Sports

Running back Keaontay Ingram USC, Guard Lecitus Smith Virginia Tech, Cornerback Christian Matthew Valdosta State

The Cardinals went into the final day of the NFL Draft without a fourth- or fifth-round pick, but five picks total: Two in the sixth round, and three in the seventh:

ROUND 6 (201 OVERALL): USC RB KEAONTAY INGRAM

With the departure of Chase Edmonds in free agency, adding another running back seemed inevitable, especially with the plethora of late picks. The choice was Ingram, who was once a top 10 recruit nationally who went to Texas before transferring last season to play at USC.

He led the Trojans in rushing last season with 911 yards on 156 carries and five touchdowns, adding 22 catches for 156 yards in 10 games. Behind starter James Conner, the Cardinals have Eno Benjamin, Jonathan Ward and Jaylen Samuels in the backfield.

“I feel like I’m a really, really good player,” Ingram said after wading through 200 picks before he was chosen. “But I can only control what I can control. Just be ready when I show up.”

ROUND 6 (215 OVERALL): VIRGINIA TECH OL LECITUS SMITH

The Cardinals were expected to get an interior offensive lineman at some point, and went with Smith, a 6-3, 314-pounder who adds depth to the unit. He was a tight end in high school before moving to guard in college.

Smith acknowledged the draft process has been odd for him. He said he had long been considered a good run blocker (which he noted was his own evaluation of him) and needed to work on pass blocking, but that switched narrative as he prepared for the draft this spring. GM Steve Keim said Smith fits the Cardinals’ scheme well, with the athleticism to move in space.

With questions about the future of the current starting offensive line — four of the five starters will be free agents after 2022 — the Cardinals got a piece that could help.

“I feel that gives me a fighting chance (to make the team),” Smith said. “But I’m not coming in like, ‘I hope the guard spot is open.’ I an fully willing to work. But at the same time, I want to feel like I have a chance.”

ROUND 7 (244 OVERALL): VALDOSTA STATE CB CHRIS MATTHEW:

The Cardinals came into the draft with a need at cornerback depth. Matthew had 37 tackles and an interception in 2021, playing for his third college from him. There is still the chance the team will re-sign veteran Robert Alford as well.

Matthew acknowledged his college moves probably hurt his stock some in the draft process, but he talked often with the Cardinals. While he thought he’d be drafted earlier, he said he felt “destined” to be with the Cards. Keim said the Cardinals were impressed with Matthew’s maturity when he took a 30 visit.

“It’s a premium position,” said the 6-2, 195-pound Matthew, who said the top cornerback he grew up emulating was Patrick Peterson. “You need depth at that position. It can win or lose football games. You mess with that corner, it’s not like any other position. You slip and fall at corner, it can be a touchdown.”

ROUND 7 (256 OVERALL): PENN STATE OLB JESSE LUKETA

The former middle linebacker moved to defensive end and while he had only a half-sack last season, the 6-foot-3, 247-pounder had 8.5 tackles for loss and showed ability to disrupt. He had two sacks in the Senior Bowl.

The position move “came about because I am a football player,” Luketa said. “The team needed help at (edge) due to injury, and I took it upon myself. … I put the team first, and it’s allowed me to continue to excel on the football field.”

Keim said Luketa didn’t test all that well, but he produces in games. He has the ability to play outside and inside, and figures to be a factor on special teams. “Really intelligent guy,” Keim said.

ROUND 7 (257 OVERALL): OKLAHOMA OL MARQUIS HAYES

The Cardinals wrapped up their draft with another potential interior line piece, and with it, a former teammate of quarterback Kyler Murray and new wideout Hollywood Brown when all three were Sooners.

“We’re good friends,” Hayes said. “That’s good for me, the relationship right there.”

Like Smith, Hayes will have a chance to carve out a spot in the offensive line room as the Cardinals try to get younger.

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