It wasn’t too long ago that the Cardinals were among the upper echelon of teams in the NFC to compete for a Super Bowl ring. In 2015, Arizona capped off a 13-3 season, and now have the look of a team that needs to start over. Carson Palmer is at the end of the road and the Cardinals suffered a bunch of roster defections including Calias Campbell and Tony Jefferson. After a 7-8-1 season, what should we look for out of Arizona as we head into training camp?
3 Position Battles To Watch:
- Wide Receiver: J.J. Nelson, Jaron Brown, John Brown, Chad Williams, Aaron Dobson
We know that Larry Fitzgerald is locked into a starting job, but who else will get playing time? We also know that J.J. Nelson is locked into the “deep threat” role but I’m not sure he’s anything else. John Brown has proven to be a productive wide out but is the definition of inconsistent. A name to watch is Chad Williams, a player I fell for at the Senior Bowl. Don’t let the small school status fool you (Grambling State), Williams is the real deal and a steal for Arizona in the third round. Williams caught 90 balls for 10 touchdowns in his last year at Grambling.
2. Safety: Tyrann Mathieu, Budda Baker, Tyvon Branch, Antoine Bethea, Harlon Miller
Mathieu is the primary free safety but realistically played as the team’s nickel corner more often than not. With Mathieu playing mostly nickel corner for the upcoming season, the safety spot is up for grabs. Second round pick Budda Baker should be able to fill in at the free safety role immediately. Baker drew comps to Mathieu leading up to the draft process. Tony Jefferson and D.J. Swearinger left for greener pastures leaving veteran pickups Tyvon Branch and Antoine Bethea to battle for the last spot.
3. Cornerback: Patrick Peterson, Justin Bethel, Brandon Williams, Rudy Ford, Jumal Rolle
Another defensive back defection came at the cornerback spot where Marcus Cooper was signed away by the Bears. Cooper was the primary starter last year next to All-Pro Patrick Peterson. The hope is that Brandon Williams, 2016 third round pick from Texas A&M, can fill that role immediately. Arizona also has Justin Bethel but actually might be the best special teams gunner in the league. Depth at corner is a real concern heading into camp.
Ready For A Breakout Season: Robert Nkemdiche
Last year I gave the easy answer of David Johnson and he delivered. Johnson has emerged as one of the best running backs in the NFL, but this year I decided to stick to my guns. I was all over Robert Nkemiche last year and he failed to produce as a rookie. With Calais Campbell off the Jacksonville, Nkemiche has to produce like a former first round pick. Sometimes athletic freaks with poor motors just simply take time, just ask how Jadeveon Clowney is doing after a poor start to his career. Nevertheless, Nkemiche surely has to improve on his one tackle season from 2016. For more on my scouting of Nkemiche, check out these notes.
Fantasy Sleeper: Ricky Seals-Jones
Yes, I went deep into the roster with this one. Jermaine Gresham was one of the worst tight ends in the league analytically last season. Arizona also has Troy Niklas but he is more of a blocking tight end. Enter Ricky Seals-Jones, a undrafted rookie from Texas A&M. Is it possible Seals-Jones was never given the opportunity to succeed in college? On an Aggie team loaded at receiver and poor quarterback play, Seals-Jones could be one of those diamond in the rough candidates. At 6-foot-5, 244, Seals-Jones will now convert to tight end where he could be a matchup nightmare in the middle of the field.
Rookie To Watch: Hasson Reddick
This one is easy. Forget the fact that Reddick is an animal. It’s possible this guy changes the way NFL defenses think over the next decade. Arizona will have a really undersized linebacker core that includes former safety, Deon Buchannan. The Cardinals moved Buchannan to linebacker where half the league copied and now used former safeties as weak side linebackers. Now Arizona will deploy former safety turned defensive end at middle linebacker. Are we seeing the beginning of a changing of the guard at linebacker?