With the Arizona Cardinals in the middle of a massively disappointing season, it's easy to get overtly negative about the team and their prospects moving forward.
But there have actually been some definite positives for the Cardinals this season, which might be some of the brightest spots in a dismal season and are building blocks for moving forward to 2017.
Let's take a look:
5. The Safety Dance
Jefferson & Swearinger Emerging At Safety
With long-time starting safety Rashad Johnson departing the team as a free agent for Tennessee, the burden fell on Tyrann Mathieu and free agent signee Tyvon Branch to anchor the secondary.
That didn't happen, plain and simple, as Mathieu and Branch struggled all throughout the season.
In the meantime, Tony Jefferson stepped up, becoming a highly rated player and making a big play seemingly every single week. Last season practice squad promotee D.J. Swearinger also has been a revelation, forcing big hits and coming away with turnovers in a year in which they've been scarce.
Swearinger seems more likely to come back than Jefferson, but if AZ can bring in both long-term, they have a fearsome duo at the safety position. And if either leaves, they at least might have the impact replacement on the roster already.
4. Shipley Sailing
A.Q. Shipley Anchoring The Offensive Line
When the Cardinals drafted Evan Boehm in the fourth round, he was seemingly annointed the starter and starting center of the future. The latter is still possible, but A.Q. Shipley wasn't giving up the job just like that.
A long-time player for Bruce Arians, Shipley has been the most consistent player on a ravaged and struggling offensive line all year long. He hasn't been a Pro-Bowl player, mind you, but OL consistency is indeed the biggest thing necessary for a QB's success. At least Shipley has given Palmer that this season.
3. Over The Hump(h)
D.J. Humphries Developing Into A Potential NFL Left Tackle
Once called "Knee-Deep" by his coach, D.J. Humphries ended up seizing the right tackle position with a ton of offseason work, and a fire motivated by Arians and his own inactive spot every game in 2015. Humphries started off the season looking like he might be forced to switch from Right Tackle to Right Guard. He was struggling on the edge against pass rushers but making dynamic blocks in the run game.
Then, Jared Veldheer got hurt and John Wetzel struggled and everything changed. Humphries moved to left tackle (his natural position from college) and so far, it's looked like the change is working.
He left the Dolphins game with a concussion but if Humphries finishes the year strong, it could give Arizona the tackle they've been looking for and mean his time on the left side is permenant, and Jared Veldheer could see a move to Right Tackle. The usual personnel philosphy is that the LT position is usually best for smooth players and RT for road-graders, meaning that Arizona could see their best tackle play in the next few years if Humphries can build on this season.
2. The Law Firm of Golden, Campbell & Jones
The Improved Cardinals Pass Rush has been outstanding.
These above three pass rushers have combined for 23 sacks with three games remaining. A huge improvement from the last season, in which Arizona had basically one true pass-rushing threat in Dwight Freeney, to now having Jones and Golden, with Calais Campbell even picking up four sacks as well from the interior.
It's tough to say if Jones is an elite pass-rusher in the NFL (as he is far behind the elite of the elite in sacks) but in pressures and game-changing plays, he certainly belongs in that conversation as a Cardinals Defensive MVP. Golden's year two development has been another revelation.
But it still falls behind the #1 biggest positive about the 2016 Cardinals season...
David Johnson's ascendency to a Superstar-level Running Back
You knew this would be number one. David Johnson has been a freak and, with 100 yards on Sunday, he'll set an all-time NFL record for starting the season with 100+ yards from scrimmage in every single game. He's likely on pace to hit over 2,000 total yards this season should he stay on pace and stay healthy.
Johnson has been the only consistent offensive threat outside of Fitzgerald and Gresham and enough can't be said about how consistent and dynamic he has been in receiving and running the ball and making guys miss. He is clearly the biggest thing for Cardinals fans to get excited about, and has looked like a true superstar in the making ever since the first season after he was drafted out of Northern Iowa.
You could argue that the best thing about the 2016 Season has been the 2015 draft class. If Humphries can stick, the team will have found a starting left tackle, double-digit sack pass-rusher AND superstar/franchise running back all with their first three picks in the draft.
It would be an outstanding draft class, and Steve Keim deserves credit for it, even after his 2016 class has been about as disruptive as a tumbleweed bouncing in the wind.
All in all, it's nice to know that while this season has been a massive disappointment, Cardinals fans have plenty to look forward to for 2017 and beyond.
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