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2018 Team Report: Arizona Cardinals

Offensive Philosophy

Offensive Coordinator Mike McCoy has developed a reputation as something of a chameleon during his NFL career, showing a great willingness to adapt his scheme to his personnel. In 2011 he took a team with Tim Tebow and finished 1st in the league in rush attempts and last in pass attempts. The next year, with Peyton Manning in the fold, his Broncos set an all-time record for the largest year-over-year increase in pass completions, and his 2015 Chargers ranked 2nd in pass attempts but just 22nd in rushes. Last year, back in Denver and with a shortage of quality quarterbacks, he was back to his rush-heavy ways. McCoy's history says he'll focus his offense around whoever is playing best.


Starter: Sam Bradford
Backup(s): Josh Rosen [R], Mike Glennon, Brandon Doughty

Starting QB: The Carson Palmer era is over in Arizona and in comes Sam Bradford for the short term answer and newly drafted first round pick Josh Rosen for the long term answer (and possible short term answer). Sam Bradford will be the guy to start the season as he signed a $20 million deal with $15 million guaranteed. Bradford is entering his nineth season in the NFL and has averaged 10 games played a season because of injuries along the way. In two seasons with the Vikings he played in 17 games for 4,259 passing yards, 23 touchdowns and 5 interceptions. He is still recovering from having his left knee scoped in November after he injured it in Week 1 last season re-aggravated it in Week 5. Coach Steve Wilks said "I think he's making progress in everything that we're doing. But once again, we want to make sure that he's here for the long haul, particularly 16-plus games."

Backup QB: The Cardinals are in an interesting transition right now with the retirement of Carson Palmer and the signing of Sam Bradford along with the drafting of the future at the position in Josh Rosen. The Cardinals traded up to pick number 10 to grab Rosen, and with Bradford dealing with injuries last season, only playing a couple of games Rosen might be put into action sooner rather than later. Rosen has the size that teams are looking for in a quarterback at 6'4" and 225 lbs. Rosen has the best arm talent out of this years quarterback class, as he can make all the throws almost with ease. His mechanics, accuracy, back shoulder throws, field vision, and natural pocket-passer ability are all traits that jump out. The comparisons to Aaron Rodgers will always follow Rosen, but he has a lot to prove at a young age and might be given a chance in his rookie season. Mike Glennon is experienced and the team gave him four million dollars guaranteed to sign this year, so he could be the backup ahead of Rosen if Bradford goes down early in the season.

Running Backs

Starter: David Johnson
Backup(s): Elijhaa Penny, T.J. Logan, Chase Edmonds [R], D.J. Foster, Bronson Hill, Darius Victor
Fullback(s): Austin Ramesh

Starting RB: The Cardinals star running back David Johnson said on May 3rd that his left wrist which he fractured in Week 1 last season, is "100 percent" and "all back together." Johnson should be at full speed for OTAs and minicamp and he insisted that he is motivated and fully healthy. He has a goal for himself to have both 1,000 yards rushing and 1,000 yards receiving which would make him the third player to do so. Before the injury in 2016 he barely missed that goal as he rushed for 1,239 yards and had 879 receiving yards. He also had 80 receptions that season and a total of 20 touchdowns and finished the season as one of the best statistically at the position in quite some time. We see a lot of injuries to running backs but in most cases the involve their legs, in Johnson's case the team won't have that worry associated with him and he should be ready to roll right from the start and see the same high volume as before the injury with not a lot of depth behind him at the position.

Backup RBs: Behind Johnson you have Elijhaa Penny, T.J. Logan, D.J. Foster and Chase Edmonds that look to fight over roster spots. Elijhaa Penny played a full 16 games with the team last season and racked up 124 yards and a pair of touchdowns. There are rumors early on that he will change positions to more of a hybrid type (FB,HB,TE). The handcuff to David Johnson is looking like it will be the teams fourth round pick, Chase Edmonds. The Cardinals running backs coach Kirby Wilson expressed to Edmonds how much the team liked him in their initial meeting. "Coach Kirby told me how much they loved me and high they were on me. It was a blessing to go to someone that acutally wants you." He is an excellent receiver and has drawn comparisions to James White. D.J. Foster is another back that looks to be fighting for a third string running back role behind Johnson, Logan and Edmonds currently. T.J. Logan offers some upside with his special teams return ability and that will likely be the difference in if the team prioritizes him over D.J. Foster. Logan was a 5th round draft pick a year ago but suffered a season ending injury in a preseason game.

Fullback: Elijhaa Penny could be moved over the position which would help to lock in his roster spot with the team.

Wide Receivers

Starters: Larry Fitzgerald, J.J. Nelson/Brice Butler Larry Fitzgerald, J.J. Nelson, Brice Butler
Backups: Christian Kirk [R], Chad Williams, Carlton Agudosi, Trent Sherfield [R], Jalen Tolliver [R]

Starting WRs: This will be year number 15 for Larry Fitzgerald and he looks to continue to produce at a high level for at least one more season. Fitzgerald is coming off of three straight seasons with over 107 receptions, 1,024 receiving yards, and 6 touchdowns. Fitzgerald turns 35 before the season starts and is showing no signs of slowing down. "I never really need to be rejuvenated," he said. "I love the competition. I love hearing people say 'he's 35, he's too old to do this still,' and me just continuing to do what I do. All that stuff motivated me. Honestly, I'm as motivated as I was when I was 20 just cutting my teeth. It doesn't really turn off." J.J. Nelson and Brice Butler look to be the other starters on the current depth chart but will have some young competition behind them with Christian Kirk and Chad Williams looking to prove themselves. Nelson is entering his fourth season and has showed ability to help the offense in the past with two straight seasons of over 500 yards receiving. Last year he put up a 29/504/2 stat line. The Cardinals also brought in Brice Butler this offseason to compete at the position and he himself is coming off a 15/317/3 stat line in 13 games games with Dallas last year. He was highly efficient on deep targets from Dak Prescott.

Backup WRs: Listing Christian Kirk as a backup doesn't really do him justice as he could quickly over take both J.J. Nelson and Brice Butler on the depth chart. Kirk is the Cardinals 2nd round pick and has been flagged by many as a slot type of receiver. 93 percent of his snaps at Texas A&M came from the slot. He is more than your average slot receiver as he is 5'10" 200 lbs and with Larry Fitzgerald occupying the slot for at least one more season, he will find opportunities else where. Last year's third-round pick Chad Williams will also be expected to grow into a larger role this year.

Tight Ends

Starters: Ricky Seals-Jones, Jermaine Gresham
Backups: Gabe Holmes, Bryce Williams

Ricky Seals-Jones starting his career off with a bang, scoring three touchdowns in his first 2 career games. He didn't get the start at tight end until Week 11 but since then he played in the teams remaining 7 games finishing the season with 12 catches for 201 yards and 3 touchdowns. With Jermaine Gresham tearing his Achilles in Week 17 last season, we will get a heavy dose of Seals-Jones this offseason and he will almost certainly be the teams starting tight end to open the season. He has potential to earn a heavier workload if he can prove to the coaches that he is a competent run blocker. Jermaine Gresham's recovery timetable is unknown at this point and with him suffering the injury so late in the season he might be a candidate to start the season on the PUP. Gresham played in 14 games a year ago and ended the season with 33/322/2 statline. Gabe Holmes and Bryce Williams are the other two depth chart names to monitor but at this point it looks like it will be Ricky Seals-Jones forced into a much larger role at the position to start the season.

Place Kicker

Phil Dawson: Phil Dawson predictably took a big leap in scoring opportunity when he left the 49ers for the Cardinals in free agency in 2017, but no one could have predicted that the 49ers would actually generate one more field goal attempt than the Cardinals last year. Both teams finished in the top five in attempts, but Dawson disappointed by only hitting 32 of his 40 field goal attempts, including four misses from 30-39 yards. Dawson was only able to finish 13th in kicker scoring despite ample opportunity, in part because the Cardinals only gave him 26 extra point attempts. Dawson still managed to miss three. With the Cardinals offense hinging on Sam Bradford's health and Dawson possibly in decline at age 43, he's only bye/injury/waiver wire material.

Kick and Punt Returners

Kick Returners: D.J. Foster

Kerwynn Williams, 2017's top return specialist, is no longer on the team. This leaves his top backup last year, D.J. Foster, with the inside track to earn the job in 2018.

Punt Returners: J.J. Nelson, D.J. Foster, Patrick Peterson

Two things are known about Arizona's punt return game in 2018. First, former All Pro Patrick Peterson will figure prominently. Second, the team will use someone else most of the time, keeping Peterson fresh for defense and high-leverage situations. Every non-Patterson punt returner from 2017 has moved along in 2018, but Nelson has experience from years past.

Offensive Line

Projected Starters: LT D.J. Humphries, LG Mike Iupati, C A.Q. Shipley, RG Justin Pugh, RT Andre Smith D.J. Humphries, Mike Iupati, A.Q. Shipley, Justin Pugh, Andre Smith
Key Backups: John Wetzel, Evan Boehm, Mason Cole [R], Korey Cunningham [R], Will Holden

The Cardinals believe they have found a long term solution at left tackle in D.J. Humphries. Left guard Mike Iupati restructured his contract after only playing one game last season. Center A.Q. Shipley is undersized but reliable. Right guard Justin Pugh arrived via free agency and should be a solid contributor. Right tackle will likely be Andre Smith's job to lose, but there are other options in John Wetzel and 7th round pick Korey Cunningham. The Cards' o-line enters the season as a low-tier unit, but have the potential to rise if they remain healthy, especially at the guard positions.

Team Defense

The Cardinals are changing over from James Bettcher (now with the Giants) to Al Holcomb at defensive coordinator, and that means a switch to the 4-3 scheme employed by head coach Steve Wilks when he was the defensive coordinator for the Carolina Panthers. Chandler Jones is very comfortable with his hand on the ground, and if Markus Golden comes back from his ACL tear without incident, they have the ends to generate pass rush. Their somewhat thin inside linebacker group will be on the spot with 2017 first-rounder Haason Reddick settling in at his new position as an off-ball linebacker, and surprise contributor Josh Bynes taking up another spot. Arizona parted ways with Tyrann Mathieu in the offseason, but Budda Baker passed his late season audition with flying colors and will replace Mathieu's playmaking ability and energy. Opponents will continue to avoid Patrick Peterson and target the very inexperienced and vulnerable #2, nickel, and dime corners. The Cardinals defense was once elite in fantasy circles, but now play in a much better offensive division. They finished in the middle of the pack last year, but mostly on the strength of a matchup against the pre-Garoppolo 49ers and sinking ship Giants. As a defense and franchise in transition, at best they are a spot starter if they catch a backup quarterback.

Defensive Line

Starters: DE Chandler Jones, DT Corey Peters, DT, Olsen Pierre, DE Markus Golden
Backups: DT Robert Nkemdiche, DE Benson Mayowa, DT Rodney Gunter, DL Alec James [R], DL Bryson Albright

Starting DL: The Cardinals will be employing more 4-3 looks under new head coach Steve Wilks and defensive coordinator Al Holcomb. That means that Chandler Jones and Markus Golden will be playing defensive end. Golden was a defensive end in college and Jones played end with the Patriots, so it shouldn't be too dramatic of a change for them. Golden is recovering from a torn ACL after posting 12.5 sacks in 2017, Jones is coming off of a season with a career high 17 sacks. Former defensive coordinator James Bettcher, now with the Giants, had a knack for generating pressure, so Jones and Golden might miss him. 2017 first-round pick Haason Reddick will also get passing down snaps rushing from the edge. Inside, new defensive line coach Don Johnson will have a mix of talents to work with. Corey Peters is turning 30 this year and should mainly contribute on early downs gumming up the opponent's running game. Olsen Pierre should be the best interior pass rusher and he can also play defensive end. 2016 first round pick Robert Nkemdiche has the physical tools to be one of the best in the league, and the new coaching regime will be focused on unlocking his potential in his third year. He has to stay healthy and harness that talent, but if he does, Nkemdiche should be a starter and push Pierre to more of passing down role.

Backup DL: Benson Mayowa is the third end on the depth chart. He had some moments with Dallas in 2015 and is in his prime age 27 season. 2018 UDFA Alec James (Wisconsin) is a developmental project whose ceiling might be limited by his lack of top-end athletic ability, but he could work his way onto the roster as the fourth end because the position is very thin with the change in scheme. He is a DE/DT tweener, but that could help him as a base set edge to replace Kareem Martin, who followed James Bettcher to the Giants. In addition to one of Pierre and Nkemdiche, the Cardinals have Rodney Gunter, who was taken in the fourth round in 2015 out of Delaware State as a high ceiling project, but they are still waiting for him to blossom. He'll be part of the rotation inside. The team lost Martin, Xavier Williams, and Josh Mauro in free agency, and will be hoping that some of 2017 special teams contributor Bryson Albright, practice squad players Pasoni Tasini, Peli Anau, and Haason Reddick college teammate Praise Martin-Oguike, German football import Moubarak Djeri can emerge in camp to help make up for the lost depth.


Starters: SLB Haason Reddick, MLB Josh Bynes, WLB Deone Buccanon
Backups: OLB Jeremy Cash, ILB Scooby Wright

Starting LBs: The Cardinals linebackers will be adjusting to a new scheme and one of the most affected players will be 2017 first-round pick Haason Reddick. Reddick would be best suited to line up at SAM where he can work the edge in run defense, have a chance to show off his coverage skills, and blitz. Deone Bucannon projects as the weakside outside linebacker, signal caller and the top linebacker in nickel/dime packages. Josh Bynes had a good year for the team in 2017, so they brought him back, so he'll project as the starter at middle linebacker, but likely come off of the field in subpackages, which will be around half of the snaps, if not more.

Backup LBs: Arizona's backups are led by Jeremy Cash, who was signed by the Panthers as an undrafted free agent in 2016 despite having a draftable grade on many boards. He is a safety/linebacker tweener who has the speed and range to fit in Wilks/Holcomb's defense. The Cardinals claimed him after the Browns released him this offseason. Scooby Wright is a special teams contributor and probably the top backup at middle linebacker if he fits in the scheme athletically. He bounced between the active roster and practice squad last year. The team signed highly productive small program linebackers Frank Ginda (San Jose State) Matt Oplinger (Yale) and Dennis Gardeck (Sioux Falls) as undrafted free agents and one or both could make the practice squad, if not push for a roster spot.

Defensive Backs

Starters: CB Patrick Peterson, SS Budda Baker, FS Antoine Bethea, CB Jamar Taylor
Backups: CB Brandon Williams, CB Marcus Williams, DB Rudy Ford, DB Harlan Miller, CB Bene Benwikere, CB Christian Campbell [R], CB Deatrick Nichols [R]

Starting DBs: The secondary will be anchored by shutdown corner Patrick Peterson. Peterson had career lows in tackles and interceptions as teams generally did not test him. That was in part because of how poor the team's other corners were in 2017. Tramon Williams actually started nine games and played reasonably well for a late career corner, but he was signed his old team, Green Bay, in free agency. The team traded for 2017 Browns starter Jamar Taylor after the draft and he should be the favorite to start on the other side of Peterson. He can also fit in the slot and should be fine in the Wilks/Holcomb scheme, but he doesn't have the length/size they covet. Budda Baker was a revelation and tonesetter on defense when he was inserted at strong safety and he'll need to make gamechanging plays to make up for the deficiencies elsewhere in this defense, including the loss of Tyrann Mathieu, who was released in the offseason. Antoine Bethea showed he still has some good football left in him at 33 last year and will start next to Baker at free safety this year.

Backup DBs: 2016 third round pick Brandon Williams fits the Wilks/Holcomb defense in terms of size and speed, but will have to develop the aggressiveness the former Panthers coaches covet in their corners. The team signed journeyman Marcus Williams to compete for playing time. He had spent time with the Jets and Houston after coming into the league as an undrafted free agent and posted six interceptions for the Jets in 2015. Former Carolina starter and 2014 fifth-round pick Bene Benwikere was reunited with Wilks, once his defensive backs coach, and could be a fallback option at corner if neither Williams wins a job in camp. The Cardinals may rely on Rudy Ford for depth at defensive back. He's a potential free safety of the future with his top-end speed. 2016 sixth-rounder Harlan Miller will be a safety of last resort if he can make the roster, and he played zone corner in college, so he might be a fit at corner in the Wilks/Holcomb scheme. This year's sixth-round pick, Chris Campbell (Penn State) has the length at corner that Wilks loved in Carolina, giving him a chance to play a role if the group of uninspiring veterans doesn't exceed expectations. Deatrick Nichols was productive at South Florida and the team's lack of quality depth at corner gives him a better than usual shot for a UDFA to make the final roster.

Last modified: 2018-06-02 23:23:06