Arizona Cardinals 2015 NFL Season Preview

Quarterback

The Cardinals made the playoffs last season at 11-5, but they finished the season 17th in rate of moving the chains differential, behind non-playoff teams like Kansas City, New Orleans, Miami, San Diego, and Philadelphia and worst among playoff teams. Arizona’s 11-5 record was buoyed by a 4-1 record in games decided by a touchdown or less and their +11 point differential was 2nd worst among qualifying playoff teams. The Cardinals also benefitted from tough to sustain things like a 62.07% rate of recovering fumbles (best in the NFL), a +8 turnover margin, and a +4 return touchdown margin. They were especially bad down the stretch, losing 5 of their last 7 games, including a loss in Carolina in the playoffs to a 7-8-1 Panthers team (who still finished the season ahead of them in rate of moving the chains differential). Even though the scoreboard only read 27-16 in their playoff loss, they had just 8 first downs to Carolina’s 25.

However, there is some hope that the Cardinals might not regress in the win column. Part of the reason the Cardinals struggled last season, particularly down the stretch, was that they were essentially down to their 4th string quarterback by the end of last season. 1st and 2nd string quarterbacks Carson Palmer and Drew Stanton both missed significant time with injury, while 3rd string quarterback Logan Thomas struggled mightily in limited action as a 4th round rookie and did not impress in practice either. That forced the Cardinals to bring in Ryan Lindley over from San Diego’s practice squad to start down the stretch and into the playoffs.

Lindley completed just 48.4% of his passes for an average of 6.04 YPA, 2 touchdowns, and 4 interceptions and then completed 16 of 28 for 82 yards, 1 touchdown, and 2 interceptions in the playoff loss. Arguably the worst quarterback in NFL history to ever start a playoff game, Lindley has completed 50.8% of his passes for an average of 4.98 YPA, 2 touchdowns, and 11 interceptions in his career and might never throw another NFL pass. Not only are the Cardinals highly unlikely to have to resort to signing someone from another team’s practice squad in November to make starts this season, if they do have to do that, chances are that quarterback will be better than Lindley. Even for a 4th string quarterback, he’s horrible. His 50.3 career QB rating is the worst in the NFL over the past 10 years among quarterbacks who have thrown at least 200 passes.

The Cardinals moved the chains at a 73.58% rate in games started by Carson Palmer (6 games) last season and a 67.03% rate in games started by other quarterbacks. Carson Palmer is expected to be back for week 1, after a torn ACL ended a 2014 season in which he completed 62.9% of his passes for an average of 7.26 YPA, 11 touchdowns, and 3 interceptions. He might not be quite that good again this season. For one thing, ACL tears can be tough to bounce back from, especially when it’s a knee you’ve injured before (he tore that same ACL in 2005). On top of that, he’s going into his age 36 season. That won’t make his recovery easier and he probably would have declined this season anyway. Being in your age 36 season is tough and coming off of a twice torn ACL is tough, but doing them together could be especially tough.

It doesn’t help that Palmer’s ACL tear was in November, relatively late in the season, which gives him less recovery time. Early reports out of camp are good, but you can’t always trust those. Also, Palmer is unlikely to throw an interception on just 1.3% of his passes again next season, as his career average is 3.2%. He could struggle this season by his standards, after grading out above average on Pro Football Focus in every season from 2009-2014.

If he gets hurt again, next in line is Drew Stanton, who made 8 starts last season, before going down for the season with an injured knee. Even if Palmer isn’t himself anymore, Stanton would still be a noticeable downgrade from Palmer, like he was last season. Last season, he completed 55.0% of his passes for an average of 7.13 YPA, 7 touchdowns, and 5 interceptions, grading out as Pro Football Focus’ 31st ranked quarterback out of 39 eligible. Head Coach Bruce Arians is a great offensive mind and has incredibly won 2 of the last 3 Coach of the Year Awards, but there’s only so much you can do if the talent’s not there.

A 2007 2nd round pick, Stanton has completed 55.3% of his passes for an average of 6.72 YPA, 12 touchdowns, and 14 interceptions, never grading out above average in Pro Football Focus’ history and not throwing a pass from 2011-2013. He’s a low-end backup quarterback at best and he won’t get any better in his age 31 season. They might not have great quarterback play this season, but they should exceed last year’s production, when they completed 56.3% of their passes for an average of 7.02 YPA, 21 touchdowns, and 12 interceptions.

Only their 2.1% QB rating seems hard to repeat, as they threw a fluky low amount of interceptions last season. Turnovers are already kind of fluky because they only happen on such a low percentage of snaps, but it’s especially fluky that the Cardinals had such few interceptions last season when their quarterback play was as bad as it was and when they threw down field as much as they did last season. They won’t necessarily dominate the turnover/return touchdown battle again this season, but improved quarterback play should offset that, at least somewhat.

Grade: C+

Running Backs

Outside of the quarterback position, the Cardinals didn’t really have many games lost on offense, as they finished 8th in offensive adjusted games lost, so they can’t exactly count on reinforcements returning from injury outside of the quarterback spot. The only other big injury they had on offense was Andre Ellington. Ellington only missed 4 games with injury, but was limited by injuries all season, most notably a toe injury he suffered in the pre-season. As a result, he rushed for 660 yards and 3 touchdowns on 201 carries, an average of 3.28 YPC. Ellington’s ineffectiveness on such a large volume, as well as the Cardinals’ lack of running back talent behind him on the depth chart, led to the Cardinals averaging a league worst 3.30 yards per carry. Ellington’s injuries aren’t really reflected in their low amount of offensive adjusted games lost because there was usually little doubt he’d play, but the Cardinals’ inability to run the ball last season contributed to their offense being stagnant.

Ellington was much better as a 6th round rookie in 2013, underutilized on 118 carries, rushing for 652 yards and 3 touchdowns, an average of 5.52 YPC. However, that’s no guarantee that he won’t continue to struggle in 2015. Ellington might just not be cut out to be a lead back and handle that type of workload, at 5-9 199, with a history of injury problems that date back to his collegiate days at Clemson. He should be more effective this season and he’s got strong pass catching abilities with 85 catches in 27 career games, but it’s highly possible he never becomes an above average starting running back.

The Cardinals used a 3rd round pick on David Johnson in this past draft, but despite his 6-1 224 frame, he might not be the power complement to Andre Ellington that they need. He plays faster and smaller than his listed size and is a solid receiver out of the backfield. In fact, Bruce Arians has compared Johnson to Ellington, suggesting that they see him as a clear backup and someone who can play a similar style if Ellington gets hurt. That’s something they didn’t have last season and Ellington should be more productive, but this isn’t exactly a perfect tandem.

Grade: B-

Offensive Line

The one area the Cardinals had no injuries was the offensive line, a big part of the reason why they had such few adjusted games lost. The Cardinals had 5 guys make 78 out of 80 starts and 3 of those guys played every snap. Only right guard Paul Fanaika missed time with injury, missing weeks 14 and 15 and being replaced by Jonathan Cooper. However, just because the Cardinals were healthy on the offensive line, doesn’t mean they played well, grading out as Pro Football Focus’ 29th ranked run blocking offensive line and 23rd ranked pass blocking offensive line. Only one player played a snap upfront for the Cardinals and graded out above average. That didn’t help them move the chains.

That above average player was left tackle Jared Veldheer, who graded out as Pro Football Focus’ 9th ranked offensive tackle in the first year of a 5-year, 35 million dollar deal. Veldheer was one of several recent big investments by the Cardinals since new GM Steve Keim came in 3 off-seasons ago, in order to turn around a perennially poor offensive front and he looks like a steal thus far. He should be able to repeat that season in 2015, only going into his age 28 season. A 2010 3rd round pick, Veldheer graded out 16th, 15th, and 9th among offensive tackles in 2011, 2012, and 2014 respectively, with a 2013 season mostly lost to injury in between. Basically, whenever he’s been healthy, he’s been good and, aside from 2013, he’s never missed a game.

Another recent investment by the Cardinals upfront is Mike Iupati, who was signed to a 5-year, 40 million dollar deal by the Cardinals this off-season. He’ll be a clear upgrade at left guard over Ted Larsen, who graded out as Pro Football Focus’ 68th ranked guard out of 78 eligible last season. The 17th overall pick in the 2010 NFL Draft by the 49ers, Iupati has graded out in the top-14 at his position on Pro Football Focus in 4 of the 5 seasons he’s been in the league, with the exception coming in an injury plagued 2013, when he still graded out above average. Despite that injury plagued 2013 season, he’s missed just 4 games in 5 seasons, all coming in 2013. One concern is that, while he’s annually one of the top run blocking guards in the NFL, he has graded out below average as a pass protector in 3 of 5 seasons so, as talented as he is, he’s not that well-rounded and he does have a glaring weakness. He’ll be a big asset though.

In addition to bringing in Iupati, the Cardinals also used their first round pick on DJ Humphries, an offensive tackle out of Florida. Bruce Arians is talking up incumbent Bobby Massie and saying that Humphries won’t have anything handed to him and referring to Massie as a starter, but it’s early and he’s likely just giving Massie his due respect as a veteran and challenging the newcomer. Even though Humphries is raw, only going into his age 22 season as a rookie, it’s unlikely that the Cardinals used a 1st round pick on him just to have him ride the pine. Massie graded out below average last season, something he’s done in all 3 seasons in the league in 32 starts, since the Cardinals drafted him in the 4th round in 2012.

If the Cardinals want to get their best 5 offensive linemen out there regardless of position, they might have either Humphries or Massie start at right guard this season, before Massie hits free agency next off-season. Massie was a below average starter at right tackle, but could be a better fit inside or Humphries could find life easier for him inside early in his career. Currently penciled in as the starting right guard is Jonathan Cooper, the 7th overall pick in 2013 and someone who has been a massive bust thus far. Injuries and ineffective play in practice have limited him to 189 snaps in 2 seasons in the league and he hasn’t shown much more on the field, despite being called the best interior line prospect in a decade when he came out. He’s entering a make or break year could easily end up not starting if the Cardinals decide to move Massie or Humphries inside. 2013 4th round pick Earl Watford is reportedly also in the mix to start, but he has played 9 nondescript snaps in 2 seasons in the league and isn’t a likely starting option, especially if Massie or Humphries moves inside.

Cooper could see time at center if he’s unable to nail down the right guard spot. Currently competing for the starting center job is Ted Larsen and AQ Shipley. Larsen, as I mentioned earlier, struggled mightily at left guard last season. He’s also graded out below average in all 5 seasons he’s been in the league, splitting time between center and guard. Shipley, meanwhile, struggled mightily at guard in 2013, grading out 66th out of 81 eligible, but has graded out above average as a center in both 2012 and 2014. He was weirdly benched after 4 weeks in Indianapolis last year, despite being Pro Football Focus’ 3rd ranked center at the time. The Cardinals seem to actually believe in him and he’s likely the favorite over Ted Larsen. He’s definitely flashed. Either one of them should be an improvement over Lyle Sendlein, who was Pro Football Focus’ 2nd worst ranked center last season. He was cut by the Cardinals and remains unsigned as a free agent this off-season. It’s definitely an improved offensive line, but also one that still has holes.

Grade: B

Receiving Corps

The big decision the Cardinals had to make heading into this off-season involved Larry Fitzgerald, the face of the franchise and a player who has been with the Cardinals since they drafted him 3rd overall in 2004. Fitzgerald signed a 7-year, 113 million dollar extension 4 off-seasons ago, but hasn’t had a 1000+ yard season since 2011, the first year after the extension. There was no way he’d be back next in 2015 at his 16 million dollar non-guaranteed salary. It was only a question of whether or not they’d bring him back at a cheaper rate or outright cut him.

The Cardinals opted to do the former and I think it was a huge mistake. Yes, it lessens Fitzgerald’s cap hit for 2015, which was scheduled to be 23.6 million, but if that was the most of a pay cut that Fitzgerald was willing to take, they should have just outright cut them, a move that would have saved them about 9 million on the cap immediately and gotten him off their cap completely for 2016. This deal pays Fitzgerald 22 million dollars over the next 2 seasons, all of which will show up on their cap at some point because it’s all fully guaranteed.

That 11 million dollar annual average is 5th highest in the NFL behind Calvin Johnson, Mike Wallace, Dwayne Bowe, and Vincent Jackson. Fitzgerald is not the 5th best wide receiver in the NFL at all, not any more. From 2005-2011, Fitzgerald averaged 94 catches for 1309 yards and 10 touchdowns per 16 games, even though he never really had great quarterback play, except for those couple Warner years. He was fantastic then. That’s why he got that deal in the first place.

However, 2011 was his last 1000+ yard season. His 71/798/4 line in 2012 was understandable because he had supremely terrible quarterback play, but even with better quarterback play in 2013 and 2014, he only averaged 73 catches for 839 yards and 6 touchdowns in 15 games. He was Pro Football Focus’ 25th ranked wide receiver in passing grade in 2013 and their 28th ranked in that category in 2014. He’s still a solid receiver, but he’s not the same player he was when he was in his prime. It’s promising that he had 32 catches for 483 yards and 2 touchdowns in Palmer’s 6 starts last season, 85 catches for 1288 yards and 5 touchdowns over 16 games, but he’s still unlikely to have another 1000+ yard season again ever.

Part of the reason why is because the Cardinals like to spread it around to three different wide receivers, Fitzgerald, 2012 1st round pick Michael Floyd, and 2014 3rd round pick John Brown. Fitzgerald had 100 targets on 506 routes run, Floyd 93 targets on 585 routes run, and Brown 94 targets on 459 routes run last season. Floyd caught just 47 of those targets, but he did turn them into 841 yards and 6 touchdowns. Still, he wasn’t nearly as good as he was in his 2nd season in the league in 2013, when he graded out 22nd among wide receivers and caught 65 passes for 1041 yards and 5 touchdowns. He’s hoping to have a bounce back year in his 4th year in the league in 2015, as he angles for a long-term deal, and improved quarterback play should help.

Brown, meanwhile, caught 48 of those passes for 696 yards and 5 touchdowns. The 3rd rounder was a one-dimensional deep threat as a rookie and the only one of the trio to grade out below average last season. He could be better in his 2nd year in the league in 2015 and Bruce Arians has had success with similar receivers like TY Hilton and Mike Wallace in previous stops, but he was only a 3rd round pick so, while Hilton and Wallace were only 3rd rounders as well, there isn’t any guarantee he ever becomes a complete receiver. He’ll technically be the #3 receiver behind #2 Floyd and #1 Fitzgerald, but they’ll spread the ball around and use a bunch of 3-wide sets once again this season. All three of them should be more productive simply because the quarterback play should be better and they are a trio of solid targets.

As Bruce Arians’ offense loves throwing downfield to 3 different wide receivers, the tight end position is not as important as it is in other offenses. Starter John Carlson was horrible last season, grading out as Pro Football Focus’ 65th ranked tight end out of 67 eligible. He fortunately retired this off-season, while Rob Housler, who graded out below average last season as well, signed with Cleveland as a free agent. 2014 2nd round pick Troy Niklas was drafted to be a big part of their offense and will get a chance this season, as he’s penciled into the starting role right now, but he’ll have to stay healthy.

That’s not something he was able to do as a rookie, when he struggled mightily on 90 snaps. This off-season, he’s still having ankle problems. The Cardinals didn’t draft a tight end until the 7th round so Darren Fells, who flashed last season on 229 snaps, the first snaps of his career, will be their only insurance. That leaves them dangerously thin at the position, which knocks this receiving corps down a little bit. They should be better offensively this season thanks to better health at quarterback and running back and increased talent on the offensive line.

Grade: B

Defensive Line

While the Cardinals were poor offensively last season, they were strong defensively, allowing opponents to move the chains at the 3rd lowest rate in the NFL. They might not be as good this season, as a result of offensive losses. Dan Williams signed with the Raiders on a 4-year, 25 million dollar deal this off-season, while Tommy Kelly remains unsigned going into his age 35 season and is likely considering retirement. Those were two of their 3 starters on their 3-man defensive line last season. Williams graded out 14th among defensive tackles, while Kelly ranked 17th among 3-4 defensive ends. They’ll be tough to replace.

In order to try to replace them, the Cardinals signed Corey Peters and Cory Redding. Cory Redding was Pro Football Focus’ 18th ranked 3-4 defensive end in 2014 and their 11th ranked 3-4 defensive end in 2013. The problem is he’s going into his age 35 season, so it’s hard to trust him going forward. He ranked 27th out of 34 eligible in 2012 and could regress to that level in 2015 given his age. He’s graded out above average in 3 of the last 4 seasons and the Cardinals risked very little with a 2-year, 6 million dollar deal, but he can’t necessarily be counted on to be an asset.

Peters, meanwhile, will be a two-down player inside nose tackle, a position he’s never played and somewhere where he might be undersized at 6-3 305. Peters tore his Achilles in 2013 at the worst possible time, in a meaningless week 16 game, just before he was set to hit free agency. Peters was forced to settle for a cheap one year deal back in Atlanta in an attempt to rehab his value and he did a decent job. He played 15 games (except week 1 when he was kept out for precautionary reasons) and graded out about average on 535 snaps.

Other than that Achilles tear, he doesn’t have a significant injury history, as he’s missed just 9 games in 5 seasons combined since the Falcons drafted him in the 3rd round in 2010. Peters struggled in the first 3 seasons of his career, grading out below average in all 3 seasons, including a 2010 season in which he graded out 62nd out of 76 eligible and a 2012 season in which he graded out 83rd out of 85 eligible, but he’s graded out right about average in each of the last 2 seasons and he’s going into his age 27 season. We’ll see how he does at a new position.

Frostee Rucker remains and will once again play in a rotational reserve position at 3-4 defensive end, as he did last season, when he played 487 snaps. He should be in the 400-500 range once again this season. He graded out above average for the first time in his career last season, but the 9-year veteran is unlikely to repeat the best season of his career again in an age 32 season in 2015. He’ll rotate snaps with Redding and is best in a reserve role.

Also still around is Calais Campbell, which is obviously good because he’s their most indispensable player on either side of the field (only behind maybe the quarterback Carson Palmer). He was Pro Football Focus’ 4th ranked 3-4 defensive end last season and has graded out in the top-4 in each of the last 4 seasons at the position, something no one else can say. Only going into his age 29 season with just 7 games missed in 7 seasons in his career, I see no reason that can’t continue next season. Aside from JJ Watt, he’s arguably the best 3-4 defensive end in the game.

Grade: A-

Linebackers

John Abraham led the 2013 Cardinals with 12 sacks, but was limited to 37 snaps by the Cardinals in 2014 thanks to concussion problems and he’s expected to retire this off-season, ahead of his age 37 season. In his absence, Alex Okafor led the way with 8 sacks, but he didn’t play that well overall, grading out as Pro Football Focus’ 45th ranked 3-4 outside linebacker out of 46 eligible, particularly struggling against the run. Last season was the first significant action of his career, after playing just 5 snaps as a 4th round rookie in 2013. He’ll be back as a starter in 2015 and could be better in his 3rd year in the league, but that’s far from a guarantee. The Cardinals better hope he improves because they don’t really have another option.

On the other side, Sam Acho was 2nd among Cardinal outside linebackers in snaps played last season, grading out above average on 483 snaps, but he’s now in Chicago, leaving as a free agent. The Cardinals used a 2nd round pick on Markus Golden as a replacement and, while he definitely fills a need and could be a solid player for them long-term, but he’s very raw and not someone the Cardinals are going to be able to depend on as a rookie, even in obvious passing situations.

Acho split time with Matt Shaughnessy last season and Golden will do that this season as well, working as a situational pass rusher with Shaughnessy playing early downs as primarily a run stopper. That’s a good role for him as, while he’s graded out below average as a pass rusher in 4 straight seasons, the big 6-5 270 pounder has also graded out above average as a run stopper in 5 straight seasons, playing both 4-3 defensive end and 3-4 outside linebacker since the Raiders drafted him in the 3rd round in 2009. He only played 341 snaps last season because he missed 8 games with injuries, but he should have a much bigger role in 2015.

Inside, Paris Lenon was one of the worst middle linebackers in the NFL last season, grading out as Pro Football Focus’ 56th ranked middle linebacker out of 60 eligible. He made the smart decision to retire ahead of his age 35 season this off-season and is now a member of the Cardinals’ coaching staff. The Cardinals are hoping Daryl Washington can replace him, but he has yet to be reinstated. He was suspended all of last season because of substance abuse and domestic violence and his status for 2015 is very much up in the air. Most expect him to be reinstated and then serve an additional 4-6 game suspension, but that’s unknown at this time. Washington, a 2010 2nd round pick, graded out above average in every season from 2010-2013, including 11th among middle linebackers in 2010, 9th in 2011, and 3rd in 2012. It’s tough to know what to expect from him after missing an entire season, but he should be an asset for them when on the field.

The Cardinals signed Sean Weatherspoon as a free agent as insurance, but the problem is they don’t have an insurance policy for him and, if his history is any indication, they might need one. It’s been a steep drop off for Weatherspoon since he was Pro Football Focus’ 5th ranked 4-3 outside linebacker in his 2nd year in the league in 2011 after being drafted in the 1st round in 2010. He’s played in just 20 of 48 games combined over the past 3 seasons, grading out below average in 2012 and 2013 and missing all of 2014 with a torn Achilles. 2011 remains the only season in his career that he’s played all 16 games and the only season in his career in which he’s graded out above average, as he missed 5 games as a rookie and graded out below average when on the field. He’s missed 33 games in 5 seasons.

If and when Washington is on the field this season, Weatherspoon will compete for snaps at the other middle linebacker spot with the incumbent Kevin Minter. I’m not so sure that Weatherspoon wins that battle. Minter, 2013 2nd round pick, is a limited player, particularly in coverage, but he’s a good run stopper and graded out above average overall last season. That middle linebacker job was just a two-down role last season because the Cardinals would drop a safety down to the box in sub packages, rather than using a 2nd linebacker. They love doing that type of thing and they have the safety depth to continue doing so, which means that the other middle linebacker position could easily remain a two-down role, which is perfect for Minter. Another option the Cardinals have is to line Daryl Washington up on the edge in some obvious passing downs, as he’s been a strong pass rusher thus far in his career, primarily as a blitzer. It’s a weak linebacking corps overall, but one that is better because of Lenon’s retirement.

Grade: C

Secondary

I mentioned how deep the Cardinals’ are at the safety position. Last season, they had 4 different safeties play at least 438 snaps and 3 different safeties play at least 697 snaps. Ironically, the safety who played the fewest might be the best, as Tyrann Mathieu was limited last season by injuries, including recovery from a late 2013 ACL tear. He graded out above average last season in limited action and, only going into his age 23 season, close to 2 years removed from the injury, Mathieu has a very good chance to bounce back to what he was as a 3rd round rookie in 2013, when he was an every down player and graded out as Pro Football Focus’ 3rd ranked cornerback, splitting snaps between safety in base packages and cornerback in sub package. With Antonio Cromartie leaving as a free agent unreplaced at cornerback (more on that later), Mathieu should continue in that hybrid role in 2015.

At the other safety spot in base packages, Rashad Johnson was the starter last season and played every snap of the season except 8 as a traditional safety. The problem is Johnson was horrible, grading out as Pro Football Focus’ 77th ranked safety out of 87 eligible. He’s been better in the past, but he’s always been a part-time player, maxing out at 643 snaps played in 2013, before last year’s career high. He should move into a situational role again this season, with 2014 1st round pick Deone Bucannon moving into the every down starting role.

Bucannon struggled as a rookie, grading out as Pro Football Focus’ 80th ranked safety out of 87 eligible. However, that’s because he wasn’t really used properly, seeing 98.2% of his snaps within 8 yards of the line of scrimmage, easily most among eligible safeties, effectively spending the vast maority of his time as a linebacker. As a result, he struggled mightily against the run and as a pass rusher, as he weirdly had 109 pass rush snaps and predictably had trouble getting into the backfield. In coverage, he was just about average. In his 2nd year, in the league in a role that’s still hybrid, but that plays the 6-1 208 pounder as a traditional safety more often, Bucannon should have a better season.

In this scenario with Bucannon starting next to Mathieu, Johnson and Tony Jefferson would come in during sub packages when Bucannon and Mathieu move to linebacker and cornerback respectively. Jefferson was an undrafted free agent in 2013, but has been a pleasant surprise through two seasons in the league. After flashing on 202 snaps as a rookie, he graded out just slightly below average in a bigger role on 697 snaps in 2014. He should continue being a solid-part time player.

As I mentioned, the Cardinals lost Antonio Cromartie as a free agent this off-season and didn’t really replace him, suggesting they want Mathieu to play more cornerback this season. That pushes Jerraud Powers back into a starting role. That’s not a problem. For one thing, while Cromartie started last season well, he struggled down the stretch with an ankle problem and ended up grading out slightly below average on the season. On top of that, Powers is plenty experienced and a solid player. The 2009 3rd round pick made 58 starts from 2009-2013 and graded out above average in 3 of 5 seasons. Even last season, as the “#3” cornerback, he played 761 snaps and graded out about average. Only going into his age 28 season, he’s a solid starter.

Patrick Peterson will be the other starter and he’s made 64 of 64 starts since the Cardinals drafted him 5th overall in 2011. Peterson is believed by many to be one of the top cornerbacks in the NFL, up there with Darrelle Revis and Richard Sherman, but he certainly didn’t play that well last season, grading out below average and finishing 3rd in touchdowns allowed (8) and 4th in penalties committed (13) among cornerbacks. Peterson says last year’s struggles were the result of undiagnosed diabetes, which makes a lot of sense. He says he has it under control right now, something he’ll have to prove on the field. Only going into his age 25 season, having graded out 16th and 14th among cornerbacks in 2012 and 2013 respectively, Peterson’s bounce back chances are good. He headlines a secondary that is still strong and deep despite the loss of Cromartie.

Grade: B+

Conclusion

As I mentioned, the Cardinals should have a better offense this season, thanks to a healthier Carson Palmer, a healthier Andre Ellington, and an improved offensive line. Defensively, they lost Antonio Cromartie, Sam Acho, Tommy Kelly, and Dan Williams, as well as their incredible defensive coordinator Todd Bowles, but they get Tyrann Mathieu back healthy for a whole season, hopefully will get something from Daryl Washington, should get a bounce back year from Patrick Peterson and add guys like Sean Weatherspoon, Corey Peters, and Cory Redding.

They won’t be as good defensively this season, but they could be a more talented overall team than last season, especially down the stretch when they had so many injuries. The problem is they won’t be as lucky as they were last season in other aspects, including turnovers, return touchdowns, close games, and converting on big chunk plays. They’ll probably be better than the 17th they finished in rate of moving the chains last season, but I don’t see it translating to more wins on the field, or even another playoff spot. As with all teams, I’ll have official win/loss records for the Cardinals after I’ve done all team’s previews.

Prediction: 7-9 2nd in NFC West

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