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2020 Team Report: Arizona Cardinals

Last updated: Tue, Jun 2

Offensive Philosophy

Despite a paper-thin coaching resume, the Arizona Cardinals hired Kliff Kingsbury as their head coach last season to bring his version of the Air Raid offense to the NFL. Designed to flood the field with receivers and stretch horizontally as well as vertically (forcing the other team to "defend every blade of grass"), Kingsbury's Cardinals were among the league leaders in pace of play and 4- and 5-receiver sets, but inconsistent play (especially early in the season) left them just 21st in total plays run. With Kyler Murray poised to take a step forward in his second season and new superstar receiver DeAndre Hopkins in the fold, Arizona is hoping to turn NFL games into track meets in 2020.

Quarterbacks

Starter: Kyler Murray
Backup(s): Brett Hundley

Starting QB: The Cardinals are on year two of the Kyler Murray build and look to move full speed ahead as they continue to surround him with talent on the offensive side of the ball. The 2019 first overall pick looked poised in his rookie season, playing in all 16 games and finishing as the QB9 at the end of the season. Murray finished his rookie season with 3,722 passing yards, 20 passing touchdowns, and was second in QB rushing yards only behind Lamar Jackson with 544 yards. Heading into year two of the Kliff Kingsbury system is only going to lead to better numbers for Murray and the fact that they added DeAndre Hopkins is showing that they are building the entire offense around Murray. With his newly added stud WR along with an already steady cast of wide receiver talent, Murray can improve on his passing numbers and will also have plenty of opportunity to put up some big numbers running the ball.

Backup QB: With the Cardinals being all in on Kyler Murray, they only have Brett Hundley behind him at the position currently. With Hundley the Cardinals know that he fits well in the Kingsbury offense if he ever had to fill in for Murray during the season. Hundley has only had to throw a total of 11 passes over the past two seasons but he also had some starting experience with the Packers back in 2017 when he filled in for an injured Aaron Rodgers.

Running Backs

Starter: Kenyan Drake
Backup(s): Chase Edmonds, Eno Benjamin [R], D.J. Foster
Fullback(s):

Starting RB: Kenyan Drake has been thought to be a breakout candidate for the Dolphins for a few seasons but never seemed to get his fair share of touches. A mid-season trade to the Cardinals changed that as he quickly over took the RB1 spot from David Johnson and was an instant workhorse back for the Cardinals as he rushed for seven touchdowns in the final three games. With the Cardinals passing game looking to open up with QB Kyler Murray entering year two and the addition of WR DeAndre Hopkins, it could create even more room for Drake to continue on his 2019 late season success. Drake finished his 2019 season with 817 rushing yards and 8 rushing touchdowns along with 50 receptions for 345 receiving yards in 14 total games. In 8 games with the Cardinals, Drake posted 123 attempts for 643 rushing yards, 8 touchdowns, 28 receptions, and 171 receiving yards. Those numbers are for a half of a season with the Cardinals so now thinking of the possibilities of a full season with the Cardinals, Drake's 2020 outlook looks very promising.

Backup RBs: Chase Edmonds is now entering year three in the league and has back to back seasons of 60 rushing attempts for the Cardinals. Playing second fiddle to Drake will hurt him when it comes to finding opportunities to get the ball in his hand. Edmonds exploded in Week 7 against the Giants for 27 attempts, 126 rushing yards and three touchdowns. A game like that shows you that if Drake were to miss any time during the season that Edmonds would fit right into the system and produce. The team drafted local produce Eno Benjamin in the seventh round, much later than expected. He has a three-down skillset and should make the team as the third running back.

Fullback:

Wide Receivers

Starters: DeAndre Hopkins, Larry Fitzgerald, Christian Kirk
Backups: Keesean Johnson, Andy Isabella, Trent Sherfield, Hakeem Butler

Starting WRs: Trading away David Johnson for DeAndre Hopkins might be the best win-win trade possible for the Cardinals. Johnson was on his way out with Drake overtaking him last season, and now they get to add a top 5 wide receiver in Hopkins to the mix. There is no better way to instantly improve your passing game for a young quarterback, than to bring in a top wide receiver in Hopkins. Hopkins has played in the league for eight seasons and has had over 1165 receiving yards in six of those seasons. In standard scoring leagues over the past three seasons Hopkins has finished as the WR1, WR2, and WR10 last season. Larry Fitzgerald will be back for another season as he just completed his 16th season with a 75/804/4 statline. Christian Kirk makes up the third option in the starting wide receivers and is coming off a 68/709/3 line over 13 games in 2019. There is no lack of talent here in these starting wide receivers as Kyler Murray will have three great options in Hopkins, Fitzgerald, and Kirk.

Backup WRs: Even the depth at wide receiver is interesting for the Cardinals with naems like Andy Isabella, Hakeem Butler, Keesean Johnson, and Trent Sherfield all showing that they have talent and can contribute. Johnson saw the most targets out of this bunch last season with 42 but only catching 21 of them for 187 yards and a touchdown. There is potential to have WR4 and WR5 on the Cardinals see targets as the offense moves at such a fast pace so keeing an eye on Isabella and Butler to see if they can emerge in year two will be interesting.

Tight Ends

Starters: Charles Clay
Backups: Maxx Williams, Dan Arnold

The Cardinals always seem to struggle when it comes to finding a tight end that can help them produce in the passing game. They have three guys in Charles Clay, Maxx Williams, and Dan Arnold that are all returning from last season. With Clay catching 18 passes and Williams catching 15 in a committee setting last season it will be hard to look towards either one for fantasy purposes. Arnold is a former wide receiver and he would have the highest ceiling if he can emerge.

Place Kicker

Zane Gonzalez: Gonzalez's career leveled off in 2019 to help him secure a job with the Cardinals for at least 2020. He was a bit shaky at the end of 2018, but established himself in 2019 with a strong 31 of 35 field goal attempt rate and 34 of 35 extra points. He signed a one-year, $3.259 million dollar deal with the Cardinals this offseason, which reflected a second round restricted free agent tender to keep another team from signing him to an offer sheet. The Cardinals offense should be even better this year, making Gonzalez maybe the #1 target if you wait until the final round to draft your kicker.

Kick and Punt Returners

Kick Returners: Andy Isabella

Arizona parted ways with their primary return specialist from the last two years, Pharoh Cooper, leaving a vacancy atop the depth chart. Young receiver Andy Isabella was the top backup a year ago and the acquisition of DeAndre Hopkins should leave him more opportunity to contribute on special teams.

Punt Returners: Christian Kirk

Arizona parted ways with their primary return specialist from the last two years, Pharoh Cooper, leaving a vacancy atop the depth chart. Young receiver Christian Kirk was the top backup a year ago and the acquisition of DeAndre Hopkins should leave him more opportunity to contribute on special teams.

Offensive Line

Projected Starters: OT D.J. Humphries, OG J.R. Sweezy, C Mason Cole, OG Justin Pugh, OT Marcus Gilbert
Key Backups: OT Josh Jones [R], OT Justin Murray, OG Max Garcia, G/C Lamont Galliard

All 5 starters from last season return to work in a scheme featuring zone spread concepts often found in college football. The strength of this unit is at guard, where Justin Pugh and JR Sweezy provide veteran play, when healthy. Veteran right tackle Marcus Gilbert will compete with Justin Murray and third round rookie Josh Jones from Houston to keep the job.

Team Defense

The Cardinals only had seven picks and 17 total takeaways last year, with 40 sacks thanks mostly to Chandler Jones. Teams generally had no problems moving the ball or putting up points against them in the first year under Vance Joseph. They reloaded at linebacker this offseason, signing De'Vondre Campbell and Devon Kennard in free agency and then being lucky enough to have Isaiah Simmons fall into their lap at #8. The unit should also be helped by more favorable game scripts with the addition of DeAndre Hopkins and the whole team entering year two under Kliff Kingsbury, but they will be a bye/injury/matchup play unless things really start to click on both sides of the ball. Arizona is a good upside defense to grab as a second or third option in best ball drafts.

Defensive Line

Starters: DE Zach Allen, DT Jordan Phillips, NT Corey Peters
Backups: DT Leki Fotu [R], DT Rashard Lawrence [R], DE Michael Dogbe, DE Jonathan Bullard, DL Trevon Coley, DL Miles Brown

Starting DL: The Cardinals made one big free agency move to bolster a thin defensive line when they signed Phillips to a three-year, $30 million dollar deal to be the anchor of their line. Peters returns as their best run stuffer, but he is getting into the autumn of his career. The team is very high on Allen, a 2019 early third round pick, but his rookie year was cut short early by a neck injury. He needs to take a big step forward and Phillips needs to play up to his contract for this group to carry their weight. The team was one of the worst against the run and got little pass rush production from their defensive line in 2019. The team hopes the return of Brentson Buckner as defensive coach will help execute a turnaround like the one he engineered with the Raiders last year.

Backup DL: The depth on the line is not good, but at least the Cardinals addressed it in the draft. They used a fourth-round pick on Fotu, a massive (6'5" 330) nose tackle who will be asked to clog holes against the run. The Cardinals used a second fourth round pick on Lawrence, who is a dirty work scrapper in the trenches who should give them quality rotational snaps. After that the depth is very underwhelming and suspect. Bullard was a solid backup last year and the team brought him back on a one-year deal for just over a million dollars with little of it guaranteed so he will have to earn his roster spot. Coley was also signed to a minimal one-year deal in the offseason after he bounced around the league last year. Dogbe and Brown were holdovers from their rookie season in 2019. Dogbe was a seventh-round pick and Brown a UDFA. Both will be pushed for their roster spot in camp.

Linebackers

Starters: OLB Chandler Jones, LB De'Vondre Campbell, ILB Jordan Hicks, OLB Devon Kennard, LB Isaiah Simmons
Backups: LB Haason Reddick, LB Evan Weaver [R], LB Dennis Gardeck, LB Tanner Vallejo, LB Vontarrius Dora, OLB Kylie Fitts

Starting LBs: The Cardinals turned this group into a strength in the space of two years after Chandler Jones was the only bright spot in 2018. Hicks played all 16 games for only the second time in his career and rewarded the Cardinals with steady play inside, gobbling up tackles and picking off three passes. Campbell was one of two signings to bolster the linebacker room coming off of a career year with the Falcons. He is more likely to play outside since the Cardinals had Isaiah Simmons (Clemson) fall to them at #8. Vance Joseph said Simmons will play inside linebacker primarily, but he can also play safety, slot corner, and edge rusher. Kennard was signed to start and also provide some pass rush, but he might only be a subpackage player with the addition of Simmons. The team has outstanding depth and flexibility at linebacker now.

Backup LBs: The Cardinals will have some tough choices to make at backup linebacker. Reddick has been a huge disappointment and the team did not pick up his fifth year option. It's not out of the question that he is traded before the season. Weaver, a sixth-round pick, Vallejo, and Gardeck are all competing for one or two spots that will be special teams ace/backup inside linebacker. Gardeck and Weaver should be considered most likely to make the team of the group. Fitts didn't stick as a sixth round pick for the Bears in 2018, but the Cardinals signed him to the practice squad last year and promoted him in December. Dora has bounced on and off of the roster over the last two years. If the team feels the need to carry another backup outside linebacker they are the most likely candidates.

Defensive Backs

Starters: CB Patrick Peterson, CB Byron Murphy, S Budda Baker, S Jalen Thompson, CB Robert Alford
Backups: CB Chris Jones, S Chris Banjo, S Deionte Thompson

Starting DBs: The Cardinals sorely missed Peterson for the first six games last year when he was suspended, but it allowed second-round pick Byron Murphy to get valuable experience. He looked like a rookie learning the ropes, but also was not overwhelmed. He should be on the field most defensive snaps and could move into the slot when the offensive personnel set demands it. Alford broke his leg in camp before the season, but he should be a starter outside if the team wants to play Murphy in the slot. Baker is becoming a star in IDP league and made his first Pro Bowl. He gobbles us tackles and should be in line for a big contract extension soon. Thompson looks like a good use a supplemental fifth round pick last year as he showed improvement as the year went on in 2019.

Backup DBs: The Cardinals need to make some moves to improve their cornerback depth or keep their fingers crossed that they suffer no key injuries, although Isaiah Simmons could help in the slot if needed. Jones is the only corner who is close to a lock as a backup. He has bounced on and off of the roster over the last two years, but has the most experience of the non-starters. There are too many names to list on the roster competing for a depth spot at corner including numerous undrafted free agents from this and last year. That competition will be wide open in camp, but it should have some new names by then. Thompson leads the safety backups. He got a couple of starts last year after being drafted in the fifth round out of Alabama, although he fell behind Jalen Thompson on the depth chart when he was outperformed. Banjo is a special teams ace who joined the team last year and can provide safety depth in a pinch.