Arizona Cardinals, NFL Draft Retrospective

Arizona Cardinals NFL Draft Retrospective

How does the Arizona Cardinals 2016 NFL Draft class look three years later?

The Arizona Cardinals went into the 2016 season with very high expectations, fresh off an NFC Championship Game appearance against the Carolina Panthers and a 13-3 regular season. However, given a disappointing effort defensively from the Panthers rout, the Cardinals immediately recognized needs to address in the offseason—most importantly in the defensive secondary. The Cardinals had needs on the defensive line as well, and, as always, they were also looking for help on the offensive line. They managed to address each of those areas in the 2016 NFL Draft but only two of the six picks from that draft class remain with the Cardinals today.

Original Grade

Sports Illustrated: B

The SI 2106 Draft Class grade was a B. At the time, it was an appropriate grade. They were high on Nkemdiche despite the drop to the bottom of the first round. They were high on Christian and Boehm as well, believing at the time they were possible immediate starters. Given how it turned out in the end, a lower draft grade likely would have been given.

FanSided: B+

FanSided was even more gracious with the grading. They gave the Cardinals a B+ for their efforts in the 2016 NFL Draft. They had roughly the same comment about Nkemdiche as a “boom or bust” pick. Right now he still teeters on bust but has likely one more season to change that. The biggest difference from SI is they really liked Williams at cornerback opposite Patrick Peterson. That has unfortunately not worked out.

Draft Class

Round 1 (No. 29)

Robert Nkemdiche

DL, Mississippi

Current Team: Arizona Cardinals

The Cardinals defensive line always seems to need help and going into 2016, the theme remained the same. The Cardinals were also picking 29th, so it was very much about getting the best player available at the time. Nkemdiche fit the mold for both by fitting a need as one of the best remaining players on the board.

There were others, though, that could have fit with the Cardinals. With Carson Palmer getting older, there was talk of the Cardinals drafting their franchise quarterback. Paxton Lynch would have fit there but the Denver Broncos ended up taking him four picks earlier.

Round 3 (No. 92)

Brandon Williams

CB, Texas A&M

Current Team: Arizona Cardinals

Brandon Williams was definitely drafted to fill a need. Converted from a receiver, Williams was selected in the hopes of eventually starting alongside and then maybe replacing Patrick Peterson. What the Cardinals didn’t expect was to have to throw him in as a starter right away while he was still learning the position. Unfortunately, it didn’t work. When the Cardinals took him number at No. 92 overall, they thought they were getting a steal, but Williams has been really nothing as a contributor on defense. He is still on the roster because of his special teams play.

Arizona also had needs at wide receiver, offensive line, safety and, of course, still at quarterback. They saw quarterbacks taken right before Williams at 91 and right after at 93. In hindsight, the Cardinals were probably lucky they didn’t go after one of either Jacoby Brissett or Cody Kessler. Receiver Braxton Miller was gone. The next offensive lineman to be taken after Williams was Rees Odhiambo, guard out of Boise State, at number 97. He actually is now on the Cardinals roster.

Round 4 (No. 128)

Evan Boehm

OL, Missouri

Current Team: Indianapolis Colts

Many were excited about the Cardinals drafting Boehm. He was a versatile offensive lineman that could play guard and center. Coming out of Missouri with the 128th pick overall, he was probably the best offensive lineman left on the board at that point. There were other offensive linemen taken around him, but the Cardinals probably got the best of what was there. Interestingly enough, current Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott was still on the board at this point. Prescott went 135th overall. Boehm played in 31 games over two seasons in Arizona. He moved on to the Indianapolis Colts in 2018.

Round 5 (No. 167)

Marqui Christian

S, Midwestern State


Current Team: L.A. Rams

The Cardinals went after a small school player in Midwestern State’s Marqui Christian in the fifth round, a specialty of general manager Steve Keim. At this stage, the Cardinals were definitely trying to fill needs. There were some very good players that were drafted right before and after him. Receiver Tyreek Hill was taken just two picks ahead, but that seems like a potential headache the Cardinals avoided. Christian is now with the Los Angeles Rams but still has not started a game for either team. He seems destined to remain a backup.

Round 5 (No. 170) 

Cole Toner

OL, Harvard


Current Team: L.A. Chargers

Toner was taken only four picks after Christian. The Cardinals didn’t go small school necessarily here, but they did go to Harvard to grab Toner, a lineman not many people knew about. It seemed like another reach to grab an Ivy League offensive lineman, but the Cardinals needed depth and felt Toner was the best tackle remaining on the board. Toner has also already moved on. He played for the Cardinals in 2016, did not play in 2017, and played one game for the Los Angeles Chargers in 2018. He’s played in three total games for his career.

Round 6 (No. 205)

Harlan Miller

CB, SE Louisiana

Current Team: Washington Redskins

Miller was another cornerback the Cardinals wanted to bring into the mix. The struggles of finding a consistent starter opposite Patrick Peterson is still present today. Miller ended up playing seven total games over two seasons with the Cardinals. He moved on to the Washington Redskins in 2018.”

Retrospective Grade

With only two players from this draft class still on the Cardinals roster, it is hard to give a grade any higher than this. This is probably a generous grade as well, given that the status of both players still on the roster, Nkemdiche and Williams, is tenuous at best.

This class is a mess and is a primary reason why the franchise is picking first in the draft three years later. The lack of any real impact from a draft class just three years old is what leads to a loss of jobs from the top down.

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