On guards: How early to draft best ones

General managers and coaches have been known to send figurative smoke screens from the NFL scouting combine regarding their draft intentions.

On the surface, at least, the rest of the NFC West has to hope Arizona general manager Steve Keim is serious when he says the Cardinals would consider drafting a guard with the seventh overall choice in the 2013 NFL draft.

OL Drafted Top 7 Overall, By College Pos.

No NFL team has taken a guard among the top seven overall choices since the Kansas City Chiefs used the seventh pick of the 1986 draft for West Virginia guard Brian Jozwiak. Jozwiak started three games in three seasons before suffering a career-ending hip injury.

Some of the tackles drafted among the top seven overall choices have transitioned to guard in the NFL. The Cardinals used the second pick of the 2001 draft for Leonard Davis, who had played tackle in college. They moved him to guard, with so-so results. Davis went to Pro Bowls years later with Dallas.

Michael Vick was the first overall choice in that 2001 draft. Justin Smith, LaDainian Tomlinson and Richard Seymour joined Davis among the top six overall choices. Each would have brought more value to the Cardinals than even a Pro Bowl-caliber guard, in my view. Steve Hutchinson, drafted 17th overall by Seattle, was the best guard in that 2001 class.

As the chart shows, teams rarely draft college guards among the top seven picks. That is because teams value other positions higher than they value guard. Teams figure even a great guard isn't going to help the team as much as a very good player at many other positions.

"If you think he is a Pro Bowl guard, how high is too high?" Keim said in explaining his reasoning. "If you're convinced that player is a Pro Bowl talent and an elite type player, you take him and don't look back. People say that's too high to take a guard or take a tight end. But I don’t subscribe to that theory."

The Cardinals have used free agency to target guards Daryn Colledge and Adam Snyder in recent offseasons.

Division-rival San Francisco used the sixth pick of the 2006 draft for tight end Vernon Davis, who has grown into a very good player. Arizona used the 10th pick that year for quarterback Matt Leinart. In that case, drafting a tight end would have made more sense than drafting a quarterback. I think that is one of the points Keim is addressing. He'd rather have a Pro Bowl guard than a disappointing player at a position of greater value.

That is a reasonable position to take. Still, all else equal, the Cardinals would be better off getting a good player at a position of greater value. Their NFC West rivals would have an easier time preparing to face a top guard than they would have preparing for a top player at most other positions.