2017 Season Previews: Arizona Cardinals

2016 in Review:
Arizona was the trendy pick for the NFC crown, the thinking was it was a win-now situation with Carson Palmer on the back-9 of his career. Sadly for Cardinals fans, this was not to be as the team started out 1-3 and never got back on track with a 7-8-1 record, their worst season since 2012.

Quarterbacks
Carson Palmer is again back as the man, after thinking of retirement. He threw 26 TDs and 14 picks as well as 4233 yards. Palmer has control over the lockerroom, and the trust of Bruce Arians, so he’s not going anywhere, unless he gets beaten like a pinata like last year, where Palmer was hit more than any other QB in the NFL.
Backups include lifer Drew Stanton, who did get action last year with 2 TDs and 3 picks, and new arrival Blane Gabbert, who is on team 3 of getting his career going.

Running Backs
Now we are talking. David Johnson won a lot of fantasy leagues and was a major bright spot in the desert. Can he do it again? If the line improves, he could be even better. Johnson is on the short list for best back in the NFL. Johnson rushed for 1239 yards and 16 TDs and caught 80 passes for 879 yards and 4 more TDs. The problem is, Johnson was the second-leading receiver. Andre Ellington was the primary backup, but he’s moving over to wide receiver, so Kerwynn Williams takes the spot. He’s a straight-line runner who hits the first hole he sees and plows ahead. TJ Logan is the rookie from North Carolina, and could get some touches.

Wideouts
Larry Fitzgerald is back again, coming off a season with 107 catches for 1023 yards and 6 TDs. He’s slowing down, but hey, so it Tom Brady. Jaron Brown is expected to be 100% recovered from his ACL injury, and that is going to take some pressure off Fitzgerald. John Brown is the deep threat that Carson Palmer is able to take less and less advantage of, but it’s nice to always have the option. Jermaine Gresham resigned for the next four years, coming off 37 catches for 2 TDs and 391 yards. The Cardinals think he can do better, and for that money, he better. Gresham is a solid run-blocker, and improved in the redzone for David Johnson.

Offensive Line
DJ Humphries is switching sides with Jared Veldheer, and with Humphries being the 2015 first round pick and Veldheer is on a contract year, so I’d expect that is this doesn’t work out, they could be flipped back. Ulrick John has always had potential, but never really carried it out, and the team has a lot of love for Will Holden, a fifth rounder with size who has responded to coaching. Mike Upati played hurt a lot last year, and if he’s back to form, this line instantly improves. Evan Boehm is a bit undersized but did a decent job last year in limited action. Dorian Johnson is going to get a lot of snaps at guard as well, as the team has high hopes for him. Tony Bergstrom is the primary backup, and can play almost any interior position. A.Q Shipley is the man in the middle, he’s small, but nasty. Shipley is smart and durable, but if you will notice, not a lot of new blood here. Palmer got beat up last year, I don’t see a massive step up coming.

Defensive Line
Calais Campbell is gone and took his 8 sacks with him. Campbell was the foundation of the front seven and took a lot of the pressure off the run defense. He’s never been a pro-bowler but did better than most. They are going to try and replace him with Robert Nkemdiche, last years first rounder who was not very effective last year, even if you account for the injuries. On the other side is Frostee Rucker, who is aging, but can still be effective in a limited role. The nose tackle is Corey Peters, who will never be a pro-bowler, but is a solid guy to have in the middle. There is a good bit of depth here, but nothing really stunning here.

Linebackers
Chandler Jones was brought over from the Pats, and played better than expected, with 11 sacks. He signed a long term deal to be the guy at this level. Karlos Dansby is over from Cincy to play beside him, and while I don’t know if this is ring-chasing, but easily playoff chasing. Kevin Minter left for the Bengals, but I don’t think the Cards won in that somewhat “trade” Markus Golden is the other outside linebacker, and with 12.5 sacks can be dangerous at any time. Deone Bucannon is beside him, and he’s just as good vs the run as the pass. He’s young with a monster motor. Hopefully he can pick up some tricks from Dansby. Jarvis Jones is a solid backup, but is not ready for a heavy workload, and expect to see first rounder Hasson Reddick replace Dansby as much as possible. The Cardinals have a good bit of depth here as well, but there are more options at linebacker than at defensive line.

Secondary
Patrick Peterson is still one of the best in the game, but the other three have problems. The Cardinals still can’t find the guy to put on the other side, but Justin Bethel to get the most chances, as he took a paycut to return and take the number 2 guy. The safeties are the Honey Badger, when he’s able to play, and Antonie Bethea, who, like so many of the Cardinal defense, is aging. Second Rounder Budda Baker is going to replace Bethea as soon as he can, and can play nickel while he’s waiting. Brandon Williams is the third corner, but he has been a major disappointment as a third rounder. Harlan Miller is the backup everywhere, as he can play any position, just not well enough to crack the starting lineup. Other teams would love to have a solid guy like Miller on the roster.

Special Teams
2 Long Snappers
3 Punters
Kicker fired.
Yeah, there is some turmoil here as this unit has been blamed for several losses. Phil Dawson is over from the Niners to try and solve that problem. The thing is, Catanzaro was 21-28 in feild goals, and Dawson was 18 for 21, so not like he was lights out, either.

Coaching
Arians is one of the most respected coaches in the NFL, and you have to think the Colts wish they have kept him over #ChuckStrong, and he’s not going anywhere yet. Byron Leftwich is the sole new arrival on staff to take over coaching QBs, so that could be fun. If the Cardinals do win in the playoffs, expect DC James Bettcher to be the first one out the door, with back to back top 10 defenses. Losing 5 starters on defense is going to really test him. He passes, and he’s gone.

Draft
The draft hit a lot of good spots, Reddick is going to start, Baker is going to learn and play early and ofter, and there are two offensive linemen that should be in the rotation eventually. I don’t quite get the Chad Williams pick, another O-Lineman or Defensive Lineman should have went here. This was just a solid draft for a team with a lot of aging parts.

Predictions
The Cardinals are going to live and die on that line. If Palmer plays all 16, this is a playoff team, if he gets beat up, then they are going to looking for a new QB with a top pick in the draft.
I’m looking at another 4 wins in the division. 1-3 vs the NFC East, as they get the Cowboys home in week 3 (Larry and Carson should be 100% vs that rebuilt secondary) and 2 wins vs that crappy AFC South. They get the Colts and Texans on the road though. Bonus games vs the Lions and Tampa should get another win. 8-8? Sounds about right, but they do close with the Seahawks, and that could be a defacto playoff game.

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