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2019 Team Report: Arizona Cardinals

Offensive Philosophy

The Cardinals shocked the football world this offseason when they named Kliff Kingsbury, a 39-year-old college coach whose teams haven't finished with a winning record since 2015, as their new head coach. Kingsbury's resume included coaching Case Keenum, Johnny Manziel, Baker Mayfield, Davis Webb, and Patrick Mahomes in college, and he enters the league hoping to borrow college spread concepts to spark a new offensive revolution. Kingsbury is a proponent of the Air Raid, which puts four receivers on the field and relies much more heavily on the passing game, (in some cases passing 75% of the time or more). Air Raid offenses typically do not huddle before the snap, pushing the pace of the game. The quarterback often has great freedom to call audibles at the line of scrimmage based on what he sees.

Quarterbacks

Starter: Kyler Murray [R]
Backup(s): Brett Hundley, Chad Kanoff

Starting QB: For the past few months leading up to the draft it felt like everyone knew that Kyler Murray would be the top overall pick by the Arizona Cardinals and that is what ended up happening. The former Oklahoma quarterback was a long sought after prospect who new coach Kliff Kingsbury said before he was the coach of the Cardinals back in October that "I'd take him with the first pick of the draft if I could." Murray has all the skills to turn the Cardinals offense around in a hurry, at 5-foot-10, he is not your prototypical quarterback but he does have the ability to do things that most quarterbacks can't do. He was dynamic in his final year at Oklahoma passing for 42 touchdowns and adding 12 more on the ground with 1,001 rushing yards.

Backup QB: The Cardinals filled their backup quarterback spot by signing Brett Hundley to a one-year deal worth $1.88 million. Hundley was happy to be in the Kliff Kingsbury fold as he said "the offense fits me. It's something I've been wanting to play in for a long time." Hundley didn't see any game action in 2018, but back in 2017 he started ten games passing for nine touchdowns and running for two more. He has experience at the NFL level and is in a good spot as far as a backup job goes in this Kingsbury offense.

Running Backs

Starter: David Johnson
Backup(s): Chase Edmonds, T.J. Logan, D.J. Foster, Brandon Wilds
Fullback(s):

Starting RB: The hype for David Johnson has been big entering every season since his 2016 explosion where he finished the year as RB2 in fantasy football. In 2017, he was injured one game into the season, and last season he was hyped as an early 1st round selection as he was ranked as RB4 heading into the season and ended up finishing the year as the 10th best running back. Johnson's best fantasy trait remains his ability to catch the ball out of the backfield and piling up the stats in the receiving game. He had 50 receptions for 446 yards and 3 touchdowns through the air and added 941 rushing yards along with 7 rushing touchdowns but only averaged 3.6 yards a carry. With Kliff Kingsbury now coaching the team there seems to be a new excitement for the offensive minded players and scheme and it will likely all start with the Cardinals most talented player, David Johnson.

Backup RBs: Chase Edmonds is the true handcuff to David Johnson out of this list of backups in Arizona. Edmonds was a 4th round selection in 2018 and touched the ball a total of 80 times in his rookie season. With those touches he accumulated 208 rushing yards and a pair of rushing touchdowns on 60 carries, and caught 20 passes for 103 receiving yards.

Fullback:

Wide Receivers

Starters: Larry Fitzgerald, Christian Kirk
Backups: Hakeem Butler [R], Andy Isabella [R], Trent Sherfield, Chad Williams, Kevin White, Bryant Mitchell, Pharoh Cooper

Starting WRs: Larry Fitzgerald remains as one of the best to ever play the position and is now entering his 16th season. He is coming off a down year seeing just 112 targets which is low for him and compiling 69 receptions for 734 yards and six touchdowns. With Christian Kirk now in the mix and entering his second season the duo could help each other put up an increase in their individual numbers. Kirk suffered a foot injury during Week 13 and had surgery. He expects to be ready for OTAs and will be ready to improve on his 12 game rookie numbers of 43/590/3. Kirk has been put in the category of slot receiver throughout his college career and rookie season in the NFL and he should be an excellent inside receiver in the air raid. Fitzgerald's game is more route running and timing based, which isn't a classic fit in the air raid, and his numbers could suffer a bit with the addition of two rookie receivers hand-picked by the regime and another year of a rookie quarterback learning the ropes.

Backup WRs: This is an important situation to watch as the new system should employ three or four wide receivers on the majority of plays. Now entering year three in Arizona, Chad Williams has yet to be a solid contributor in the offense. He played a total of 10 games in 2018 and only caught 17 of his 46 targets for 171 yards and a single touchdown. Williams will have to have a strong camp and stay healthy entering the season to secure the role as WR3 in Arizona. The Cardinals brought in some young talent in the draft with both Hakeem Butler and Andy Isabella who will look to contribute in year one and will be nice high upside depth pieces behind the starting wideouts in Fitzgerald and Kirk. If either is a quick study in the new system, they could be instant hits in redraft leagues.

Tight Ends

Starters: Ricky Seals-Jones, Charles Clay
Backups: Maxx Williams, Darrell Daniels, Caleb Wilson {R]

The Cardinals will have some competition at the tight end position this year with the signing of Charles Clay. Look for Clay to push Ricky Seals-Jones to that next level as he enters year three in the NFL. Seals-Jones is coming off a sophomore season where he was supposed to see breakout type of numbers but had to settle with a single touchdown on 34 catches and 343 receiving yards through 15 games. The Cardinals signed Charles Clay to a one-year contract that is reported to be worth up to $3.25 million, with a $350,000 signing bonus. Clay is entering his ninth season and will bring some veteran leadership to the position while pushing Seals-Jones to take his game to the next level.

Place Kicker

Zane Gonzalez, Cole Murphy: The Cardinals moved on from Phil Dawson last year after he battled injuries and inaccuracy. Matthew McCrane was pushing Dawson in the preseason and filled in admirably for him for one game, but was released. When Arizona made up their mind to put Dawson on injured reserve in November, they instead signed Zane Gonzalez, who failed to hold onto the Cleveland kicker job. Gonzalez made 7-of-9 field goal attempts and keyed the win over the Packers that got Mike McCarthy fired in his debut. Gonzalez is a local product and he is back for 2019, with competition from Cole Murphy, an AAF refugee. Gonzalez should be considered the favorite here, but the situation is so bereft of kicker opportunity that it's best to avoid no matter who wins it.

Kick and Punt Returners

Kick Returners: T.J. Logan, Brandon Williams, Pharoh Cooper

T.J. Logan and Brandon Williams split kickoff return duties in 2018, but the team also added former All Pro returner Pharoh Cooper last December and he certainly has the skills to challenge for the job.

Punt Returners: Christian Kirk, Pharoh Cooper, T.J. Logan

Patrick Peterson has long played a role on special teams for the Cardinals, but with questions surrounding his future with the team, Arizona made moves last season to move on from him, handing Kirk most of the returns early in the season and signing former Rams return specialist Pharoh Cooper late in the year.

Offensive Line

Projected Starters: D.J. Humphries, J.R. Sweezy, Mason Cole, Justin Pugh, Marcus Gilbert
Key Backups: Korey Cunningham, Will Holden, Max Garcia, Rees Odhiambo, Joshua Miles [R], Lamont Gaillard [R]

This line had an injury plagued 2018 season. Left tackle D.J. Humphries returns from a knee injury which limited him to 55% of the snaps last season, and right guard Justin Pugh only played in 36% of the snaps. The team acquired two veteran starters from free agency, left guard J.R. Sweezy from Seattle and Marcus Gilbert from Pittsburgh. Sweezy (and Rees Odhiambo) have starting experience in the division and Gilbert can be dominant when healthy. Third round rookie Mason Cole played well but this line needs to avoid injury to improve their rank. They enter the season in the low-tier, primarily due to constant lineup change, but have the talent to quickly rise to the middle of the pack.

Team Defense

The Cardinals defense had a rough year on defense, as they were changing schemes to adopt the Wilks/Holcomb system, and they also found themselves in terrible game scripts as the losingest team in the league. Arizona still managed to finish top five in sacks behind Chandler Jones, and their pass defense was one of the best in the league behind Patrick Peterson and good play from their safeties. They only had seven interceptions despite the good pass defense, in part because they allowed far and away the most rush attempts and scores, so opponents didn't need to press the issue with the pass. 2019 will see another scheme change, this time led by new defensive coordinator Vance Joseph, who had a very successful year in his only season in that role in Miami before becoming the Broncos head coach in 2017. The addition of Terrell Suggs, Robert Alford, and Jordan Hicks will shore up problem spots in the defense and the team should be more competitive this year, but they are only a matchup streamer unless they greatly overachieve.

Defensive Line

Starters: DE Rodney Gunter, NT Corey Peters, DE Darius Philon
Backups: DL Zach Allen [R], DT Robert Nkemdiche (inj), DE Michael Dogbe [R], DL Vincent Valentine, DL Cameron Malveaux

Starting DL: New defensive coordinator Vance Joseph is switching the defense back to a 3-4 base from the 4-3 scheme Steve Wilks and Al Holcomb installed last year. They were previously a 3-4 defense under James Bettcher, and Chandler Jones will move back to outside linebacker after lining up at end last year. Corey Peters will be the nose tackle and captain of this unit. Gunter was productive last year and the team brought him back on a very affordable one-year, 1.75 million dollar deal to start at one end, although he can also play nose tackle. Darius Philon will play the other end position in the base defense after the Cardinals got him in free agency on a reasonable two-year, 10 million dollar deal. He's coming off of his best season as a pro with the Chargers and only 25. This is not a glamorous group but they will do the dirty work in the trenches

Backup DL: This might be the biggest weakness in the defense. The team decided not to pick up 2016 first round pick Robert Nkemdiche's fifth-year option and he is coming back from December ACL surgery. He may not be available until midseason. The best hope for quality backup snaps is third-round pick Zach Allen, who was always around the ball at Boston College, notching an astounding 100 tackles and 15.5 for losses in 2017, and still putting up 61 tackles and 15.5 for losses again in 2018 despite facing constant double teams. He can line up anywhere from 3-technique to 9-technique on the line. Their seventh-round pick Michael Dogbe from Temple, can provide some pass rush from inside. Malveaux was signed from the Dolphins practice squad last year and had a sack in limited late season action. He could also play some at outside linebacker. Valentine should make the team as a backup nose tackle. He only lasted a little over two years with the Patriots after they selected him in the third round of the 2016 draft.

Linebackers

Starters: OLB Chandler Jones, ILB Haason Reddick, ILB Jordan Hicks, OLB Terrell Suggs
Backups: OLB Brooks Reed, ILB Tanner Vallejo, ILB Dennis Gardeck, ILB Zeke Turner

Starting LBs: Jones will be slimming down and moving back to OLB, which is a hit for his IDP value, but a possible bump for his sack numbers, as he is excited to play for Joseph because Joseph is emphasizing sacks more than pressures or quarterback hits when talking to Jones about goals for 2019. Suggs signed a two-year, 10 million dollar deal with the team to play opposite Jones. His production had been declining for the Ravens, and he left as part of the annual exodus from their defense. Reddick hasn't clicked yet after being selected with the #13 overall pick and will be playing under his third defensive coordinator in three years. Hicks was signed to a four-year, 34 million dollar deal this offseason after being a highly productive, but oft-injured player for the Eagles. Linebacker coach Bill Davis was his defensive coordinator in Philadelphia in 2015. He suffered an achilles rupture in 2017, but returned to form before a calf injury marred an otherwise strong campaign last year. This unit should be a strength as long as Hicks stays on the field and Suggs doesn't sharply decline. Reddick is the wild card.

Backup LBs: Reed is a very strong #3 at outside linebacker. Given Jones' versatility and Suggs' age, he may play fifty percent of the snaps or more, including some work at defensive end. Vallejo is an adequate backup at best, and Gardeck and Turner are known more for their special teams play than ability to contribute to the defense at this point. The team is going to be in trouble if Hicks can't play 16 games, something he has done once in his career, while missing at least half of the season twice. Look for Steve Keim to make a move to bolster this group.

Defensive Backs

Starters: CB Patrick Peterson, S Budda Baker, S D.J. Swearinger, CB Robert Alford, CB Byron Murphy [R]
Backups: CB Tramaine Brock, DB Josh Shaw, S Deionte Thompson [R}, DB Rudy Ford, CB David Amerson

Starting DBs: The secondary should be reshuffled to something more sensible after some questionable choices made by the Wilks/Holcomb regime last year. Patrick Peterson will go back to playing man coverage. Budda Baker will move out of the slot and back to safety. The team signed Robert Alford to a three-year, 22.5 million dollar deal to start opposite Peterson, and he should represent an upgrade from the cast of characters the team has used in the CB2 role in recent years. The #33 pick was used on Byron Murphy, who some had as the top corner in the draft. He should be an instant hit as a slot corner and he can also play outside, although he can be beaten by bigger receivers. Swearinger was claimed from Washington after the team cut him when they grew tired of his public criticism of coaches and teammates. He was a Cardinal in 2015 and 2016. Swearinger is an intimidator in the middle of the defense and will provide attitude along with Baker. This group should be a strength as long as the new additions and new scheme mesh quickly.

Backup DBs: Defensive back is the one group where the backups won't keep the coaches awake at night worrying about what the defense will look like if they have to turn to Plan B. Thompson was a fifth-round pick who fell because of a knee issue and worries about his speed, but he was considered a blue chip prospect at the beginning of the process and could overtake Swearinger in time. Ford is a solid special teamer and depth at safety. Shaw can play both corner and safety, giving him a leg up to make the team. The former Washington and Oakland starter Amerson and former 49ers starter Brock will likely battle for one spot on the final roster, with Brock having an edge because he was with Joseph last year in Denver, starting five games.

Last modified: 2019-05-22 15:58:38