Star defensive end JJ Watt announced his deal bringing him to the Arizona Cardinals. With many teams going after the coveted pass-rusher, Arizona adds a substantial piece to their defense. This massive signing is just the first step to building the best defense in the league.
Kliff Kingsbury was brought in to bring a new type of offense to the Cardinals to help develop Kyler Murray. But at the same time, the management has brought in significant talent to the defensive side of the ball over the past few offseasons and it may finally come together.
Before the addition of Watt, Arizona already toted a stout defensive front. Haason Reddick and Chandler Jones are key components to the squad that garnered the 4th most sacks in 2020. Chandler Jones is on the wrong side of thirty but remains one of the most productive pass-rushers. Reddick on the other hand finally broke out in his fourth season. Originally used as an off-the-ball linebacker, Reddick was put into a strict edge role and excelled. Racking up 12.5 sacks was the fourth-best mark amongst all players. Reddick is a pending free agent, but the Cardinals will have approximately just enough to retain him.
Interior lineman Zach Allen will look to develop into a more prominent run-stuffer in turn creating one of the best defensive lines in the NFL. Reddick and Jones on the outside with Watt and Allen on the inside will wreak havoc on an NFC West that features Russell Wilson and Matt Stafford.
The rest of the front seven consists of eighth overall pick Isaiah Simmons and Jordan Hicks are excellent coverage linebackers. Simmons especially has the versatility to play safety and even slot corner in certain defensive sets. If Arizona can utilize Simmons’s athleticism and skillset more efficiently in his second season, he will be making plays all over the field.
The secondary is a work in progress but is a few steps away from elite. Budda Baker, the 2017 second-rounder, is a star this past season playing both free and strong safety. The Washington product amassed 90 tackles, 2 sacks, and 2 interceptions. Baker has the range to be a menace to opposing offenses all over the field, like Simmons. Cornerback Byron Murphy emerged as an elite slot corner, bolstering an otherwise disappointing secondary.
The boundary cornerbacks are where the main concerns stem from. Time has caught up to Patrick Peterson as he enters his thirties. Similarly, Dre Kirkpatrick disappointed last season and will hit the open market. Addressing the hole along at corner is where Arizona will utilize their mid-round draft pick. Owning the 16th overall pick will likely land them one of the top cornerbacks in the draft.
Patrick Surtain, Caleb Farley, and Jaycee Horn are the premier defensive backs who will make an immediate impact at the next level. Horn is the prime candidate for being linked to Arizona as his elite skills in press-man coverage will fill in excellently for Patrick Peterson. Adding a ballhawk like Horn would pay dividends to a defense that forced a mere 11 interceptions in 2020.
Kingsbury and the Cardinals are building an elite defense in Arizona. Signing JJ Watt is the first step to finalizing an elite group for a team eyeing the playoffs once again.