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The dust had cleared, the Cardinals had added nine players during the three days of the NFL Draft, and general manager Monti Ossenfort felt blessed.
It had been a constant whirlwind during the 103 days from the date of his hiring on Jan. 16 to the conclusion of the draft, but Ossenfort wouldn’t have wanted to be anywhere else.
“I sound like a broken record, but this has been an unbelievable three days for me personally,” he said late Saturday afternoon alongside assistant general manager Dave Sears. “Just to be a part of this team and be a part of this group of individuals in that room. It was great, it was exciting, and it was intense and I can’t wait to get the guys out on the field and have it be rewarding.”
The latter, of course, is what’s most important. Every general manager is optimistic when the draft is over, but the reality is that no one knows how it will look two or three years down the road. There will be as many stories with team grades in the next few days as there were mock drafts, and most of them will be just as inaccurate.
Evaluators go with their gut on draft day, knowing how difficult it is to project how guys playing college football will be able to compete at the next level where so many are just boys among men.
Obviously, the ones that do it the best will be successful even though so many things can happen that are out of their control.
For Ossenfort and his staff, there were no trades Saturday after the significant ones on Thursday and Friday.
As he said, “I’ve been a part of drafts where there’s been no trades and then like today we had multiple chances to make trades, but today didn’t make sense. On Thursday and Friday, they made sense and so we did them. Today the chances that we had to move around just really didn’t make sense for us according to where our board was. I’m always of the mindset that if the opportunity presents itself, we’re going do it. But today we felt comfortable taking the players where we took them.”
The themes of high character and versatility continued.
“Position versatility is always going to be something that we value, whether it’s Jon Gaines who’s played multiple positions, Kei’Trel Clark who has played inside and outside, Dante Stills who has played multiple places along the (defensive) line of scrimmage. Those are things that goes back to the old saying, ‘The more you can do.’ It applies to the football team too. We’re definitely looking forward to adding those guys.”
And continuing to add.
“We’re constantly looking everywhere,” Ossenfort said. “The process of team building is not done. It’s going to continue here.”
One of those methods will be the addition of undrafted free agents.
“The guys are upstairs trying to get some things ironed out with that,” Ossenfort said. “That’s always another part of the draft that sometimes goes unnoticed, but it’s an area that we put a lot of work into this year and we’re intentional with the guys that we were adding.”
By the end of the night, there were reports that the Cardinals had agreed to terms with eight players, including former Arizona State linebacker Kyle Soelle. Others were running back Emari Demercado (Texas Christian), defensive lineman Jacob Slade (Michigan State), cornerback Quavian White (Georgia State), safety Kendell Brooks (Michigan State),linebacker Marvin Pierre (Kent State), tight end Joel Honigford (Michigan) and long snapper Matt Hembrough (Oklahoma State).
It appears the Cardinals are moving on from long snapper Aaron Brewer and punter Andy Lee, so another punter will likely be added to compete with Nolan Cooney. Long snapper Joe Fortunato is also on the roster.
One report said Slade has guarantees of $200,000 in his contract, which oddly is more than seven veterans signed by the team in the last six weeks received.
Meanwhile, Ossenfort met with the media alone after the first two days and with Sears at the draft’s conclusion. Coach Jonathan Gannon was not made available even though he joined Ossenfort for the pre-draft news conference a week ago Friday. It’s possible that the organization didn’t want Gannon addressing the tampering issue during the draft.
Asked about his communication with Gannon, Ossenfort said, “Constant communication. To the right of me was (owner) Michael (Bidwill). To the left of me was Dave and to the right of Michael was JG. It was constant communication. It gets to a point where, I don’t know, we’re 10 picks out. And you look at the board and say, ‘Hey I think it’s going to be one of these two guys. OK. JG what do you think between these two guys?’
“There’s times when [I said], ‘Hey, JG call this coach and ask him, just make sure where they are at on this guy.’ So, that was the constant communication that started Thursday and carried on through today.”
He then revealed a superstition he didn’t know Sears had.
“I learned something today,” Ossenfort said. “My colleague here, he’s got a superstition that you can’t say the player’s name up on the board. He said he thinks that jinxes him. If we say, Kei’Trel Clark’s name, he thinks that’s going to get him to go before we take him.”
Asked about his superstition, Sears said, “I’ve seen that happen multiple times in a draft room where you start talking about the player and then boom, (he) comes right off the board. So that’s kind of just like, don’t say his name.”
Finally, after a photo circulated of a dog being present in the war room, it was important to learn whose dog it was.
Said Ossenfort, “That was Michael’s dog up there. And it was great when everybody would get excited or when we would clap at the pick, she would get excited and start barking. So I don’t know if she liked the pick or didn’t like the pick, it’s hard to say, but that was a good addition for Saturday. That was only today; that was a good addition.”
We’ll begin finding out if the player additions are just as good.
Day 3 snapshots
Interior offensive lineman Jon Gaines II: With the 20th pick in the fourth round the Cardinals chose Gaines, who had a 96 athleticism score at the Combine with 5.01 in the 40, 9-foot-8 broad jump, 32.5-inch vertical jump and 7.31 three-cone. All those numbers rank in the top 10 percent of interior offensive linemen since 2003.
In recent years, Cam Jurgens scored a 99, Zion Johnson 87, Cole Strange 95 and Tyler Linderbaum 94.
At UCLA, he started at center and both guard spots, while working at left guard and center at this year’s East-West game.
“I think that’s my biggest strength as a player,” he said. “UCLA blessed me with the opportunity to play all across the offensive line. I had a lot of snaps at a lot of different positions. I’m just excited to have versatility; I feel like I can play anything.”
When asked about his play-strengths, Gaines initially said, “First and foremost, we just need to focus on where we need to improve. Just getting better every single day and being more consistent as a player. I think that’s what all of us in the draft strive for to step up at the next level.”
He then said, “I know my biggest strengths are my versatility, my athleticism, and my football IQ. Being able to play at a high level and play fast and that comes from understanding what you’re doing. Then just being able to understand the playbook at a fast rate and play fast.”
Ossenfort was impressed about many things with Gaines.
“He played some center back on the UCLA film,” Ossenfort said. “And then seeing it at an all-star game it’s not necessarily better competition, but the ability to do that, then the Pro Day, his intellect in meeting with our coaches, meeting with our scouts, clearly mentally he can handle it. He’s one of the sharper guys we dealt with all spring.
“So anytime you get a guy who’s just a guard or just a center, you guys see how many injuries you get. Guys get shuffled around. So having a guy who’s done it, not just projected to do it, so you can look at some tape and see that, that’s a very valuable skill set. So we feel like Jon can contribute at two positions.”
Quarterback Clayton Tune
With the fifth pick of the fifth round the Cardinals chose Tune, who passed for 4,069 yards and 40 touchdowns at Houston last season and is 6 feet 2½ and 220 pounds.
He comes to a roster that includes Kyler Murray, Colt McCoy, David Blough and recently signed Jeff Driskel.
He began a session with reporters by saying, “I think I’m the best quarterback in this class and God’s got a plan for me.”
He said it without sounding boastful and when asked about having that belief, he said, “If you look at my body of work, the effect that I have on my team that I play on; I elevate everyone around me. I’m a natural leader, people follow me and see the work that I’m putting in and the mindset that I have, and they want to follow suit.
“I have that no-flinch mentality when things get tough. Those are some of the intangible things, and then being able to make every throw on the field, being able to make plays off schedule and be more mobile than people realize.”
While at the Senior Bowl, Cardinals quarterbacks coach Israel Woolfork (who was still with the Browns) was the quarterbacks coach for Tune’s team.
Tune is from Carrollton, Texas, and attended Hebron High School, which is about 20 miles from Allen, Texas, where Kyler Murray played in high school. Tune just turned 24 in March, while Murray is 25 and will be 26 in August, so they aren’t that far apart in age.
Obviously, he’s very aware of the Murray legacy at Allen.
“It was awesome,” Tune said. “I looked up to Kyler. He’s a little bit older, but he had a perfect high-school career. I believe he went undefeated as a starter in high school. So watching that was really cool. I didn’t get to play against Kyler; he graduated before I was on varsity, but we played against Allen and had a long history with them. I grew up knowing who Kyler was, so it’s cool to see that.”
Noting that McCoy and David Blough are also “Texas boys” (Blough is also from Carrollton, but went to Creekview High School), Tune said he met McCoy two months ago at a PAO (Professional Athlete Outreach) conference and talked to him for “a little bit.”
“I actually met David probably six years ago,” he said. “He was throwing in the offseason at my high school when he was still at Purdue. I went up and introduced myself to him and I was like, ‘Yeah man, I’m a sophomore or junior here at Hebron and told him I was looking up to him. We threw for a little bit, but that was so long ago, I doubt he remembers that.”
As for his opportunity, Tune emphasized, “Just getting in there and competing and working and learning from those guys is going to be an awesome and exciting opportunity.”
Linebacker Owen Pappoe
With the 34th pick of the fifth round, the Cardinals chose Pappoe. At the Combine, the two-time Auburn captain had an 89 athleticism rating, which was second among linebackers in Indianapolis. His 40 time was 4.39 with a 35.5-inch vertical jump and 10-6 broad jump.
“They definitely saw what type of athlete I am, how explosive I am, how fast,” he said. “Definitely any team, whatever it is they feel like I need to correct on the field, the coaches are going to help that. I’m a very coachable player and a hell of an athlete, so I’m pretty sure that’s what JG and the cast saw in me and what led them to make this pick.”
Some have said he needs to add weight, but Pappoe said, “I’m going to stay in this range of 225 to 230 pounds. I feel real good running around going sideline to sideline, downhill when I need to be. I feel pretty good at this size.”
Asked what fans should expect, he said, “A guy who loves the game of football and someone who is going to give 110 percent of me every single day. I’m looking forward to make an impact in any way that I can. I’m ecstatic right now; words can’t even describe how excited I am to be a part of the Cardinals. I’m really looking forward to (helping) turning this program around.”
On being a captain, he said, “It shows the leadership skills that I have and seeing that my teammates trust me to be a role model they can model themselves after and to trust me to really lead the team. It shows that I don’t only talk the talk, I walk the walk and it means the world to me to be a captain.”
Ossenfort said Pappoe “was one of the two guys that came for our first 30-visit, so he was our guinea pig for our new process that we were doing with 30-visits this year. He made a really good impression on us.”
Asked what was unique about it, he said, “The biggest thing that we were trying to do in the 30-visits was to get a feel for who the players were, as a person and then what it would be like going to work with them every day. So we tried to put them through the paces and tried to simulate the best that we could a normal day at work for them; tried to get them in front of as many people as we could to get different impressions from people in different parts of the football operations, really at the end get everyone’s overall feel on if that player would be a good fit for us and if there were reservations, what exactly were those reservations going to be? There was no secret sauce to it other than us trying to get a feel for who they were as people.”
Several players talked about the energy and positivity during their visits and Pappoe was one of them. Asked about matching the energy consistently shown by Gannon, Pappoe said, “I’m going to match it every day. I had the 30-visit in Arizona and the whole time I was there the vibes were great and I really like the whole entire staff, from (linebackers) Coach (Sam) Siefkes, (defensive coordinator) Nick Rallis, to JG himself. Everyone is great and I can’t wait to be a part of it.”
Cornerback Kei’Trel Clark
With the third pick of the sixth round, the Cardinals chase Clark. He ran the 40 in 4.42 with a 34.5-inch vertical jump and 5-10 broad jump.
Clark had a sense all along he would wind up in Arizona. He noted that coach Jonathan Gannon also attended Louisville and that cornerbacks coach Ryan Smith tried to recruit him to James Madison coming out of high school.
“This was God’s plan,” he said. “I knew when I went on my top-30 visit when I met with Coach JG that this was a great fit for me. I just knew it all along. So I feel like it’s all destiny, I feel like it was willed to happen, I feel like they can use me in so many different ways. I love the program and I love what they’re building over there so I’m just excited.”
When it was mentioned that he is going from the Cardinals to the Cardinals, he said, “I told them on my top-30 visit; I said once a Cardinal always a Cardinal. So, I feel like they took that one to heart.”
Asked his strengths and what he has to work on, Clark said, “My tenacity, my willingness to always get to the football and to play fast. A guy that I really looked up to playing is Budda Baker; that’s a guy who has the tendency to get to the ball and he’s fearless. That’s me when I come to approach the game. I don’t feel like I really have any weaknesses, but there are some things I got to work on. I’m going to improve on those things as well.
“Just know the Cardinals organization got somebody that’s going to be a dog and somebody that is going to be a leader in this program.”
Clark suffered a torn ACL in 2021 that limited him to six games, but he came back to start 12 this past season.
“That was some adversity that I had never faced before; I had never missed any games,” he said. “This was the first time that I had to miss anything, so I feel like it made me a better person at the end of the day. So I’m glad it happened to me. Like I said, it’s God’s plan.”
Defensive lineman Dante Stills
That Cardinals took Stills with the 36th pick in the sixth round. Draft analyst Dane Brugler wrote that West Virginia’s Stills “doesn’t play with the length or bully strength desired in an interior player, but his athletic movements and disruptive nature can be valuable traits as part of a rotation. He is ideally suited for a one-gap, attacking front in the NFL.”
Stills has significant NFL bloodlines.
His father Gary was a Chiefs third-round pick in 1999 and played linebacker for 10 seasons in the NFL with Kansas City, Baltimore and St. Louis. His uncle Ken played six seasons at safety with Green Bay and Minnesota. Ken’s son Kenny was a wide receiver for nine seasons with the Saints, Dolphins, Texans and Bills. He has been out of the league since becoming an unrestricted free agent in March 2022. Finally, his brother Darius also played defensive tackle at West Virginia and was in training camp with the Raiders in 2021.
In college, Stills said he played “everywhere” on the line and described himself as “very versatile, getting up the field and causing havoc. I like to shed blocks and get sacks, TFLs, that’s kind of my whole deal. I will get up field and cause disruption no matter what it is, Y zone, any type of formation. I’m a total package. I can rush from the inside and the outside, I can play the run from inside and outside. I’m excited right now; I’m just happy to be a Cardinal. I’m very happy.”
Top photo of Paris Johnson Jr. with general manager Monti Ossenfort (left) and head coach Jonathan Gannon via USA TODAY Sports
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