2016 cheat sheet: Arizona Cardinals
After a playoff run that ended in the NFC title game last season, the Arizona Cardinals’ roster remains fairly intact. Quarterback Carson Palmer still has an arsenal of playmakers at his disposal, with Larry Fitzgerald, Michael Floyd, John Brown, David Johnson, Jermaine Gresham, and Andre Ellington all returning. On the defensive side, the Cardinals upgraded their pass rush with some key additions to complement their impressive secondary. Overall, this team looks poised for another run at a Super Bowl.
Three biggest things to know
1. The secondary is the identity of the team.
Tyrann Mathieu and Patrick Peterson’s 2015 regular-season coverage grades ranked No. 1 and No. 5, respectively, among NFL cornerbacks last season. The money the Cardinals have invested in their young defensive backs and team leaders shows that the organization views them as two pillars of the franchise moving forward.
2. The pass rush should be improved.
General Manager Steve Keim made it a point this offseason to improve the team’s pass rush by investing a first-round pick in interior rusher Robert Nkemdiche (ninth-highest pass-rush grade in the class) and by trading for edge rusher Chandler Jones, who recorded 68 pressures last season (playoffs included).
3. Every key offensive weapon is returning.
The Cardinals’ offense was explosive last season, and every offensive skill player will return this season. In addition, they added the top run-blocking guard of 2015 in Evan Mathis. QB Carson Palmer finished the regular season as our top-graded quarterback, and his favorite target, Larry Fitzgerald, is still an impressive chain-mover and had our top blocking grade among all WRs in 2015.
Key arrivals and departures
Top three draft picks: DE Robert Nkemdiche (Round 1, pick No. 29 overall, Mississippi), CB Brandon Williams (Round 3, pick No. 92 overall, Texas A&M), OC Evan Boehm (Round 4, pick No. 128 overall, Missouri).
Signed in free agency: OG Evan Mathis (Broncos), DB Tyvon Branch (Chiefs), CB Mike Jenkins (Buccaneers), CB Alan Ball (Bears), LB Donald Butler (Chargers)
Left via free agency: OLB Dwight Freeney (Falcons), S Rashad Johnson (Titans), OT Bobby Massie (Bears), CB Jerraud Powers (Ravens)
Acquired by trade: DE Chandler Jones (from the Patriots in exchange for OG Jonathan Cooper and Arizona’s 2016 second-round pick, No. 60 overall)
Departed via trade: OG Jonathan Cooper (To the Patriots in exchange for DE Chandler Jones and Arizona’s 2016 second-round pick, No. 60 overall)
Cut: DT Cory Redding (retired)
Rookie to watch
Brandon Williams, CB, Texas A&M (Round 3, pick No. 92 overall)
Williams is a talented athlete who played running back and cornerback in college, but the Cardinals’ plan is to make him a man-coverage cornerback that can play opposite Patrick Peterson. Early reports from camp have been glowing, but if Williams can win the starting cornerback spot, that will be an impressive climb in a short amount of time.
Highest-graded player of 2015
Tyrann Mathieu, CB, 91.6 overall grade
The “Honey Badger” has been a disruptive force since he first stepped onto the field, but he elevated his game to an elite status in 2015. Prior to his injury Tyrann Mathieu was playing at a Defensive Player of the year-level and had our top overall grade, top coverage grade, and top pass-rush grade among all CBs.
Breakout player watch
David Johnson, RB
David Johnson made instant-impact plays as a rookie, but didn’t win significant snaps until Week 13. As a runner, he recorded the eighth-highest elusive rating among his positional peers; as a pass-catcher, Johnson’s 2.12 yards per route run ranked third among RBs in 2015. Look for Johnson to increase his production in 2016, especially in the red zone.
Base defense (2015 season grades shown)
Offense with three receivers (2015 season grades shown)