The Arizona Cardinals have good young players but are in a bit of a transition following the retirement of quarterback Carson Palmer and wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald. They also released defensive back Tyrann Mathieu and saw head coach Bruce Arians retired amid health concerns.
General manager Steve Keim has some work ahead, but here are the best of the Cardinals in 2018.
Best Skilled Offensive Player
Johnson was well on his way to stardom after rushing for 1,239 yards and 16 touchdowns in his second season in the NFL in 2016. He also caught 80 passes for 879 yards and four touchdowns. The 2,118 total yards from scrimmage and 20 combined rushing and receiving touchdowns led the league that season. Everyone thought he was ready to become the face of the Cardinals in 2017, but everything came crashing down in the season opener against Detroit. He suffered a dislocated wrist that put him on season-ending injured reserve. The 2015 third-round draft pick has good size and three-down skills. He went to the University of Northern Iowa as a wide receiver but converted to running back and excelled. He has all the skills teams look for in running backs. He has the size to pound out yards between-the-tackles and in short-yardage situations as well as the athleticism and hands to get large chunks of yards as a receiver out of the backfield. The only question is how the injury will affect him this season. Given that it was a wrist injury gives hope that it will not affect him at all.
Best Offensive Lineman
The Cardinals were in desperate need of offensive line help prior to the 2015 season. Iupati was one of the best available in free agency. After three Pro Bowl seasons in San Francisco, he was ready to move on. He chose to sign with the Cardinals and immediately became their starting left guard. He earned a fourth straight Pro Bowl appearance in 2015. The 31-year-old suffered a season-ending triceps injury during Week 1. He was placed on season-ending injured reserve and has two years remaining on his contract.
Best Pass Rusher
Jones recorded a league-best 17 sacks last season. He is long and athletic and very difficult to block on third down. The Cardinals acquired him from New England to improve their pass rush. He has done that with double-digit sacks in each of his two seasons in Arizona. Last season, he had his best season with career-highs in sacks and tackles (51).
Best Pass Defender
Peterson is a multi-talented cornerback. He has a freakish ability. The Cardinals have him cover the opposition’s best receiver and return punts. He is bigger than most cornerbacks and is not afraid to be physical with receivers. He recorded just one interception and eight passes defended last season but was rarely targeted.
Seals-Jones finished last season with just 12 catches for 201 yards and three touchdowns, but all of it came in a five-game stretch from Week 10 to 14. He has tight end size and wide receiver athleticism. He will likely take playing away from veteran tight end Jermaine Gresham. The two should complement each other well. Seals-Jones will be the receiver and Gresham the blocker. Seals-Jones has the potential to be the No. 2 receiver on the team behind Larry Fitzgerald.
Best New Addition
Pugh was one of the best offensive linemen on the market when free agency opened in March. He is a versatile blocker with good size and athleticism. He wasn’t one of the more sought-after free agents. He played just eight games last season after suffering a back in Week 9. He should solidify the right side of the offensive line as the starting guard.
Not So Out On A Limb Prediction
Larry Fitzgerald will make 100 catches
The Cardinals will be behind often and forced to throw. Whomever the starting quarterback is all season will have reason to look for Fitzgerald. Veteran Sam Bradford is very accurate and excels getting the ball to his receiver quickly. Rookie Josh Rosen will look for a safety blanket. Fitzgerald will be that guy. Also, the 14-year veteran has caught 109, 107, 109 passes in each of the last three seasons, respectively. Barring an injury, there is little doubt he reaches triple-digit catches for the sixth time in his career.
Sam Bradford will not suffer a notable injury
Bradford has missed at least nine games because of knee injuries three times in his career, including back-to-back seasons with torn ACL injuries. He suffered the injury in Week 7 of 2013. Then he suffered another during the next preseason. Last season, his knee became sore after Week 1. He missed several weeks before shutting it down following one half of play in Week 5. It is believed that it could be a degenerative issue. The over/under question surrounding the Cardinals is how many games before Bradford goes on injured reserve. It is unanswerable because Bradford will not suffer an injury that will keep force him to miss a game.