NFL Draft: Arizona Cardinals picking players to fill holes

TEMPE, AZ - Steve Keim and Bruce Arians went into their first draft running the Arizona Cardinals board saying that they wouldn't draft for need. The best available player would be taken, regardless of whether it filled a hole.

Well, either they were pulling a little misdirection or all those best players happened to fit into just the slots where they needed the most help.

Addressing some of their most glaring holes, the Cardinals picked up a pass rusher, a second interior offensive lineman and added depth at running back on the final day of the NFL draft.

Arizona used its first-round pick on North Carolina guard Jonathan Cooper on Thursday, then added two LSU players on Friday: hard-hitting linebacker Kevin Minter and talented-but-troubled defensive back/kick returner Tyrann Mathieu.

The Cardinals continued to plug holes on Saturday, picking up Texas defensive end Alex Okafor and James Madison guard Earl Watford in the fourth round. Arizona used its fifth-round pick on Stanford running back Stepfan Taylor.

One of Arizona's priorities in the draft was to pick up an elite pass rusher and Okafor could be a good fit.

A versatile player at 6-foot-4, 261 pounds, he played defensive tackle as a sophomore, switched to defensive end his final two seasons and can play outside linebacker, where the Cardinals have him pegged.

Okafor had a knack for getting to the quarterback, finishing ninth nationally with 12.5 sacks as a senior, then set an Alamo Bowl record with 4.5 against Oregon State. He finished his career with 23 sacks and had seven forced fumbles.

Okafor also will have a familiar face to help his transition into the NFL.

Sam Acho, who played two seasons with him in Austin, is a starting linebacker with the Cardinals after being selected with the 103rd overall pick -- just like Okafor -- of the 2011 draft.

"It's great because one of the things you have to transition to in the NFL is making all new friends on the team and getting to know people," Okafor said. "But I get to come in with a guy that I played two years with and was already a mentor of mine. It's a perfect situation."

The 6-foot-3, 300-pound Watford was a versatile player at James Madison, playing tackle and guard early before starting the final 23 games of his career at left guard. With him as the anchor, the Dukes finished 12th in the Football Championship Subdivision in rushing yards.

The big knock on Watford heading into the draft was that he didn't face the toughest competition while playing in the Colonial Athletic Association, a notion he waved off.

"I played a lot of good players," he said. "They might not be SEC schools or anything like that, but I've played against good competition and I've proved that I can play against good competition being in the All-Star game. I'm a hard worker, so I'm excited to show what I can do in the NFL on Sundays."

The hard-running Taylor should give the Cardinals some much-needed depth at running back.

Arizona signed Rashard Mendenhall as a free agent after releasing Beanie Wells, but injury-plagued Ryan Williams is the leading returning rusher.

The 5-foot-9, 216-pound Taylor was durable -- he never missed a game with injury and left as Stanford's all-time leader in rushing yards with 4,300 yards and in total touchdowns with 45.
 

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