Analysis

Grading Every Arizona Cardinals Position Group Going into 2022

Grading Every Arizona Cardinals Position Group Going into 2022

The Arizona Cardinals entered the 2021 season vowing to avenge their late-season collapse in 2020 – one that saw a 6-3 start evaporate into an 8-8 record that missed the playoffs. The Cardinals got off to a blazing start at 7-0 but yet again saw their impressive start disintegrate. The team suffered losses in four of their last five games and limped into the playoffs as a Wild Card, getting smacked by the eventual Super Bowl champions to the tune of 34-11.

Quarterback Kyler Murray in particular had a game to forget, throwing for just 137 yards, no touchdowns, and two interceptions including an appalling pick-six that was part of a 28-0 lead the Rams mounted. Arizona enters 2022 looking to become the third consecutive team to win the Super Bowl in their home stadium.

QB: Kyler Murray, Colt McCoy, Trace McSorley, Jarrett Guarantano

Grade: B+

At his best, Murray is one of the most electric players in the NFL as a dynamic dual-threat quarterback that causes headaches for defenders of any caliber. However, his tantalizing ceiling is coupled with a demonstrated inability to stay healthy late in the season as last year was the second year in a row a late-season injury hurt the caliber of his play.

His overall season statistics were still solid but his poor play in his first career playoff game ended the season in a calamitous manner. McCoy on the other hand is a reliable backup and a solid insurance policy.

RB: James Conner, Darrel Williams, Eno Benjamin, Keaontay Ingram, Jonathan Ward, Ronnie Rivers, T.J. Pledger

Grade: C+

Conner signed a one-year, $1.75 million contract last offseason that turned out to be a steal as he finished second in the league in rushing touchdowns and played in 15 games – the most in his five seasons. Arizona signed him to a three-year, $21 million extension this offseason and he looks to get the lion’s share of work in the backfield after the departure of Chase Edmonds in free agency.

The Cardinals signed Williams who figures to back up Conner in the receiving game, while sixth-round pick Keaontay Ingram is a solid pass catcher who will have to improve his pass blocking to consistently see the field on third downs.

WR: DeAndre Hopkins, Marquise Brown, A.J. Green, Rondale Moore, Antoine Wesley, Greg Dortch, Andy Isabella, Andre Baccellia, Christian Blake, Jontre Kirklin, JaVonta Payton, Jaren Smart

Grade: A-

Arizona’s receiving room has had a rollercoaster of an offseason. During Day 1 of the NFL Draft, the Cardinals traded the 23rd overall pick to the Baltimore Ravens for Brown and a third-round pick. Five days later, Hopkins was suspended for the first six games of the season for violating the league’s PED policy.

When healthy, Hopkins is still a #1 receiver though he had a down 2021 as he topped 70 receiving yards just once in 10 active games and suffered a hamstring and an MCL injury. Brown reunites with his college quarterback Murray and is an explosive threat who gives the Cardinals elite speed at the position.

Green showed a bit of a resurgence as he finished with over 54 catches for 848 yards and proved to be a reliable weapon for Murray. Second-year receiver Moore ranked all the way down at 123rd in yards per reception among receivers with at least two catches a game; no game better encapsulated this than an 11-reception, 51-yard game against the Seahawks. Isabella remains a marked disappointment after being a second-round pick in 2019 and having just one reception last season.

TE: Zach Ertz, Trey McBride, Maxx Williams, Stephen Anderson, David Wells, Bernhard Seikovits, Chris Pierce Jr.

Grade: B+

Ertz received a three-year, $31.65 million extension from the Cardinals as he thrived in the desert following a mid-season trade from the Eagles. In a league lacking depth atop the position, Ertz remains a top-10 tight end despite turning 32 years old next season. He will be especially important as Murray’s second target to begin the season thanks to Hopkins’ suspension.

McBride was the first tight end selected in the 2022 NFL Draft and represents an elite succession plan in a post-Ertz world; the former Colorado State Ram is a well-rounded athlete and a solid route runner that can contribute immediately in two tight end sets. Meahwhile Williams put together a couple of impressive performances in early 2021 before tearing his ACL in Week 5.

OL: D.J. Humphries, Justin Pugh, Rodney Hudson, Will Hernandez, Kelvin Beachum, Josh Jones, Joshua Miles, Sean Harlow, Justin Murray, Lecitus Smith, Danny Isidora, Koda Martin, Eric Smith, Marquis Hayes, Greg Long, Haggai Ndubuisi

Grade: D+

This offensive line is a true hindrance to a team with true Super Bowl aspirations. Humphries is on the last year of a three-year deal and took a big step back in 2021 after a remarkable 2020. Pugh and Hernandez are a below-average guard duo and have been poor run blockers though they offer a little bit as pass blockers (Pugh more so than Hernandez).

Hudson was supposed to be a steal after an offseason trade from the Raiders in 2021 but had a down year as the pivot in Arizona; he has been an unexcused no-show to minicamp so far. Beachum is another poor run-blocker and nothing special in pass protection. Jones is a poor sixth offensive lineman and representative of the poor offensive line depth.

DL: J.J. Watt, Rashard Lawrence, Zach Allen, Markus Golden, Dennis Gardeck, Cameron Thomas, Leki Fotu, Kingsley Keke, Myjai Sanders, Devon Kennard, Michael Dogbe, Matt Dickerson, Jessie Lemonier, Victor Dimukeje, Jonathan Ledbetter, Jessu Luketa

Grade: C

Watt is a future Hall of Famer and one of the most impressive defensive ends of his generation; however, last season was the fourth time in six years he missed at least half the season due to injury. In his seven healthy games, he recorded just one sack and is no longer the game-changer fans are accustomed to.

Zach Allen took a step up in 2021, while Lawrence and Fotu will compete to start at nose tackle. Golden bounced back in 2021 with 11 sacks and is the best pass rusher on this team and a great presence on the edge while Gardeck projects to start across from him.

Thomas and Sanders are both third-round rookie edge rushers with solid size and length, who will push for playing time as they develop. Kennard and Keke are adequate depth for a defensive group that has some solid players but lacks any top-tier talent barring a resurgence from Watt.

LB: Zaven Collins, Isaiah Simmons, Nick Vigil, Tanner Vallejo, Ben Niemann, Ezekiel Turner, Joe Walker, Chandler Wooten

Grade: B+

Spearheaded by two athletic marvels and first-round picks, the Cardinals should feel excited about the potential upside of this group. Simmons had a solid year in 2021 following a slow rookie but has a long way to go despite his 105 combined tackles and seven pass defenses. Entering his third year, look for Simmons to become a true chess piece for defensive coordinator Vance Joseph.

Collins had a similarly slow start to his rookie year, recording just 25 combined tackles last season. Following the departure of linebacker Jordan Hicks, who played 97% of defensive snaps in 2021, Collins has a readymade role to step into. Vigil should be the primary backup for both starting linebackers while Vallejo and Turner will be core special teamers.

CB: Byron Murphy Jr., Marco Wilson, Josh Jackson, Jace Whittaker, Breon Borders, Antonio Hamilton, Nate Brooks, Christian Matthew, Darrell Baker Jr.

Grade: D-

It is not a stretch to call this one of the worst position groups in the league and by far the weakest link on this team. Murphy Jr. is by far the most talented cornerback in this group regardless of his poor 2021 campaign. Across from him, Wilson projects to begin the season as the other starting cornerback and is one of the worst #2 corners in the league.

The Cardinals signed Jackson to a one-year deal earlier this week, and the former first-round pick is an intriguing addition to this group. He does have solid ball skills and can push Wilson for a starting cornerback spot – which says more about Wilson’s limited talent than anything.

S: Budda Baker, Jalen Thompson, Deionte Thompson, James Wiggins, Charles Washington, Tae Daley

Grade: B

Baker failed to live up to his extremely impressive 2020 season but was still a dynamic player last season, earning a second-team All-Pro nod. The former Washington Husky started all 17 games and racked up 98 combined tackles and two sacks along with three interceptions and seven passes defended.

Jalen Thompson is a truly underrated safety and stuffed the stat sheet to an even greater extent than Baker, to the tune of 121 total tackles and three interceptions. He is a dark horse to make his first career Pro Bowl in 2022. Deionte Thompson is a reliable backup who played very little last season thanks to the health of Arizona’s top two safeties; he remains a core special teamer.