Thompson’s In-Depth Power Rankings: #19 Arizona Cardinalsby Mason Thompson July 27, 2021 0 comments
There are teams every year in the NFL that media outlets hype as a potential sleeper team to win the Super Bowl. Many platforms have the Arizona Cardinals as that team this year. In the third year in the Kliff Kingsbury and Kyler Murray era, the Cardinals come in as the 19th-ranked team in the power rankings.
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The buzz the Cardinals are receiving stems from their offseason moves. Unfortunately, it isn’t 2016. The additions of J.J. Watt, A.J. Green, and Malcolm Butler sent shockwaves through the NFL world, but all three players are past their primes. Now, that doesn’t mean they aren’t still good. Watt is still a great pass-rusher and is an all-around great player. Butler gives the Bengals another option for their number one cornerback, and Green gives insurance to a receiver room with plenty of young players that haven’t broken out like many thought they would have. Some smaller additions to the Cardinals include James Conner, Colt McCoy, Shawn Williams, and Brian Winters.
The additions the Cardinals had during this time weren’t without some losses as well. Kenyan Drake made his way to the Raiders to team up with Josh Jacobs in Las Vegas, which explains the signing of Conner. Patrick Peterson grew frustrated with the organization and made his way northeast to Minnesota to help out the Vikings. Haason Reddick finally put it together in a contract year, but Arizona didn’t feel the need to keep him around, and he signed with the Panthers. Dan Arnold finished third on the team in receiving yards last year, and he left to go to the Panthers, leaving more than a massive hole at the tight end spot.
Fixing the Middle of the Offensive Line
The center spot on the offensive line has been a massive eyesore over the last few seasons for the Cardinals. Once A.Q. Shipley retired, Mason Cole never lived up to the potential he once had. So, when the Raiders decided to ship off their three best offensive linemen in a matter of a few days, Steve Keim and the Cardinals were wise to get on the phone and sent a third-round pick to Las Vegas to acquire Rodney Hudson. About a week later, the Cardinals shipped Cole to the Vikings, where he has a chance to battle for the starting center job in Minnesota.
A Defensive Draft
The Cardinals almost pulled off a full-defensive draft this year. Outside of two picks, the draft was on the defensive side of the ball. By taking Zaven Collins, the Cardinals have another versatile piece to pair with Isaiah Simmons. Arizona fans were puzzled by the move, but with De’Vondre Campbell remaining unsigned before the draft, they pounced on the opportunity to take the uber-talented Collins. In the second round, Kingsbury couldn’t help himself and added another speedy weapon for Murray by taking Rondale Moore. It will be interesting to see how the Cardinals deploy Moore and how the rest of the receiving room evolves because of him.
On day three, it was about adding pieces to a secondary that desperately needed help. Marco Wilson and Tay Gowan should both factor in immediately. James Wiggins was also added to help out a safety unit with question marks outside of Budda Baker. Victor Dimukeje should help out a pass-rush that was lacking as well. The final pick was used on Michal Menet, who will compete for the backup role behind Hudson at center.
- Overall – 80.66 (19th)
- Offense – 80.75 (18th)
- Defense – 80.06 (18th)
- Coach and Culture – 78.25 (17th)
Quarterbacks – 81.5, 15th (26 percent Overall, 39 percent Offense)
Another reason for the hype the Cardinals have received this offseason is because of their starting quarterback. Opinions on Murray are all over the place. Some have him already as a top-ten quarterback in the league, some have him in this middle-tier range, and some have him below middle-tier. Murray is an electrifying prospect, but it isn’t without some bone-headed moves from time to time. He completed over 67 percent of his passes for almost 4,000 yards, 26 touchdowns, and 12 interceptions. He has absurd arm talent and can throw passes at the most awkward arm angles.
Murray has transformed Arizona’s offense, and his rushing ability is another factor that helps him out. He has a great feel of the pocket, and that was seen as the sack total he encountered was cut in half from his rookie season to his second. Unfortunately, Murray struggles in the middle of the field. If you look at accuracy charts, you can see how much he struggles, whether that be due to his height or his processing ability is yet to be seen.
Adding McCoy gives the Cardinals a backup with plenty of experience that can be serviceable if Murray were injured due to his continued rushing ability. McCoy has done solid in recent years when thrust into action when the starter gets injured and should be fine in that regard again this year for the Cardinals. Chris Streveler had to play during a game last year, and if the Cardinals are down to him as a starter at any point this season, something drastically went wrong.
Running Backs – 73, 26th (4 percent Overall, 5 percent Offense)
The Cardinals haven’t put very many resources into the running back position and even let go of Drake during the offseason. Chase Edmonds is a perfect example of a running back that works in this system. Edmonds is a complete back that can catch the ball out of the backfield that has a lightning approach to what the Cardinals had by adding Conner to be the thunder in the offense. Edmonds had the best year of his three-year career last year when he had 150 total touches for 850 yards and five touchdowns on the season. After missing nine games in two seasons, the Steelers felt it was time to move on from Conner, and that was seen when they selected Najee Harris in the first round of the draft.
Behind those two, Eno Benjamin should get most of the attention. After being inactive in all 16 games during his rookie season, Benjamin looks to snag the third running back role. If Edmonds were to get hurt, Benjamin needs to be able to step into that role. After Benjamin, Jonathan Ward is a good special teams player and should make the team.
Pass Catchers – 91, 5th (10 percent Overall, 16 percent Offense)
It is still amazing that the Cardinals were able to get Deandre Hopkins for what they did. He is one of the three best receivers in the league and has completely re-shaped the receiver contract market, which is tremendous news for Davante Adams currently. The main reason why the pass-catchers rank fifth in the league for Arizona is because of Hopkins. He and Murray teamed up a ton last year and look to do so again this year.
While the room ranks fifth, there are a lot of question marks surrounding the receiving room. The Cardinals brought Green in Green after a few injury-plagued seasons in Cincinnati, hoping to reinvigorate what made him one of the top receivers in the game at some point. Unfortunately, that seems highly unlikely as Green seemed to be a completely different player last year for the Bengals. He struggled to separate last season, and the Cardinals have many other players that can separate a lot more than Green.
Christian Kirk is one of those players, and he is in the final year of his rookie contract. Coming into the NFL, Kirk was compared to Randall Cobb, who was one of the best slot receivers in the league in Green Bay at the time. For whatever reason, Kingsbury has tried using him as a perimeter receiver, and it simply hasn’t worked out. With Green coming in, hopefully, Kingsbury sees that Kirk is better in the slot than on the perimeter. Adding Moore to the fold makes things a bit interesting for Kirk, and both are slot-type receivers. With the air-raid system in Arizona, both should find playing time, and the Cardinals would be more than wise to use Moore as a running back/receiver hybrid this season. He is absurd with the ball in his hands and can make a play at any given moment.
Who Else Steps Up?
The Cardinals drafted Andy Isabella over D.K. Metcalf. There, now that we got that out of the way, we can dive deeper into Isabella. He has struggled to make his way onto the field since being a second-round pick and only has 30 catches to his name. With the addition of Moore, Isabella will likely be phased out of the offense. He could potentially be traded or even cut before the season starts if the Cardinals wanted to get any return investment on their former high draft pick. As a sixth-round pick in that same year, KeeSean Johnson has seen more production than Isabella. Keep an eye on Johnson to potentially be the number two receiver if Green were to get hurt again. After those six, there isn’t much else.
With Arnold going to the Panthers, that opens the door for Maxx Williams to take hold of the tight end job. In 25 games over the last two years, Williams has only caught 23 passes for the Cardinals. He is more of a blocking tight end. With Arnold gone, he will need to take more of a role as a pass-catcher this year. Look for Williams to be pushed by Darrell Daniels to push him. Daniels is a similar player to Arnold, and that may give him the edge if Kingsbury and company want to keep Williams as more of a blocking tight end. Cary Angeline was an undrafted free agent who has a chance to make the team, but the tight-end group is one of the worst in the league.
Edmonds is a great receiving back that has reliable hands. He can make a man miss and take it to the house. Conner has good hands, but he will be more of a power back for the Cardinals this season, with Edmonds and Benjamin factoring in more in the receiving game than him.
Offensive Line – 74, 25th (13 percent Overall, 19 percent Offense)
The offensive line improved in 2020. The tackle duo of D.J. Humphries and Kelvin Beachum was serviceable, and Humphries finally put together a healthy season after signing his lofty contract. Beachum showed he still had a lot left in the tank after the Jets didn’t retain him and proved to be a well worth signing for the Cardinals. The middle of the offensive line isn’t a problem anymore.
The addition of Hudson gives Arizona one of the best centers in the league right as he takes his first snap. At left guard, Justin Pugh isn’t the same player he once was but is still a decent player. The biggest question on the offensive line is at right guard, where Winters figures to win the starting job after making his way over after a down year with the Bills. He will have to fend off Justin Murray for the starting job.
Behind those six, Josh Jones could potentially win the right guard job if Winters and Murray struggle. If he doesn’t win that job, he will be a fine backup to the two starting tackles. Max Garcia is a veteran backup who will be an insurance policy at the guard spots. Behind Hudson, Lamont Gaillard and Menet will duke it out for the backup role.
Run Defense – 76, 27th (2 percent Overall, 5 percent Defense)
While the offense has a clear direction, the defense doesn’t under Vance Joseph. The run defense was one of the worst in the league last year, and once again, it looks to be a porous unit. In the middle of the defensive line, second-year pro Leki Fotu will likely start at nose tackle. Zach Allen was once a potential first-round prospect, and he hasn’t lived up to that potential since being drafted. The Cardinals seem to have asked him to put on weight as a 3-4 defensive end instead of the 4-3 defensive end many projected him to be. On the other side, Watt doesn’t have many concerns in the run game and should help the younger starters develop a bit.
Xavier Williams may be the first man off the bench in run situations, as both Jordan Phillips and Rashard Lawrence don’t appear to contribute much against the run as much as they will against the pass. Michael Dogbe is an interesting name of note, but he may have trouble finding the field.
Chandler Jones made some waves this week as he reportedly requested a trade out of Arizona. If he stays with the Cardinals, he will look to keep up the pace he was on in 2019 after an injury-plagued 2020 season. To keep him healthy, the Cardinals should use Devon Kennard more as a solid rotational piece. Opposite of Jones appears to be Markus Golden, but don’t be surprised if Dennis Gardeck is used more often after an intriguing 2020 season. Dimukeje could factor in as an early-down player, but it is tough to project where he fits defensively.
The first-round selection of Collins was a bit of a surprise, and Jordan Hicks requesting a trade seems to be because of the selection. Both aren’t the best run defenders, and with Hicks potentially on his way out, the Cardinals have a concerning linebacker room against the run. Hicks already isn’t great against the run, and the Cardinals are still toying with ideas of where to align Simmons, who struggled mightily during his rookie season.
Pass Rush – 86.5, 7th (12 percent Overall, 25 percent Defense)
If both Watt and Jones play, the Cardinals could have one of the best pass-rush units in the league. Both are getting up there in age, and both have plenty of injury concerns surrounding them. Watt is finally away from the dumpster-fire that is the Texans and makes his move over to Arizona, just in time for Jones to request a trade away from the team. Phillips is a good pass-rusher from the middle of the defensive line. Golden, Kennard, and Gardeck will factor in across from Jones if he does stay in Arizona.
Allen finally needs to produce in his role, or else he could get the bust label from many people across the league. Lawrence and Dogbe could potentially take over for Allen if he once again struggles this season.
Linebackers – 78.5, 19th (5 percent Overall, 13 percent Defense)
Versatile. That is the first word that comes to mind when the Arizona linebackers are mentioned. With Simmons struggling last year, many questioned if the Cardinals could find a viable role for the rookie and if Joseph was the coach that could get the most out of him. With Collins in as well, Simmons could finally be placed as a bandit type linebacker/safety hybrid role that Simmons fits in the best. Collins was one of the most intriguing prospects in the class out of Tulsa, and he has outstanding coverage ability and is an uber-athlete. His coverage skills are some of the best seen in the league already, even with his frame. Even as a bigger-bodied player, Collins needs to step his game up against the run.
With the ongoing trade talks surrounding Hicks, it is unknown if he will play this year. Like Collins, Hicks is much better in pass coverage than he is as a run defender. If the Cardinals were to trade Hicks, they could be in big trouble. Both Collins and Simmons are versatile young prospects for who Arizona could struggle to find roles for. Behind those three, Tanner Vallejo and Evan Weaver are the others worth mentioning. Vallejo is more of a special teams player than anything.
Secondary – 79, 18th (13 percent Overall, 27 percent Defense)
With Peterson in Minnesota, the newly-signed Butler will align as the team’s number one cornerback. Butler had a much better 2020 than Peterson did, and signing him to play as the number one cornerback was a decent move. Robert Alford returns to the lineup after a few injury-plagued seasons and may have been the biggest reason why the Cardinals didn’t address the cornerback position in the draft sooner. Byron Murphy will move inside as the nickel cornerback with the additions of Butler, Darqueze Dennard, and the return of Alford.
The draft selections of Wilson and Gowan make sense. Wilson was one of the best man coverage cornerbacks in the draft. Unfortunately, the other aspects of his game were lacking a bit. Thankfully, the Cardinals play mainly man coverage defensively. It wouldn’t be the biggest surprise if Wilson is one of the best rookie cornerbacks. Gowan was once considered one of the top cornerbacks in the draft, but the 2020 season drastically hurt his draft stock.
Budda Baker is one of the most exciting safeties in the league. He is always around the ball and is an avid run defender. Arizona lined him up in many different ways, and if there were one thing for him to improve, it would be his coverage ability as a single-high safety. Jalen Thompson had a great rookie season but was hampered with injuries during the 2020 season and could allow Baker to move back into his usual role. Adding Shaun Williams to the fold could be a special teams move more than anything. Chris Banjo and Deionte Thompson are intriguing players, with Thompson being able to play either safety position and nickel cornerback as well. Wiggins may not even make the team due to the depth at the safety position.
Coach and Culture – 78.25, 17th (15 percent Overall, 21 percent Offense, 30 percent Defense)
Cardinal fans seem to have mixed feelings on Kingsbury. He hasn’t taken the team to the playoffs yet, and his offensive system hasn’t put the team into the upper levels across the league. With Larry Fitzgerald remaining unsigned, Green takes over as the father figure in the receiving room. The trade for Hudson increases the offensive line as a whole, but the unknown of the Kingsbury/Murray experiment is still there, and fans are starting to get antsy. Arizona ranks 19th in offensive coach and culture.
There are still a lot of unknowns on the defensive side of the ball. Joseph needs to figure out how to use the pieces he has, or it could be time for yet another new defensive coordinator after this year. The additions of Watt and Butler are good for the culture side of things, but Joseph not knowing how to use Simmons last year puts a massive damper on things, along with the fact he has another player to find a role with Collins coming to the team. Arizona ranks 22nd in defensive coach and culture.
There is a lot of hope for the Cardinals this season. Unfortunately, they play in the hardest division in all of football. Arizona opens the season on the road against the Titans, who match up favorably with their run game and duo of A.J. Brown and now Julio Jones. Yet again, the Cardinals play another run-first team in the Vikings, who also have Adam Thielen and Justin Jefferson. Arizona has an easier game against the Jaguars in Week 3 before a murderous three-game stretch against the Rams, 49ers, and Browns. A game against the Texans is a welcomed sight before a Thursday night bout against the Green Bay Packers.
Before their bye week, the Cardinals have a difficult stretch against the 49ers, Panthers, and Seahawks. The final six weeks of the season are a bit easier with games against the Bears, Rams, Lions, Colts, Cowboys, and Seahawks to round out the season.
According to Odds Shark, the Cardinals have an over/under of 8.5 wins for the 2021 season. I would smash the under on the win total. Kingsbury is entering do-or-die territory as head coach, and Steve Keim is beginning to get antsy as he is also on the hot seat. Defensively, the Cardinals have a laundry list of concerns, and with a run defense that looks to struggle once again this year and a heavy run-first schedule from opposing teams, things could get stressful quickly in the desert. With so many coaches available looking ahead to next season, if Kingsbury doesn’t lead Arizona to the playoffs, it is time to move on from him.
Season Prediction: 6-11
*NOTE* Some teams higher in the rankings will have worse records than others. The rankings aren’t based upon the record but the overall talent of the roster.