Why Cardinals GM Steve Keim needs to hit on his 2020 first-round pick

Arizona has mostly struggled under general manager Steve Keim in the first round, but he did connect with Kyler Murray last season and now gets another crack at the top 10. Robin Alam/Icon Sportswire

TEMPE, Ariz. -- If Arizona Cardinals general manager Steve Keim were a baseball player, his .428 average would easily get him into the Hall of Fame.

But Keim is an NFL GM and successfully hitting on just 3 of 7 first-round picks won't get anyone fitted for a gold jacket.

Now, as Keim prepares for his eighth draft in charge of the Cardinals' personnel department, he faces another important first round. The Cardinals will draft eighth overall in April, the third time during his tenure they've had a top-10 pick and the 13th time the franchise has drafted in the top 10 over the past 30 years.

Keim enters this week's NFL combine riding high. Kyler Murray, who Keim picked No. 1 overall in 2019, won rookie of the year and showed he can be a transformative player for a franchise still seeking its first Lombardi Trophy. And last week Keim signed left tackle D.J. Humphries, Arizona's first-round pick in 2015, to a three-year deal, which, if fully satisfied, will keep Humphries a Cardinal until 2022. Humphries became Keim's first first-round pick to secure a second contract.

But Keim needs to find more first-round success. The only other one of his first-round picks still on the roster is linebacker Haason Reddick and his future with the team will be determined throughout 2020, when he's expected to play outside linebacker consistently after years of bouncing from position to position.

Keim's success and lack thereof with first-round picks is a combination of his doing and forces out of his control:

2013: Guard Jonathan Cooper, who Keim took seventh overall, broke his leg during his rookie preseason and was never the same player. Keim eventually traded him to the New England Patriots as part of a deal that brought linebacker Chandler Jones to Arizona.

2014: Arizona didn't re-sign linebacker Deone Bucannon last offseason after five years of playing in a new position and falling out of the rotation in 2018.

2015: Humphries didn't play a single down as a rookie. Then injuries kept him from playing a full 16-game schedule the next three seasons before his impressive 2019 earned him a new contract.

2016: Keim made, perhaps, one of his most questionable decisions in the first round, picking pass-rusher Robert Nkemdiche at No. 29. Keim passed up guard Germain Ifedi, defensive end Emmanuel Ogbah, defensive tackle Chris Jones and running back Derrick Henry in favor of Nkemdiche, who was once considered a top-5 prospect but came into the NFL with character concerns. He never lived up to the expectations levied on a first-round pass-rusher. Nkemdiche didn't get his first sack until his third season and Keim released him during the 2019 training camp after he reported out of shape and was dealing with the fallout of an offseason arrest.

2017: Reddick was drafted in 2017 but has yet to find a steady position in the Cardinals' defensive rotation. He's been moved from inside linebacker to a standing defensive end to a hand-in-the-dirt outside linebacker. With Arizona's move back to a 3-4 defense, Reddick is returning to his natural pass-rushing position off the edge as a stand-up outside linebacker.

2018: Keim traded the 15th overall pick, a third-round pick and a fifth-round pick to move up to No. 10 to draft quarterback Josh Rosen out of UCLA. Rosen, at the time, was hailed as Arizona's quarterback of the future. Initially, he was supposed to sit behind veteran Sam Bradford, to whom Keim had given a two-year deal that was worth up to $20 million per year. Bradford struggled early in the season and Rosen was playing by Week 3 and starting by Week 4. Rosen, however, struggled all season, as Arizona limped to a 3-13 record in coach Steve Wilks' only season.

2019: Keim hired Kliff Kingsbury and his Air Raid scheme to help revive the Cardinals' offense. Despite taking Rosen in the first round the year before, the Cardinals drafted Murray first overall, giving the new coach the quarterback he needed to run his offense. Kingsbury, then at Texas Tech, had begun recruiting Murray at 15 years old to play in an offense that Murray had run since the eighth grade.

The decision to draft Murray might not have been as hard as it initially seemed. Pairing him with a coach and an offense with which he was so intimately familiar helped him adapt to the NFL quicker than most rookie quarterbacks. Instead of Rosen learning the intricacies of the Air Raid, Murray was teaching veterans the offense in their first practices together. Arizona went 5-10-1 in 2019 but ended the season feeling as if it was on a different trajectory than after the 2019 season.

Keim deserves credit for drafting quarterbacks in back-to-back years and trading Rosen with the future of the franchise in mind. But his overall record has left voids across the franchise and has helped keep the Cardinals out of the playoffs since 2015.

Starting at the combine this week, Keim has a chance to punt his own history by hitting a home run in a couple months.