The Arizona Cardinals arguably had the best offseason in the NFL on paper, garnering preseason hype as a potential playoff team in the loaded NFC West. Based on the talent the Cardinals acquired this offseason, the hype seems for real. Just take a look at what they were able to add to the roster from a talent standpoint:
Arizona added more firepower to the offense, stealingDeAndre Hopkinsfrom theHouston Texansand giving NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year Kyler Murray one of the top receivers in football. The Cardinals also retainedKenyan Drake, who averaged 5.8 yards per carry last season after coming to Arizona via trade, and improved their offensive line -- highlighted by the third-round pick ofJosh Jonesand signing D.J. Humphries to an extension. The Cardinals offense jumped from last in points scored in 2018 to 16th in 2019 and from last in total yards to 21st, which should improve again in 2020 as Murray and head coach Kliff Kingsbury enter year two together.
Arizona revamped its defense with the signings ofDe'Vondre Campbell,Devon Kennard, andJordan Phillips-- along with the first-round pick ofIsaiah Simmonshighlighting the moves. The Cardinals defense was dead last in yards allowed and 28th in points allowed in 2019, so the unit should improve there as well.
Even with all the offseason additions, the Cardinals still have some position battles that need to be settled over the next six weeks. Here's a look at five training camp battles for fans to keep an eye on.
This battle could change at any instant, but the Cardinals want Simmons to focus at inside linebacker -- meaning he'll actually be playing one position in the defense after playing several at Clemson -- or at least that's what Arizona is claiming now.Jordan Hicks has one of the inside linebacker spots down, so the battle for playing time will be between Simmons and Campbell, who the Cardinals signed to a one-year, $6 million deal this offseason.
Simmons probably would be starting on Day 1 of camp if it wasn't for the coronavirus pandemic eliminating minicamp and he expressed the difficultly of learning things virtually this offseason. Campbell is in the same position as an offseason signing, but he also has played 54 games at inside linebacker in his four NFL seasons.
Cardinals defensive coordinator Vance Joseph did mention Simmons will have some "special roles" vs. certain opponents, leaving open the possibility Simmons does play in the secondary or at outside linebacker in certain packages. While this is a camp battle, it appears the Cardinals will find ways to keep Simmons on the field and get Campbell regular snaps.
The Cardinals will move Corey Peters to defensive end now that Jordan Phillips is the nose tackle, leaving one open defensive end spot open on the front three. Allen, the team's 2019 third-round pick, played just 144 snaps last year as his season ended prematurely with a lingering neck issue. Arizona still has high hopes with Allen and like his potential, but the Cardinals may rotate at the other end position with him and Bullard.
Bullard is the experienced one of the group, totaling 1.5 sacks and seven quarterback hits in 309 snaps. The Cardinals brought him back at $910,000 this year, so there's a role for him in the rotation -- even if he doesn't win the starting job.
Allen appears to get the first crack at winning the job, but Arizona needs to improve the 24th-ranked run defense from a year ago. Helps Allen can play the inside a bit to help that unit.
This battle was originally Marcus Gilbert vs. Murray and Jones, but Gilbert decided to opt out of the 2020 season. A huge blow for the Cardinals offensive line as Gilbert has started 87 games in his nine NFL seasons (out of 88 games played), and still has yet to play a regular season snap with the team. A torn ACL just before the 2019 season cost Gilbert the year and left the Cardinals offensive line in flux. The Cardinals brought Gilbert back on a one-year deal, and Kingsbury admitted if Gilbert returned to his prior form, he would start at right tackle. That's all out the window now.
There's a third-round pick waiting in Jones, who was PFF's highest-graded tackle in the draft class. The lack of minicamp is hindered Jones's development, so the door opens for Murray, who started 12 games after being claimed off waivers by the team last year. Murray knows the system well, so Arizona has a reliable fallback option and depth at the position. There's also veteran Kelvin Beachum, who can play both tackle spots but has played at left tackle since 2013.
The Cardinals top three spots at wide receiver are set, but which player will emerge at the No. 4 spot? Isabella appears to be the front runner after the 2019 second-round pick averaged 21.0 yards per catch in his rookie season. Isabella was set to have a larger role this season on the outside before the Cardinals pulled off acquiring Hopkins. The deep-ball ability makes Isabella a more than viable No. 4 wideout.
Truth is, this job is open thanks to the play of Johnson and the potential of Butler. Johnson averaged just 8.9 yards per catch in his rookie year and was drafted lower than Isabella and Butler in the same class, so he'll have to outplay both just to earn a roster spot.
Butler is the wild card in this equation as he missed his entire rookie season with a hand injury. He caught 110 passes for 2,149 yards and 18 touchdowns in his three seasons at Iowa State. That production included a record-setting junior season in which Butler caught 60 passes for a single-season record 1,318 yards and nine touchdowns.
Butler (6-5, 227) ran a 4.48 40-yard dash at the combine and has the skill set most teams covet at wide receiver. The Cardinals could use another possession wideout behind Hopkins, which is where Butler can earn some snaps. Depending on the personnel, Isabella and Butler should split the snaps at No. 4 wide receiver if camp goes according to plan.
The Cardinals arguably have the worst collection of tight ends in the league, but they don't feature the tight end as much either. This is a system that ran "10 personnel" an astonishing 31% of their snaps last season, the most in the NFL by 23% (per Sharp Football Stats). The tight end position isn't as prevalent, but Arizona still needs a starter.
Williams is the front runner for the job and is expected to start, even though Arnold has established himself as a red zone threat and the coaching staff really likes him. While Arnold is the better receiver and can make the highlight-reel plays, Williams is the better pass blocker -- needed with Murray at quarterback and a susceptible offensive line.
Arizona was 29th in touchdown percentage in the red zone and two of Arnold's six catches last season went for scores. Perhaps the Cardinals use Arnold in red zone packages and Williams in between the 20s.
If Arnold does improve as a pass blocker and helps out the offensive line, the starting tight end job may be his for good.
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