The Arizona Cardinals finished the 2020 NFL season with an average 8-8 record. With high hopes for quarterback Kyler Murray and head coach Kliff Kingsbury, finishing at .500 was a disappointment for the excited Arizona fanbase. Everything about the Cardinals was slightly above average, finishing with a 13th ranked offense and a 12th ranked defense. Moving into 2021, Murray and Kingsbury better improve if they want to make the playoffs.
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The Cardinals had a very busy offseason, which was headlined by the signing of star defensive end J.J. Watt. Arizona signed Watt to a two-year deal worth $28 million. After drafting Zaven Collins and Marco Wilson in the first and fourth rounds respectively, the Cardinals emphasized their defensive unit. Arizona also added wide receiver Rondale Moore to give Murray another weapon past all-world receiver DeAndre Hopkins. The Cardinals added James Conner and A.J. Green to provide some veteran presence to a younger offensive unit. The Cardinals made concerted efforts to improve in their areas of weakness on both sides of the ball in the off-season. The NFC West is tough, but the Cardinals will be in the thick of the race.
With one of the most dynamic young quarterbacks in football, Arizona will always be a dangerous offensive team. Murray combined for almost 5,000 all-purpose yards last season, and the Cardinals now have a two-headed rushing monster of Chase Edmonds and Conner to provide balance to the Arizona offense. Add a wide receiver core that has highly regarded Moore as the fourth option, and the Cardinals will be in a good place offensively. With a 12th ranked offensive line, via PFF, in 2020, Murray should be in a good place to take his third-year leap.
Just as their offensive has plenty of household names, the Cardinals’ defensive unit packs plenty of punch rolling into 2021. Budda Baker and Malcolm Butler will anchor the secondary with Watt and Chandler Jones pressuring the quarterback. Losing Haason Reddick and his 12.5 sacks hurts, but hopefully, Jones will stay healthy in 2021 after appearing in only five games last season. Cardinals fans will look for second-year linebacker Isaiah Simmons to make a jump after a lackluster freshman performance. In order for Murray and the offense to thrive, Watt and the defense need to create more turnovers than the Cardinals’ zero turnover differential in 2020.
Predicting the 53 Man Roster
QB (2) – Kyler Murray, Colt McCoy
There should not be much drama here. Murray and McCoy have the position well locked down for the time being. Chris Streveler has done well enough to land himself back on the Cardinals practice squad for the season, but Arizona should not have to worry about him being poached for now.
RB (4) – Chase Edmonds, James Conner, Eno Benjamin, Jonathan Ward
With a dramatically different running back room from last year, there still is not much to discuss. Edmonds and Conner will be the main workhorse backs, and Benjamin and Ward will back them up if necessary but will not see much action.
WR (6) – DeAndre Hopkins, A.J. Green, Christian Kirk, Rondale Moore, KeeSean Johnson, Andy Isabella
After Moore, Cardinals fans have lots of opinions about the receiver position. Isabella will likely make the roster due to his familiarity with the system and the team. Johnson also has the benefit of the doubt since he is more veteran than some of the fringe receivers currently on the roster. Even so, someone like Greg Dortch could potentially challenge for the sixth spot.
TE (2) – Maxx Williams, Darrell Daniels
Most teams like to carry three tight ends, but Arizona does not seem to have a third tight end worthy of a roster spot at this point. The majority of their offensive production will come from the receiver and running back position. After losing Dan Arnold, it may be better for the Cardinals to keep an extra offensive lineman and rely on the receiving core for the majority of yardage.
OL (9) – D.J. Humphries, Justin Pugh, Rodney Hudson, Brian Winters, Kelvin Beachum, Max Garcia, Justin Murray, Josh Jones, Josh Miles
Arizona likes their nine linemen, and everything from the coaching staff suggests that they will be their offensive line unit moving into the 2021 season.
DL (6) – J.J. Watt, Rashard Lawrence, Jordan Phillips, Zach Allen, Leki Fotu, Corey Peters
Other than the fact that the defensive line group has not played much in the pre-season, defensive coordinator Vance Joseph has a solid group of six here.
EDGE (4) – Chandler Jones, Markus Golden, Devon Kennard, Victor Dimukeje
Losing 12.5 sacks is hard to replace. However, a healthy Jones should assist with that greatly. The edge position is probably the Cardinals’ weakest, so look for an outside addition before camp ends.
LB (5) – Zaven Collins, Isaiah Simmons, Jordan Hicks, Tanner Vallejo, Zeke Turner
A lot of youth in the linebacker core, and a lot of skill. If Collins and Simmons can mature into assisting Hicks, then Vallejo and Turner will simply be rotational and special teams pieces. But, another place that an outside addition could come before camp ends.
CB (6) – Byron Murphy, Robert Alford, Malcolm Butler, Marco Wilson, Darqueze Dennard, Kylie Fitts
Few surprises here, but Fitts is a special teamer that could break to the 53. That was not projected at the beginning of camp, but Fitts has shone in the preseason. Signing Butler in the offseason really solidified this group going into 2021.
SAF (6) – Budda Baker, Jalen Thompson, Chris Banjo, Charles Washington, Shawn Williams, James Wiggins
There is plenty of talent and plenty of special teams worth here. Banjo provides the hard-hitting backup to Baker and Thompson. Wiggins could be displaced by Deonte Thompson, but only that sixth spot could be up for debate in the next few weeks.
ST (3) – Matt Prater, Andy Lee, Aaron Brewer
Prater, Lee, and Brewer have special teams under lock and should be consistent and solid going into the season.
One Player to Add
Larry Fitzgerald anyone? Unfortunately for Cardinals fans, Fitzgerald said he simply does not have the urge to play right now. Realistically, Kamal Martin, Avery Williamson, and B.J. Goodson are some linebackers in free agency that Arizona could target before the season starts. Tyler Eifert and Trey Burton are possible tight end candidates in free agency if the Cardinals really want a veteran at that position. Otherwise, Kingsbury and the Cardinals look content with their core going into 2021.
2021 Outlook & Odds
Unfortunately, the Cardinals have six tough games every single year. Playing in the NFC West, it is hard to come out alive. For Arizona to survive and claim a wild card spot, Murray will have to limit his turnovers and the Cardinals defense will have to take a big leap forward. Arizona should beat their total season wins over/under 8.5 wins. Anything higher than nine wins would be considered overperforming for the Cardinals.
Season Prediction: 9-8 and Miss the Playoffs
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