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2021 Team Report: Arizona Cardinals

Last updated: Thu, Jul 15

Offensive Philosophy

Despite a paper-thin coaching resume, the Arizona Cardinals hired Kliff Kingsbury as their head coach to bring his version of the Air Raid offense to the NFL. Designed to flood the field with receivers and stretch horizontally as well as vertically (forcing the other team to "defend every blade of grass"), Kingsbury's Cardinals are among the league leaders in pace of play and 4- and 5-receiver sets, though with superstar DeAndre Hopkins in the fold the passing game was funneled much more toward the top receiver than was typical. Meanwhile, the team relies on the threat of designed runs by Kyler Murray to punish defenses that overcommit to the pass.

Quarterbacks

Starter: Kyler Murray
Backup(s): Colt McCoy, Chris Streveler, Cole McDonald

Starting QB: One of the main concerns with Kyler Murray, when the Cardinals drafted him first overall in 2019, was his size and durability. After two seasons in the league, he has not missed a game and after finishing at the QB9 in his rookie season he improved that to QB2 last season in large part with his early-season rushing yards and touchdowns. Murray finished 2020 with nearly 4,000 passing yards and 26 passing touchdowns but showed his real strength for fantasy in his rushing ability as he ran for 819 yards and 11 touchdowns. Now entering year three in the offense, Murray is set up for continued success as the Cardinals have added James Conner at running back and A.J. Green at receiver along with an improved offensive line.

Backup QB: The Cardinals did the smart thing and brought in a veteran backup quarterback in Colt McCoy. McCoy has 10 years of experience and has started a handful of games in his career. The Cardinals are all in on Kyler Murray but if he were to miss a couple of games, they have McCoy to step in and give them a fighting chance.

Running Backs

Starter: Chase Edmonds
Backup(s): James Conner, Eno Benjamin, Jonathan Ward, Khalfani Muhammad, Tavien Feaster
Fullback(s):

Starting RB: The Cardinals let Kenyan Drake walk in free agency and replaced him with a much cheaper James Conner. Conner will likely compete with Chase Edmonds as the feature back in Arizona but in the end it should be Edmonds job to lose. Edmonds is coming off his most productive season with 850 total yards and 5 total touchdowns in more of a second fiddle to Drake in 2020. Signing Conner is probably more of a compliment to Edmonds and that the team believes in him as they didn't need to overspend on a Drake replacement. Edmonds racked up 53 receptions last season showing that he can be a big part of the passing offense. As far as the single rushing touchdown goes that is because the quarterback Murray had 12 of them and maybe we see those numbers shift somewhat in 2021 for both players. Edmonds should see an increase in all his offensive categories in 2021 just based on opportunity along and entering year four of his career he could not be in a better spot with Kyler Murray as his quarterback and James Conner as his complement at the running back position.

Backup RBs: The Cardinals are showing faith in Chase Edmonds as they only move at the running back position that they made was signing James Conner to a one-year, $1.75 million contract. Conner is entering his fifth year in the NFL and has yet to play a full season, missing 14 games in that four year span. Conner brings the experience with him and a change of scenery after a rough 2020 season in Pittsburgh could be welcoming for him. "I'm excited for this opportunity. It's definitely a change of scenery for me, being in Pittsburgh eight years." Conner said he views the Cardinals as "right place, right time" for him to take the next step in his career. Behind Edmonds and Conner the Cardinals also have Eno Benjamin entering year two in the offense. He did not see the field in his rookie season but could see opportunities this year with a full offseason ahead of him.

Fullback:

Wide Receivers

Starters: DeAndre Hopkins, Christian Kirk, A.J. Green
Backups: Rondale Moore [R], KeeSean Johnson, Andy Isabella, Krishawn Hogan, Rico Gafford

Starting WRs: DeAndre Hopkins was a welcome addition in 2020 to the Cardinals offense. He remains as one of the premier wide receivers in the game and finished as a top 10 wide receiver for the fourth straight season last year with a 115/1407/6 statline in his first year in Arizona. With Hopkins entering his second season in Arizona and Kyler Murray now with two seasons under his belt the two star players could really take it to the next level in 2021 and continue on their successes. Christian Kirk is entering the final year of his rookie contract and is continuing to look for that breakout season. He finished with a 48/621/6 line playing in 14 games in 2020. Maybe with this being his last year on contract and looking for a new bigger deal next year, it pushes him to the next level. Next to Hopkins and Kirk this year it will be A.J. Green coming to town bringing his elite experience to the team. Green has struggled with injuries over the last three seasons but he did happen to put together a full 16 game season in 2020 but also it was his least productive season with 47/523/2 line.

Backup WRs: The Cardinals spent some draft capital in Rondale Moore and he looks locked into the WR4 on the team on paper at least and could challenge to crack into the top 3. Andy Isabella was a second round pick in 2019 and has yet to live up to that selection. He will be the fourth or fifth option in the wide receiver room this season and the hope is that he can earn some more playing time and live up to that second round pick status. KeeSean Johnson is another depth piece in the offense and will challenge for a depth receiver role on the team. Realistically outside of Hopkins, Kirk, and Green as the starters it will be hard to find extra targets in this offense.

Tight Ends

Starters: Maxx Williams
Backups: Darrell Daniels, Ian Bunting

The Cardinals tight end group is rather thin with Dan Arnold signing with the Panthers this offseason. Maxx Williams is the front runner for the starting role but has never really lived up to a big offensive role throughout his NFL career. In six NFL seasons he has played in 61 games and caught a total of 86 passes for 801 yards and 5 touchdowns.

Place Kicker

Matt Prater: Zane Gonzalez suffered a back injury last year and was replaced by veteran Mike Nugent, who was more accurate than Gonzalez and probably put the nail in the coffin to end Gonzalez's stint with the team. This offseason, they signed Matt Prater to a two-year, $6.5 million deal. Prater is coming off of his worst year in his last ten, but he will be reunited with special teams coordinator Jeff Rodgers, who was with Prater in Denver from 2011-14. His fantasy ADP is right on the edge of draftable, which is accurate. The Cardinals field goal opportunity is middling, although Prater still has a good distance leg, getting 10 chances from 50+ last year and hitting six of them. His other three misses were 40-49 yards, so he didn't miss any chipshots. Prater will also be kicking indoors for more than half of his games, so he's a fine pick in the last round of drafts if you like to wait at kicker.

Kick and Punt Returners

Kick Returners: Chase Edmonds, Andy Isabella, Christian Kirk Chase Edmunds, Andy Isabella, Christian Kirk

While Chase Edmonds was Arizona's top kickoff returner in 2020 and returns to the team in 2021, he's in line for an expanded role on offense, which could result in a reduced role on special teams. If so, speedy receivers Andy Isabella and Christian Kirk are seasoned returners.

Punt Returners: Christian Kirk, Andy Isabella

Christian Kirk hasn't given the Cardinals the offensive production they envisioned when they drafted him in the 2nd round in 2018, and his usage last year took a step back, but he's helped offset that disappointment by taking over as the team's top punt returner on special teams.

Offensive Line

Projected Starters: LT D.J. Humphries, LG Justin Pugh, C Rodney Hudson, RG Justin Murray, RT Kelvin Beachum
Key Backups: G Brian Winters, T Josh Jones, C/G Lamont Galliard, C/G Max Garcia

This solid line has a decent mix of vets and youth. Left tackle D.J Humphries and right guard Justin Murray are ascending prospects. In contrast, left guard Justin Pugh and right tackle Kelvin Beachum have been steady fixtures. Former All-Pro center Rodney Hudson arrives via trade from the Las Vegas Raiders. Assuming everyone stays healthy, the arrival of Hudson gives this average line the potential to grade in the top-10.

Team Defense

The Cardinals D/ST wasn't a fantasy factor last year except for matchups against the lowly NFC East and a few high points against the Patriots and Seahawks, but they are adding playmakers and could be a much better unit this year. JJ Watt will give the team a force up front, and Chandler Jones will return from a biceps injury that cost him most of 2020. Isaiah Simmons should be even better in his second season, and the team drafted Zaven Collins #16 in this year's draft to give him a versatile running mate in the middle of the defense. Budda Baker is one of the best safeties in the league, and now the anchor of a secondary that lost Patrick Peterson to Minnesota in free agency. The Cardinals D/ST is worth a look as a last round pick, although they open on the road at Tennessee, which isn't a plus streaming matchup. They are probably better left on the waiver wire and used as a streamer/matchup play later in the season with potential to be an everyweek start if the front seven clicks under Vance Joseph.

Defensive Line

Starters: DT Jordan Phillips, NT Leki Fotu, RDE JJ Watt
Backups: DT Michael Dogbe, NT Rashard Lawrence, DE Zach Allen, DE/OLB Victor Dimukeje [R]

Starting DL: By signing JJ Watt, the Cardinals hoped to turn the defensive line, which has been a weakness for many years, into a strength. While Watt's best days are behind him, he was still able to make an impact last year, producing on a very bad Texans front. Jordan Phillips' three-year, thirty-million-dollar contract signed last offseason has yet to pay off so far. Phillips spent much of the year on injured reserve with a hamstring injury. Hopefully a healthy Phillips will revert to the interior force that he was previously in his career. With Corey Peters gone, more will be expected of Leki Fotu. He and Rashard Lawrence were drafted in the fourth round of the 2020 NFL Draft and are expected to compete for the starting job.

Backup DL: Zach Allen's development was encouraging last year, but having an ancillary role behind JJ Watt could be good for his long-term prospects. On snaps in which Watt moves outside, Allen will likely man the interior. Victor Dimukeje is a high-effort player with very nuanced pass-rush moves, but lacks the length and athletic traits that evaluators would like an edge rusher to possess. 2019 seventh-rounder Michael Dogbe played in 11 NFL contests and spent time between the active roster and the practice squad. He could possibly be pushed down the depth chart by a veteran signing later in the offseason.

Linebackers

Starters: OLB Chandler Jones, SLB Zaven Collins [R], ILB Jordan Hicks, ILB Isaiah Simmons, OLB Markus Golden
Backups: LB Devon Kennard, OLB Evan Weaver, OLB Dennis Gardeck SLB Kylie Fitts, ILB Tanner Vellejo, ILB Evan Weaver, OLB Devon Kennard

Starting LBs: Jones suffered a torn biceps injury last year, but should be ready to go for 2021. The team also re-signed Markus Golden to a two-year deal. The Cardinals will use him primarily on base downs. Zaven Collins has drawn comparisons to Anthony Barr in that he can do a little of everything-- plug run fits, rush the quarterback, or drop into coverage. The team will need more from Isaiah Simmons, its 2020 first-round selection. He did not come near full-time involvement last season and will need to be an every-down player this year to justify the capital spent on his selection. Fortunately, Jordan Hicks was able to stay healthy and play a full 16 games last season. The captain of the defense will hope for another healthy campaign, but perhaps with another team. Hicks is being allowed to seek a trade, presumably to make more playing time inside for Simmons and Collins.

Backup LBs: This group possesses very little proven depth. Evan Weaver had exciting college tape, but has yet to see his NFL debut. Devon Kennard will compete with Markus Golden, but will likely not win the starting spot. Gardeck was brought back on a generous $3.38 million dollar one year deal (second round RFA tender) to be a pass rush specialist and special teams ace.

Defensive Backs

Starters: CB Byron Murphy, CB Malcolm Butler, CB Robert Alford, SS Jalen Thompson, FS Budda Baker
Backups: CB Kevin Peterson, CB Jalen Thompson, CB Marco Wilson [R], CB Tay Gowan [R], SS Deionte Thompson, SS James Wiggins [R], FS Chris Banjo,

Starting DBs: After Patrick Peterson's departure in free agency, Arizona signed Titans' cap casualty Malcolm Butler. He will take Peterson's old role in the defense and become the top corner option. Byron Murphy will man the slot and kick inside in nickel scenarios. Robert Alford will play on the outside in nickel situations, but will not be on the field in the Cardinals base defense. All-Pro Budda Baker will continue to man his usual spot. Jalen Thompson sat most of last year with an ankle injury, but was an excellent compliment to Baker when he was healthy.

Backup DBs: Beyond the starting three, depth is mediocre among this corner group. Marco Wilson looks to be a project with plenty of athleticism, but with little technical refinement. The team gave up next year's fourth round pick to move up for him. Though drafted later, rookie Tay Gowan is an interesting off-coverage corner whose technique is smooth and sound. His arm measurements during his Pro Day came in shorter than expected, which may explain going later in the Draft. If Jalen Thompson's ankle injury once again flares up, Deionte Thompson has proven himself a capable backup safety. Chris Banjo is mainly a special-teams contributor, but did get thrown into the mix during a injury-laden stretch for the safety group last season. James Wiggins has had multiple injuries and is an older prospect, but when healthy in college, he showed that he could be a quick and hard-hitting safety.