerry Rhodes, Adrian Wilson, Darnell Dockett, Daryl Washington, Steve Breaston and Andre Roberts have all made huge plays, many times in critical moments of games.

The Cardinals emerged from this draft with more than just potential playmakers. They also should have a clear vision for what must happen next. They need a veteran quarterback. They need to solidify their offensive line, a position they have not emphasized in the draft for several years. Extending Fitzgerald's contract has to remain a priority.

"This is our first opportunity (of the offseason) to do something," Whisenhunt told reporters. "I think we knocked it out of the park with this opportunity. We said we are going to be aggressive in improving our football team. We are going to have an opportunity to address other areas. Right now, as we sit here, we are ready to go. That is exciting. We have a very clear plan of action for what we want to do."

2011 NFL Draft: Arizona Cardinals Selections