We kick off the NFC West grades by looking at last year’s biggest loser.
The Arizona Cardinals were one of the worst teams in professional football last year, and as a result there has been a lot of turnover in the building this offseason. After firing coach Steve Wilks one year into his tenure, the Cardinals hired Kliff Kingsbury from Texas Tech (and USC for about 12 minutes) to head the ship in 2019. They also drafter quarterback Kyler Murray from Oklahoma, and traded last year’s number 10 overall pick Josh Rosen to Miami for a 2019 second round pick. Fans in Phoenix hope that the new coach and quarterback can be their version of the rival Ram’s Sean McVay and Jarred Goff.
While there is no denying the talent of Murray, the talent around him is lack luster. The Cardinals had one of the worst offensive lines in the league, and outside of Larry Fitzgerald and Christian Kirk, the pass catchers ranked toward the bottom of the league as well. That is not an ideal situation to bring an undersized rookie quarterback into.
The team took steps to improving both groups, bringing in free agents Marcus Gilbert and JR Sweezy on the offensive line, and drafting a pair of receivers in Isabella and Hakeem Butler from Iowa State. Replacing the older Mike Iupati and Andre Smith up front with Gilbert and Sweezy will certainly help, but it’s not a drastic improvement. This group still comes with a significant risk of injury, but should rank closer to league average than the bottom if they can stay healthy. The rookie receivers the team brought in have the talent to be contributors alongside Fitzgerald and Kirk, but it’s always a risky proposition relying on rookies to play a major role. Star running back David Johnson will need to be relied upon heavily, especially early on as Murray builds chemistry with his pass catchers, but with his injury history and subpar O-line, relying on Johnson could lead to trouble. The offense has significantly more potential than it did a year ago, just don’t expect to see that potential realized in 2019.
Defensively, the line was just as big a need for the Cardinals as it was on the offensive side of the ball. The team added Darius Philon, a promising young tackle from the Chargers who finished last season with four sacks and seven tackles for a loss. The team also drafted Zach Allen from Boston College who has the versatility to play on the interior as well as bounce outside and play the edge. This should be enough to improve one of the worst units in the league, but it still needs work.
The linebacker group was another that needed to improve quite a bit. They added inside linebacker Jordan Hicks and outside linebackers Terrell Suggs, and Brooks Reed to man the side opposite All-Pro Chandler Jones. If everyone in this group stays healthy, it could be dangerous. The secondary was a strength of the team last year and that unit should be equally as strong this year. They did lose two of their best tacklers in safeties Antoine Bethea and Tre Boston, but they added D.J. Swearinger who ranked as one of the best safeties in the league last year and drafted Alabama thumper Deonte Thompson. Corners Robert Alford and Rookie Byron Murphy from Washington are two strong additions. Alford should be an upgrade over Bene Benwikere and Jamar Taylor last year and Murphy was one of the higher regarded corner prospects in this year’s draft. With Patrick Peterson serving a six-game suspension for performance enhancing drugs, this group will need to step up to start the season.
OFFSEASON GRADE: B- | Expected 2019 NFC West Rank: 4
The team made improvements in the areas they needed to address, but not to the extent that would allow them to compete for the division. Expect another early draft pick in 2020.
Graduate of Loyola Maryland and die hard Boston sports fan. "I rub it in pretty good when I win" - Tom Brady