State of the Desert: Reasons for Hope in Arizona

Before Tom Brady went to Tampa Bay and Cam Newton to New England, the largest upset of the offseason was the March trade between the Arizona Cardinals and Houston Texans that brought three-time All-Pro wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins to the desert.

The arrival of Hopkins in Arizona presages what is hoped to be a fast turn-around for a team that began trending upwards last season. The unorthodox strategy of hiring young head coach Kliff Kingsbury and drafting Kyler Murray at No. 1 overall in 2019 seemingly paid off on the offensive side of the ball. The 2018 Cardinals offense was dead last in the NFL but surged to a respectable 16th-place finish at the end of 2019. Although their record was mediocre at 5-10-1, the new offense breathed life and hope into a franchise still not accustomed to success even after a relatively recent stretch of good football between 2008 and 2016.

General manager Steve Keim focused heavily on the defensive side of the team after a Vance Joseph-led defense gave up the most yards and second-most touchdowns in the league last season. The additions of Jordan Phillips, Devon Kennard, and the drafting of Isaiah Simmons will likely shore up some of the poor play that cost the Cardinals wins in past seasons.

While it is good that the Cardinals seem to have addressed some of their defensive deficiencies, a quartet of talented offensive players look to provide a spark. Kyler Murray had a strong rookie season that culminated in Offensive Rookie of the Year honors. After years of uncertainty at the position, Arizona seems confident they have finally found their guy. The young gunslinger is being touted as a top fantasy pick and potential MVP candidate, which is high praise for a quarterback heading into his second year in the NFL.

All quarterbacks are only as good as the wide receivers they are throwing to. The addition of Hopkins gives Arizona one of the better wide receiver corps in the league. Larry Fitzgerald might be getting up there in age, but he is a living legend. Second in almost every statistical category behind Jerry Rice, Fitzgerald is undoubtedly one of the best to ever play the position. With a 1,000-yard season as recently as 2017 and maintaining his spot as top receiver in both 2018 and 2019, he has proven he can still play at a very high level.

As valuable as Fitzgerald still is, DeAndre Hopkins gives the Cardinals something that they have not had in a while: a true No.1 wide receiver that consistently gets past the secondary and creates significant yardage in tough situations. Hopkins is in the conversation for best wide receiver in the NFL for very good reason. In seven years, he has averaged 1,228 yards per season while suffering from poor quarterback play for several of those, much like Fitzgerald. Hopkins thrived with Deshaun Watson in Houston and has expressed a great deal of enthusiasm to work with another talented quarterback in Kyler Murray.

Rounding out the quartet of skill players that provide a good deal of hope for Arizona in 2020 is running back Kenyan Drake. After a midseason trade with the Miami Dolphins, Drake came to Arizona and quickly took over the starting role. In eight games he racked up 643 yards and eight touchdowns. With the monster that was Daniel Johnson’s contract off of Arizona’s back, Drake looks to return to full form and be an integral part of the Cardinals rushing attack that, in a big surprise to many, finished 10th in the league last season.

There is a lot of promise in the Cardinals’ offense. The big question that remains is if the defense will be able to step up. The only direction they can go is up after a historically bad season in 2019. Defensive coordinator Vance Joseph has been given a second year to implement his scheme and a more talented roster to do it. A full season of Patrick Peterson and the continued efforts of Chandler Jones and Budda Baker combined with the new faces should improve the struggling squad. Perhaps most importantly, if Joseph and co. can effectively cover tight ends in 2020, the defense will have taken a major leap forward toward helping their team win and finish out games.

For the first time in years, there is reason for significant hope in Arizona. As a team, they have grown younger and are coalescing around the potential-heavy Kyler Murray as the quarterback of the future. The heir apparent to Larry Fitzgerald is now in town with the arrival of DeAndre Hopkins. Defensive additions should shore up that side of the ball and allow the Cardinals to stay competitive.

Uncertainty still surrounds the 2020 season, but Cardinals fans should be looking forward to the ride. It will be a good one.

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