May 10, 2013; Tempe, AZ, USA; Arizona Cardinals head coach Bruce Arians watches as players run drills during rookie minicamp at the Cardinals Training Facility. Mandatory Credit: Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports
“With the 116th pick in the 2013 draft the Arizona Cardinals select, Earl Watford, offensive guard, James Madison University.” To some, these words were a bit of a surprise.
What were the Redbirds getting by drafting a small school lineman with almost zero name recognition only four picks after selecting the premier guard of the draft in Jonathan Cooper at seventh overall? What did general manager Steve Keim and company see in Watford that led them to “pull the trigger” on Watford in the fourth round? What will his impact be not only in this season but for years to come, and more importantly. what does his selection tell us about the ground game that Bruce Arians intends to run in the desert?
The most impressive stats for offensive linemen are the numbers we don’t see. While at JMU, Watford did not miss a single start in his last three seasons. During this time Watford managed to surrender only one sack one that he still contests to this day. On the Bickley and MJ show on XTRA Sports 910AM, Watford said, “I don’t think I gave up the sack, but I’ll take it.”
Watford led his offense both on and off the field, as he was named an offensive captain in 2011. Watford benefited the running game as well, as JMU was the fourth-best rushing team in the CAA.
Watford is a natural athlete who feels that even though he is in the trenches he has the ability to be a playmaker for his team. Coming in at 300 pounds and just over 6’4,” Watford shows the prototypical size and speed that is best suited for a zone blocking scheme. Don’t, however, take his agility as a sign of lacking the ability to run the power game either. At the combine, Watford managed to put up 24 reps at 225 pounds, demonstrating he has the needed strength to assert his position in the NFL.
Looking at the first two offensive line selections made by Keim and Arians in their first draft the pattern was hard to miss. Both guards selected are smart, tough kids with the poise and drive that it takes to be leaders in the National Football League. Both are agile men with solid to above-average footwork that allows them to get up field to the second level and sustain blocks.
Both are absolute studs in pass pro with the functional strength and bend to hold anchor against bull rush and still maintain the balance and agility to mirror speed rushers and inside stunts. Cooper is expected to come in and start right away, as demonstrated by the release of the much-maligned Adam Snyder, but I wouldn’t be too shocked if Earl Watford ends up pushing his way into the starting lineup sometime early in the season.