The Cardinals went in a bold new direction last off-season. After the 2017 season, the Cardinals cleaned house and went forward with new head coach Steve Wilks and first round quarterback Josh Rosen, but the Cardinals struggled mightily in a 3-13 season and decided to abruptly change plans, firing Wilks after just one season, replacing him with college head coach Kliff Kingsbury, sending Josh Rosen to the Dolphins for the 62nd overall pick, and using the #1 overall pick on Oklahoma quarterback Kyler Murray, Kingsbury’s hand picked quarterback who he had recruited in college. Kingsbury ran an offense at Texas Tech that was very much not the traditional “pro-style” offense and Murray was unconventional himself, making just 17 college starts and measuring in at 5-10 207, both of which usually prevent guys from going in the first round, let alone #1 overall.
For as much talk as there was about this unconventional duo, they had a first season that was actually relatively boring. Grandiose predictions about the Cardinals running 1,200 plays or attempting 700 passes were always unrealistic and were never based on what Kingsbury’s offense actually did at Texas Tech, as they were always pretty run/pass balanced. Instead, the Cardinals ranked 22nd in offensive plays with 1,000 and 18th in pass attempts with 554, far from unconventional. The one signature feature that was present in Kingsbury’s offense was their tendency to use 3 and 4 wide receivers regularly at the expense of tight ends, but even that wasn’t as extreme as some expected, as there were predictions that the Cardinals would essentially run 4-wide receivers as their base set.
For a quarterback considered boom or bust coming into the league, Kyler Murray was pretty standard as a rookie, completing 64.4% of his passes for an average of 6.87 YPA, 20 touchdowns, and 12 interceptions, while rushing for 544 yards and 4 touchdowns on 93 carries (5.85 YPC). The Cardinals’ offense ranked just 18th in first down rate at 35.20%, but Murray wasn’t working with the best supporting cast and that was a huge leap from 2018, when the Cardinals ranked dead last in first down rate at 29.16%.
All in all, Murray finished 28th among 39 qualifying quarterbacks on Pro Football Focus, not great, but not bad for a rookie quarterback. The jury is still out on Murray long-term and I don’t think he’s changed many people’s opinion of his chances to develop into a franchise quarterback long-term, but it certainly wouldn’t be a surprise to see him at least take a small step forward in his 2nd season in the league and he obviously could take a much more significant step forward as well.
The Cardinals have been all in on Murray since day 1, only ever having Brett Hundley (67.6 career QB rating on 337 attempts) behind him on the depth chart as the backup. Hundley had to see limited action in 2019 (11 attempts) and predictably struggled, so the Cardinals are obviously hoping Murray can avoid missing any time with injury. Murray’s small frame and propensity to take off and run seem like they would make him more injury prone, but he doesn’t have a significant injury history, so it certainly wouldn’t be a surprise if he made all 16 starts in 2020.
Like many teams with a young quarterback on a cheap rookie deal, the Cardinals have been somewhat aggressive adding veteran talent around Murray, in order to maximize their chances of winning in the short window their quarterback is cost controlled. The Cardinals have maintained some long-term flexibility, with a projected 64 million in cap space for next off-season, but they made a big long-term addition when they traded for Texans wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins.
It was a shocking move, not just because no one publicly knew the Texans were looking to move Hopkins, but because the Cardinals paid significantly less for him than the Browns did for Odell Beckham and the Bills did for Stefon Diggs, even though Hopkins is the best of that trio. While the Bills gave up a first, a fourth, and a swap of late round picks and the Browns gave up a first, a third, and starting safety Jabrill Peppers, the Cardinals gave up just a 2nd round pick and running back David Johnson for Hopkins and a 4th round pick.
Obviously the Texans value Johnson highly, but they’d have to value him equivalent to a late first round pick for the Texans to have gotten fair value in that trade compared to what the Giants and Vikings got for Beckham and Diggs. In negotiations with any other team, Johnson may have been seen as a negative value in a trade, as the seemingly washed up former feature back had a 11.2 million dollar guaranteed salary and may have cost the Cardinals a draft pick to get rid of in a salary dump if the Texans hadn’t come along with valued him like a first round draft pick.
Thanks to the Texans’ bizarre affinity for Johnson, the Cardinals now have a legitimate #1 receiver for Murray. He’s not only the Cardinals’ #1 receiver, but he’s been one of the top receivers in the entire league for years, finishing in the top-5 among wide receivers on Pro Football Focus in 4 of the past 5 seasons. Over those 5 seasons, Hopkins has averaged a 103/1352/9 slash line per 16 games, despite having routinely horrible quarterback play for years before DeShaun Watson arrived in 2017.
With Watson, he has averaged an 111/1422/10 slash line per 16 games in 37 starts. He’s also missed just one game with injury in 7 seasons in the league and has shown he can continue playing at a high level through injuries and constant double teams. Hopkins may want a pay increase, but he wouldn’t need a huge one, with 39.915 million over 3 years left on his deal, and so far he’s shown no signs of wanting to hold out for that pay increase.
Hopkins will take over the #1 receiver role from future Hall of Famer Larry Fitzgerald, who remains with the team for his age 37 season, his 17th season in the league, all in Arizona, and possibly his final season overall. Fitzgerald obviously isn’t still what he was in his prime, when he averaged a 90/1136/8 slash line per season from 2005-2017, while missing a total of just 6 games due to injury, but he still led this team in receiving last season and finished above average on PFF, something he’s done in every season in the league. Fitzgerald’s 75/804/5 slash line and 49th ranked finish on PFF in 2019 weren’t great and he could decline further in 2020, but he won’t be needed nearly as much with Hopkins in town.
Before Hopkins was acquired, it looked like Christian Kirk would be the long-term #1 receiver after Fitzgerald, as he’s averaged 1.53 yards per route run in two seasons in the league since the Cardinals took him in the second round in 2018, but instead Kirk will be a complementary receiver behind Hopkins. That doesn’t mean he won’t have a big role though, as the Cardinals figure to use Hopkins, Fitzgerald, and Kirk together on most snaps in 2020. Kirk could easily take a step forward in his third season in the league.
Hopkins, Fitzgerald, and Kirk being locked in as close to every down players leaves the three receivers the Cardinals drafted in 2019 to compete for the #4 receiver job, but the Cardinals use 4 wide receivers as much as any team in the league, so whoever wins that job could have a somewhat significant role. Andy Isabella was drafted in the 2nd round and seems like the obvious favorite for the role, but he was limited to 157 snaps as a rookie, behind 6th round rookie KeeSean Johnson, who played 370 snaps. Johnson struggled on those snaps and Isabella has more long-term upside, but there will be training camp battles to decide the depth spots, with 2019 4th round pick Hakeem Butler also potentially in the mix after missing his rookie year with injury.
The Cardinals don’t have much at tight end, but that’s not a big deal because they don’t use tight ends that often. The Cardinals completed just 40 passes to tight ends in 2019 and that number could be even lower as veteran Charles Clay (18 catches) is no longer with the team. That leaves Darrell Daniels and Dan Arnold, who have played just 333 snaps and 271 snaps respectively in 3 seasons in the league total since going undrafted in 2017, to compete for the #2 tight end job. Arnold at least has shown some upside (1.79 yards per route run in his career), but it’s tough to expect much from either player.
Clay’s departure should also open up more playing time for Maxx Williams, who led the position with 490 snaps last season. Williams has never topped 32 catches in a season in 5 seasons in the league and is unlikely to significantly improve on last year’s 15/202/1 slash line, even with Clay gone, but he’s at least a consistently strong run blocker, including a #1 ranked finish among tight ends in run blocking grade in 2019. With good depth at wide receiver, that’s really all the Cardinals need Williams to be.
Part of the reason why the Cardinals wanted to move David Johnson is because they had found a better lead back in Kenyan Drake, who took Johnson’s starting job down the stretch last season, and they couldn’t justify paying big money to both Johnson and Drake, who was set to hit free agency this off-season. Johnson one of the best running backs in the league in 2016, but had been limited to 3.60 YPC on 363 carries over 3 seasons since 2016, while Drake, acquired at the trade deadline last year for a mere 6th round pick, rushed for 643 yards and 8 touchdowns on 123 carries (5.23 YPC) in 8 games.
Drake was originally acquired to be an injury fill-in for David Johnson and injured backup Chase Edmonds, but he ran so well that he kept the job. His play had a noticeable impact on this team, as they had a 37.53% first down rate in 8 games with Drake, most equivalent to the 10th ranked Colts on the season, as opposed to a 33.01% first down rate in 8 games without Drake, most equivalent to the 26th ranked Bengals on the season.
Drake’s breakout stretch isn’t all that surprising, as he had always shown a lot of talent in three and a half seasons with the Dolphins. His 4.60 YPC average on 333 carries with the Dolphins may not seem like anything spectacular, but 3.29 YPC of that came after contact, as he routinely ran behind terrible offensive lines in Miami. His offensive line isn’t much better with the Cardinals, but he’s a perfect fit for this offense because he has the size and agility to take advantage of defenses lined up to defend 3-4 wide receivers and he’s a solid receiver in his own right, with 53 catches in 2018 and 50 catches in 2019, including 28 in 8 games with the Cardinals. He could easily catch another 50-60 passes in 2020 and, while he’s unlikely to be quite as efficient as a runner as he was down the stretch last season, he should continue having a lot of success on the ground as well.
With Johnson gone, the Cardinals kept Drake on a 8.483 million dollar transition tender while they work on a long-term deal and Drake is locked in as the feature back at least for 2020. Chase Edmonds remains, but he won’t be anything more than a true backup behind Drake. A 4th round pick in 2018, Edmonds hasn’t been a bad backup thus far in his career, averaging 4.26 YPC on 120 carries and showing some potential in the passing game as well. He could easily take a step forward in his third season in 2020, although it would likely take an injury to Drake for any improvement from Edmonds to be noticeable. With 7th round rookie Eno Benjamin in the mix as a deep reserve, this is a solid position group.
The Cardinals made a big jump on the offensive line from 2018 to 2019. They still had problems upfront, but they were one of the worst offensive lines in the league in 2018 and were largely a capable unit last season. The Cardinals improved upfront despite any major off-season additions, only adding veteran right guard JR Sweezy and veteran right tackle Marcus Gilbert on inexpensive deals, the latter of whom ended up missing the whole season with injury.
The big difference was that this group was much healthier than the year before, as, outside of Gilbert’s injury, the Cardinals had just 2 missed starts on the offensive line all season in 2019, after leading the league in adjusted games lost on the offensive line in 2018. In 2018, left tackle DJ Humphries, left guard Justin Pugh, and center AQ Shipley were limited to 522 snaps, 343 snaps, and 0 snaps respectively due to injury, but in 2019 all three made all 16 starts and they combined to miss just 43 snaps all season. All three also return to the Cardinals in 2019, along with right guard JR Sweezy and right tackle Justin Murray, so the Cardinals could start the same starting five again in 2020 if they want.
That being said, we could see new faces upfront at a couple positions, especially right tackle. Not only do the Cardinals have veteran Marcus Gilbert returning from injury at a position where his backup Justin Murray was serviceable at best in the first significant action of the 2016 undrafted free agent’s career last season, but the Cardinals also used a 3rd round pick on offensive tackle Josh Jones, who could easily end up making starts before season’s end.
Marcus Gilbert is probably their best option, although it’s tough to know what to expect from him. Not only did he miss all of last season with injury, but injuries limited him to just 12 starts between 2017 and 2018 and he’s now going into his age 32 season. Gilbert performed well in limited action in 2017 and 2018 and was Pro Football Focus’ 25th ranked offensive tackle in his last relatively healthy season in 2016, but Gilbert is a big question mark because of his age and injury history. He could easily not be the same player he was or get injured again. Murray showed he can be capable last season, but he’s still relatively inexperienced and probably would best as a backup long-term, while Jones could develop into a starter long-term, but would likely struggle as a rookie, so the Gilbert gives the Cardinals’ their best chance at capable right tackle play in 2020, even if he’s a very unpredictable option.
The Cardinals could also change starting centers. In 2018, Mason Cole made all 16 starts as a 3rd round rookie in place of an injured Shipley and finished 36th out of 39 qualifying centers on PFF, but Shipley wasn’t much better last season, finishing 30th out of 36 qualifying centers. Shipley, who hasn’t received an above average grade from PFF since 2016, is now going into his age 34 season, while Cole is heading into his 3rd year in the league and may be the better option.
Even if Cole can’t lock down the starting job, I would still expect him to see some playing time as the top reserve option on this offensive line. In addition to playing center, he can also play guard, where he started in two games last season when Justin Murray was out, pushing typical left guard Justin Pugh out to right tackle in the process. Pugh should remain as the starting left guard, but his ability to move to right tackle in a bunch is a bonus.
Pugh finished 22nd among guards last season on PFF last year and has mostly played well throughout his 7-year career, but injuries have been a big problem for him in recent years, costing him 22 games from 2016 to 2018 and limiting him to 779 underwhelming snaps combined in two seasons from 2017-2018. Pugh showed he can still be an above average starter when healthy last season, but he’s now going into his age 30 season and the days of him finishing 11th and 15th among guards on PFF like he did in 2015 and 2016 are probably gone at this point. He could remain a solid starter for at least another couple seasons, but his injury history is concerning.
Left tackle DJ Humphries also has a concerning injury history, as he played all 16 games for just the first time last season, after being limited to just 27 games total in his first 4 seasons in the league combined. A former first round pick, Humphries showed some of why he was taken so high in his first healthy season, earning an average grade from PFF, and he’s showed plenty of potential in limited action in the past as well, so he has the potential to be a consistently solid left tackle going forward if he can stay healthy.
The problem is the Cardinals re-signed him to a contract this off-season that basically pretends his injury history doesn’t exist, giving him 43.75 million over 3 years and guaranteeing 30 million of it over the next two seasons. Humphries is only in his age 27 season and could remain a solid starter in 2020, but if he gets hurt again the Cardinals could regret that contract quickly. If he were to miss time, the Cardinals would likely turn to rookie Josh Jones, who is the most natural fit on the left side of any of their right tackle options.
JR Sweezy is locked in at right guard for the 2nd year in a row, after posting a middling grade in his first season in Arizona. An 8-year veteran, Sweezy has had stretches of solid play throughout his career, but his middling year last year was his highest ranked season since 2015, prior to a significant back injury that cost him all of 2016, and now he’s going into his age 31 season, so he’s unlikely to get better. He could remain a capable starter, but he comes with some downside as well. Overall, this doesn’t look like a bad offensive line, but they need to stay healthy and they have injury prone projected starters at left tackle (Humphries), left guard (Pugh), and right tackle (Gilbert).
In addition to spending heavily to add DeAndre Hopkins and keep Kenyan Drake on offense, the Cardinals also spent some significant money on defense this off-season. At the interior defender position, their big addition was ex-Bills defensive tackle Jordan Phillips, who comes over on a 3-year, 30 million dollar deal. Phillips seemingly had a breakout year with 9.5 sacks last season, but totalled just 5.5 sacks in his first 4 seasons in the league combined and he wasn’t nearly as good as his sack total in 2019, totalling just a 7.7% pressure rate and earning middling grades overall from Pro Football Focus, getting his high sack total primarily from being in the right place at the right time on a good Buffalo defense.
Even only earning middling grades made 2019 the best season of Phillips’ career, as he’s consistently been mediocre at best in 5 seasons in the league, both as a run stuffer, and a pass rusher (7.2% career pressure rate), leading to the 2015 2nd round pick being available for just 4.5 million on a 1-year deal in his first trip to free agency last off-season. Even after last year’s big sack total, it’s hard to argue he deserves much more than that this off-season, so he’s an obvious overpay on a contract that guarantees him 14.5 million in the first year and will realistically pay him 20 million over 2 years before the Cardinals can comfortably move on. He’s also had work ethic concerns in the past, which could easily become a problem again now that he has significant guaranteed money. Either way, he’s not going to have the impact that the Cardinals are expecting.
Phillips will most directly replace Rodney Gunter, who played 602 snaps last season. Corey Peters led this defensive line with 805 snaps played last season, but that was a career high and I would expect that to go down in 2020. Not only is Peters primarily a run stuffer, earning above average grades from PFF as a run stuffer in 6 straight seasons, while only totalling a 4.6% pressure rate over that same time, including just 2.5 sacks, 2 hits, and a 5.3% pressure rate in an every down role in 2019, but he’s also going into his age 32 season and Phillips could easily overtake him in snaps in his first season in Arizona. He should continue to play a significant role, but he’s not someone you can regularly play in passing situations and expect to get consistent pass rush and he could easily decline in 2020, given his age.
Second year player Zach Allen will likely be the beneficiary of Peters playing reduced snaps, as he figures to be the 3rd starter in base packages with Phillips and Peters and he figures to play a role in passing situations as well. Allen barely played as a rookie, limited to 144 snaps by injury, but he was the 65th overall pick and still has the upside to develop into a capable starter, at the least. I wouldn’t expect huge things from him this season, but he should be a solid rotational player. The Cardinals also have reserve Jonathan Bullard, who has been a capable situational run stuffer while playing an average of 335 snaps per year over his 4-year career, and used 4th round picks and defensive tackles Rashard Lawrence and Leki Fotu, who could also see action as rookies. This is an underwhelming group that lacks high end talent and has questionable depth.
On the edge, the Cardinals’ big free agent addition was Devon Kennard, who comes over from the Lions on a 3-year, 20 million dollar deal. Kennard isn’t much more than a snap eater though and the Cardinals no longer have a pair of key contributors at the position from last season in Terrell Suggs (638 snaps) and Cassius Marsh (429 snaps), so Kennard isn’t really an upgrade Kennard spent the first 4 seasons of his career with the Giants as a hybrid off ball linebacker/edge defender before moving more into a pure edge defender role with the Lions over the past 2 seasons.
Kennard’s versatility is a plus, as is his experience in multiple defensive fronts, and he’s been a consistently solid run stopper regardless of where he’s lined up, but he leaves something to be desired as a pass rusher, totalling just 14 sacks over the past 2 seasons, despite playing 58.9 snaps per game, and adding just 16 quarterback hits and a 9.2% pressure rate. Now in his age 29 season, Kennard is who he is at this point, which isn’t a bad thing, but he doesn’t come with much upside.
Depth is also a big problem at the edge defender position because Kennard was their only off-season addition and two of the Cardinals’ only three edge defenders to surpass 100 snaps last season are no longer with the team. Without another good depth option, the Cardinals will likely play hybrid edge defender/off ball linebacker Haason Reddick on the edge in a significant role as the primary reserve. A first round pick in 2017, Reddick was lauded for his versatility entering the league, but he still hasn’t found a consistent role and he unsurprisingly had his 5th year option, which would have guaranteed him 10.089 million for injury, declined this off-season.
Reddick began his career primarily on the edge, but he failed to get consistent pressure (7.3% pressure rate) and was subsequently moved to more of an off ball role. As an off ball linebacker, Reddick developed into a plus blitzer, but struggled both in coverage and against the run, leading to him being benched down the stretch in 2019. Now he looks likely to move back to the edge just because the Cardinals are deeper at off ball linebacker than they are at the edge, but Reddick isn’t a guarantee to be much better than he was as a rookie. Still only in his age 26 season, Reddick theoretically still has untapped potential, but he’s running out of chances.
The Cardinals’ lack of edge defender depth isn’t as big of a deal as it would be for other teams because top edge defender Chandler Jones comes off the field as infrequently as any edge defender in the league, leading the position by a wide margin with 1,069 snaps played last season (no one else had more than 980) and averaging 62.8 snaps per game over the past 4 seasons, while not missing a single game due to injury.
Jones isn’t just durable, as he’s also one of the best players in the league at his position. Jones leaves something to be desired against the run, but his 72.5 sacks over the past 5 seasons are first by a pretty significant amount (Aaron Donald is 2nd with 63) and he’s added 48 hits and a 11.3% pressure rate over that stretch as well, while finishing in the top-35 among edge defenders on Pro Football Focus in all 5 seasons, including 3 seasons in the top-20 and a 15th ranked finish in 2019.
Jones’ age is a minor concern in his age 30 season, but even if he begins declining he should remain a top flight pass rusher. He should also continue playing close to every snap, as could Devon Kennard (935 in edge defenders snaps last season), to compensate for the Cardinals’ lack of depth at the position. Jones significantly elevates this group by himself, but they’d be in huge trouble if Jones ever missed significant time with injury and Kennard is a middling player overall.
As I mentioned, the Cardinals are much deeper at off ball linebacker than they are on the edge, which is why Haason Reddick figures to play on the edge much more often. That wasn’t the case last season, but the Cardinals used the 8th overall pick on Clemson’s Isaiah Simmons and signed ex-Falcon De’Vondre Campbell to a one-year deal worth 6 million in free agency. Along with holdover Jordan Hicks, added from the Eagles on a 4-year, 34 million dollar deal last off-season, all three of the Cardinals’ top off ball linebackers figure to see significant snaps and they may also see the field together in some base packages.
Simmons is the most intriguing of the bunch. Not only is he highly talented, as evidenced by his high draft selection, but he’s also a very unique talent, as he’s 6-4 238, moves and covers like he’s about 215 pounds, and can rush the passer off the edge. He drew mixed reviews as a draft prospect, with some teams having him as their top ranked overall player and some teams having him much further down the board because of his lack of a clear position.
With a player like Simmons, it’s always a risk that he can’t find one area where he excels, but if he develops he has the ability to be a truly unique talent. The Cardinals seem relatively committed to playing him at linebacker and that definitely figures to be his base package position, but they could move him to the slot or to the edge or even to safety in sub packages, which would allow them to play their top-3 linebackers together in some sub packages. It’ll be interesting to see how Simmons develops long-term and, in the short-term, he may be the favorite to win Defensive Rookie of the Year.
Hicks also has upside, after a career worst 50th ranked finish among off ball linebackers on Pro Football Focus, as he finished in the top-14 in his 3 healthiest seasons in Philadelphia. Hicks was still effective against the run in his first season in Arizona last year, but struggled in coverage. Hicks has a significant injury history, missing 8 games in 2015, 9 games in 2017, and 4 games in 2018, and those injuries may have piled up to sap his athleticism and slow him down in coverage. Contract guarantees made moving in from Hicks unrealistic this off-season, but it’s possible he sees primarily base package snaps, with Simmons and Campbell added to the mix this off-season and possibly working as the top-2 coverage linebackers. Hicks is only in his age 28 season though, and played all 16 games last season, so he has some bounce back potential if he can continue staying healthy.
Campbell also has issues in coverage, but his contract suggests the Cardinals have a big role in mind for him. Campbell has been a decent run stuffer in 4 seasons with the Falcons, but the 2016 4th round pick never developed in coverage and finished 80th out of 100 qualifying off ball linebackers in his final season in Atlanta. It’s unclear why the Cardinals felt he was worth 6 million dollars and, even if he does take a step forward in his 5th season in the league, the Cardinals will have to pay even more to keep him when he hits free agency again next off-season. This isn’t a bad linebacking corps, but they lack another coverage linebacker besides the rookie Simmons, who may play elsewhere on a significant amount of sub packages.
The Cardinals didn’t make a significant addition in their secondary this off-season, but they do get a significant addition from last off-season back from injury, as Robert Alford was signed to a 3-year, 22.5 million dollar deal in free agency last off-season and subsequently missed the entire 2019 season with injury. Alford isn’t a big re-addition though as, like many of the Cardinals’ signings this off-season, as he was an overpay, even before he missed an entire season. He was a capable starter in his prime, but he fell to 112nd out of 126 qualifying cornerbacks on Pro Football Focus in his final season in Atlanta in 2018, before missing all of last season, and now he’s going into his age 32 season, so his best days are almost definitely behind him.
Alford probably won’t have to play every down in this secondary, but he doesn’t have much competition for the #3 cornerback job and he may struggle even in a lesser role. Tramaine Brock was the Cardinals’ 3rd cornerback last season and he wasn’t bad in that role, but he’s no longer with the team, leaving 2018 undrafted free agent Chris Jones and 2016 undrafted free agent Kevin Peterson, who struggled on 275 snaps and 255 snaps respectively last season in the first significant action of their career, as their top alternatives to Alford. Even though he’s an underwhelming option, Alford seems likely to see significant action in sub packages.
Patrick Peterson and Byron Murphy return as the top-2 cornerbacks and will play every down. Murphy struggled mightily last season, finishing 121st out of 135 qualifying cornerbacks on PFF, but he was just a rookie and the 2019 33rd overall pick still has a huge upside, so he could easily take a significant step forward in 2020, even if only by default. Peterson, meanwhile, has been with the Cardinals since they drafted him 5th overall in 2011 and he’s finished in the top-19 in 5 of 9 seasons with the team. He’s been a bit up and down though and last season he fell to 44th among cornerbacks on PFF, after finishing 10th in 2018. On top of that, his age is becoming a concern in his age 30 season. Peterson has some bounce back potential, but it’s very possible his best days are behind him at this point.
At safety, the Cardinals return 16-game starter Budda Baker at one spot and Jalen Thompson and Deionte Thompson, who both made starts last season, at the other. A 2nd round pick in 2017, Baker took over as a starter halfway through his rookie year and has made 36 starts since. He’s underwhelming in coverage, but makes up for it with strong play against the run and his ability to blitz and rush off the edge in certain situations as well and he’s still only going into his age 24 season, so his coverage abilities could improve going forward. Even with his underwhelming coverage play, he’s earned average or better overall grades from PFF in all 3 seasons in the league, including a career best 33rd ranked finish in 2020. It wouldn’t be a surprise if he surpassed that in 2020.
Jalen Thompson and Deionte Thompson, meanwhile, were both 5th round rookies last year, Jalen arriving through the supplemental draft and Deionte through the traditional draft. Jalen saw significantly more snaps (607 vs. 252) and played slightly better, but both struggled and there’s no guarantee either one is any better in 2020. They’ll compete for the starting job in training camp and it’s possible one of them can develop into a capable starter, but this looks like a weakness in this secondary as of right now. Their lack of proven depth at cornerback behind a possibly declining Patrick Peterson is a problem as well.
The Cardinals come into 2020 with some hype, with some expecting Kyler Murray to make a similar 2nd year leap like Patrick Mahomes and Lamar Jackson have over the past, now that he has acquired DeAndre Hopkins as a #1 receiver. What Mahomes and Jackson did is hardly the norm, however, and Murray’s MVP betting odds, which currently give him the 6th highest chance to win the MVP ahead of players like DeShaun Watson, Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees, Carson Wentz, show that he’s overhyped right now.
Also, aside from acquiring Hopkins, the Cardinals didn’t do much of anything to significantly upgrade this roster this off-season, with most of the money they spent in free agency going to players who aren’t upgrades on the players they’re replacing. The Cardinals will likely be better in 2020 than 2019, but they finished last season 27th in first down rate differential, so they have a long way to go to get into playoff contention, especially on defense, where they ranked 30th in first down rate allowed and don’t seem noticeably better in 2020. Barring a breakout year from Murray, I wouldn’t expect much from this team. I will have an official prediction closer to the start of the season.
Offensive Score: 71.81
Defensive Score: 71.34
Total Score: 71.58