Eno Benjamin

Arizona State’s Eno Benjamin slips the tackle of Arizona’s Colin Schooler during the second half Nov. 30 in Tempe. The Arizona Cardinals selected Benjamin in the seventh round of the NFL draft on Saturday.

First things first; the NFL deserves major praise for putting on a highly compelling draft in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.

In many ways, it was more interesting than a normal draft with players walking across a stage to greet commissioner Roger Goodell. It set an all-time record for viewership and went off without a hitch, despite producing — for the first time ever — an all-remote draft on short notice.

The success of the draft likely means we will see more of the remote communication and interviews in future drafts.

Now let’s get to the Arizona Cardinals. How did they do in this draft?

I already wrote a column about first-round pick Isaiah Simmons, a hybrid linebacker/safety from Clemson, but now I’ll break down all six picks and hand out my letter grades.

Round 1, No. 8

LB/S Isaiah Simmons, Clemson

Grade: A

This is a wonderful pick for several reasons. Namely, the Cardinals were terrible on defense last year, one of the worst teams in the NFL. While pass rushers and lockdown corners are the two most important defensive positions in today’s league, getting someone versatile who can line up at multiple positions is a real luxury.

Simmons provides that Swiss Army knife-type of defender, one whom Arizona GM Steve Keim called “an eraser.” Simmons has size (6-4, 240), explosive athletic ability and great instincts. He played for a top-flight program at Clemson and proved himself time and time again.

Round 3, No. 72

OT Josh Jones, Houston

Grade: B+

Many thought the Cardinals would take an offensive lineman with their first pick, but there was no way they could pass on Simmons. While Keim did not have a second-round pick, he addressed offensive line with his next pick in Round 3 by taking Jones.

It’s surprising that Jones was available in the third round. Several mock drafts had him going in the first round. So there is significant value in this pick, just based on talent. However, Jones is considered a bit of a project. He has all the physical tools, but he lacks the polish of the top four offensive lineman in the draft.

Round 4, No. 114

DT Leki Fotu, Utah

Grade: B

Why is it that Utah always seems to churn out NFL defensive tackles? It was a factory for them in the mid 2000s, and Star Lotulelei was a first-round pick in 2013.

The Cardinals are hoping the 6-foot-5, 330-pound Fotu turns into a run-stuffing nose tackle in their 3-4 defense. He played in nine games in his senior season with the Utes, recording 25 tackles, 6.5 tackles for a loss and 0.5 sacks.

Fotu is not a threat to rush the passer, as he had just four sacks in 30 college games. A solid but unspectacular pick in the fourth round.

Round 4, No. 131

DT Rashard Lawrence, LSU

Grade: C

Keim went right back to defensive tackle on his next pick, showing that he and coach Kliff Kingsbury felt the team needed to improve dramatically at stopping the run. Arizona ranked 24th in run defense last year, giving up 120.1 rushing yards per game.

Round 4 is a bit of a reach for Lawrence. On the plus side, he comes from a great program at LSU that just won a national championship. He plays hard and displays toughness. But he has also dealt with injury issues, having knee surgery last year and missing time with an ankle injury.

Round 6, No. 202

LB Evan Weaver, California

Grade: B-

Once teams get to the sixth round, they are mainly looking for quality depth and special teams contributors. Weaver was a highly productive player at Cal, earning first team AP All-American honors. He led the nation with 182 tackles, and 103 of those were solo stops.

You may be thinking, why didn’t this guy get drafted higher? It’s pretty simple — he lacks NFL athleticism. It’s one thing to dominate at the college level, but there’s a long list of great college players that never made it in the NFL. The 6-foot-2, 237-pound Weaver will try to prove his doubters wrong.

Round 7, No. 222

RB Eno Benjamin, Arizona State

Grade: A

Benjamin will be right at home, as he played college football in Tempe.

I think the Cardinals were stunned that Benjamin was available in the seventh round. NFL.com analyst Lance Zierlein had Benjamin pegged as a third-round pick.

Benjamin may not be a star in the NFL, but the value of getting him in the seventh round is off the charts. There’s no doubt his lack of elite speed cost him in the draft, as he ran an unofficial 4.57 seconds in the 40-yard dash.

His numbers slipped significantly from his sophomore to his junior year (1,642 rushing yards to 1,083), but Benjamin will be a productive NFL player.

Overall draft grade: B


Brian Wright is the sports editor at PinalCentral. He can be reached at bwright@pinalcentral.com.