With such a constricted offseason, there should be a solid amount of surprises for playing time this year. Firstly, rookies may be behind the learning curve, but also Cardinals players will likely have to go on short term IR if they ever test positive for COVID. Expanded rosters are likely this season and the odds of seeing many more faces getting significant playing time could also become the normal in 2020.
Here we will go into a few players you should familiarize yourself with as they could be thrust into a starting role, or even play themselves into a permanent starting position.
This is a popular dark horse pick for this team. The position seems locked up, because despite rumors of Maxx Williams considering the opt-out, the incumbent is slated to start this year and the team likes him (proof in the two year extension he signed this year). However, Dan Arnold has a much higher athletic profile and had rave reviews from his QB at the end of last season:
“Everybody was kind of on notice. I’ve never had a guy that big that can do what he can do, It’s pretty nice.”– Kyler Murray
Now the sample size of eight catches in a season isn’t anything to write home about but his teammates waxing lyrical in the media on more than one occasion is always a good sign. If we look at their PFF receiving grades, Dan Arnold had a grade of 76.8 on the season over Williams’ 61.0. If you only take into consideration Dan’s three games as a Cardinal, his grade is even higher.
Staying on those receiving grades, Williams only had one game where his receiving grade was as high as any of Dan’s three games as a Cardinal. Maxx has a great pass blocking grade though, an area where Dan, the former college WR, needs to improve if he wants to see the field more consistently.
Max Garcia started two full seasons in Denver before coming over as the same time as brilliant OL coach Sean Kugler. The starting offensive line is solid but Justin Pugh has only stayed healthy for an entire season twice in his seven year career. J.R. Sweezy’s ceiling isn’t very high, Sweezy actually trended downward in all three of PFF’s blocking metrics as the season wore on.
Garcia is an ideal backup and was brought back on a one year deal. If he does end up starting he has a good opportunity to overtake the other more expensive options Arizona currently have at guard for a longer term position on this team.
*note from the writer – This was written prior to the Alford injury, the below is even more likely now.
Before Patrick Peterson was back from his suspension last year another Peterson was trying to keep the DB position afloat until his return. Kevin Peterson played 14 games for the Cards last year, and although the top three corner positions are locked down, the rest of the corner depth is very much up in the air. It’s tough to judge Arizona’s young corners from last year since the defensive backfield gameplan seemed to be very soft coverage and “bend but don’t break” all year. His special teams contribution should help him secure his position on the team. Peterson is a good tackler and last year’s exposure can only help his development.
Last year he lined up out wide 158 snaps, in the slot for 91 snaps and another 140 ST snaps. That’s a lot of trial by fire for a young player who didn’t play a single snap in 2018. In games where he started at least 19 snaps in coverage, he didn’t allow a TD… although he did allow 14/19 completions against him in 1 on 1 coverage so there is lot’s of room for improvement.
The other 5th round pick from 2019, Deionte Thompson had a chance to start after the Cardinals released D.J. Swearinger. He ended up starting only two games before being supplanted by his namesake Jalen Thompson. Deionte struggled in coverage with a PFF season grade of 53.5, but he also played the majority of his snaps in the first half of the season. The Cardinals secondary was a sieve to opposing offenses through the first half of 2019.
Deionte played at least 25 snaps in weeks 5-9, in those weeks the Cardinals actually played well. Thompson finished with very high tackling grades, and the team went 3-2. The SS position is one of the least secure spots on the team and Thompson could find himself on the field more often.
Defensive line was easily one of the biggest weaknesses of the team last year. While the position was addressed with some FA signings and draft picks, Jonathan Bullard is an enormous man that will find room to play. There is plenty of opportunity for snaps in a defensive line full of inexperience. In an season that will likely rely heavily on veterans, Bullard will likely see some snaps alongside the only DL certainties in Corey Peters and Jordan Phillips.
He wasn’t part of the team during last year’s offseason and had a few injuries last year. However, he played a majority of snaps in the games that he was available. Last year’s third and seventh round DL picks, Zach Allen and Michael Dogbe, didn’t leave a mark in either hurries or run defense. This should open the door for Bullard to grab snaps.
Bonus: Chris Streveler
The Canadian trained swiss army knife, Chris Streveler won’t be starting, regardless of what happens to the other QB’s. But if he can find a way to make the roster fans should see him in some creative ways this upcoming season. Chris runs with reckless abandon and should add yet another element to an already dynamic offense.