After a 31-10 loss to the Raiders (which might have as well been __ to __ considering the score has about as much meaning as a Skip Bayless take in preseason) we are officially back to Arizona Cardinals football.
There were a bunch of takeaways from last night's game, but rather than looking at winners and losers in the game specifically, let's take a look at which players have been trending up and trending down heading into the season at this point when you include their performances in the game from yesterday.
It should be noted that these rankings should have very little meaning on who makes the final roster as they are indeed biased based on what we are seeing on the field without access to the locker room, seeing the level of competition and the positions that will be needed to be filled.
With that let's take a look at some of the top performers so far.
STOCK TOO HIGH TO QUANTIFY:
Choo choo! That's the sound of the David Johnson hype train taking off. Johnson was already projected to have a huge role and be a top fantasy football pick and there's been nothing but heaps of praise lumped on him from coaches (I mean, Hall of Fame potential?) but he's so far lived up to it. His quick 30-yard run versus Oakland is showing that the Cardinals have a very special player. If he stays healthy, he might truly deliver a special season, and hopefully career, as a Cardinal.
Perhaps no player has managed to improve their stock more from last season to where they are now. Humphries went from being labeled "Kneedeep" (as many fans held against him) to looking hopelessly lost and giving up hit after hit in preseason to being inactive all last year to now being the starter and holding his own at the Right Tackle spot.
It's not a guarantee that he'll be the unquestioned starter a la a Veldheer/Iupati but he's been proving himself more and more each day with a new mentality, a far cry from where many fans were declaring "bust" last year.
I know we've had Levi Brown as a burden but perhaps it's about time that we start seeing that Humphries has changed, and his play on the field versus the likes of Mack and Irvin (even with a little help from David Johnson) is showing it. He's still only 22 years old, which is incredible to think about.
Speaking of young players, it's weird to think that Troy Niklas is only 23 years old. He's really improved his game not only as a blocker (made a fantastic block downfield in space vs. the Raiders last night) but also as a receiver. There still seems to be room to indicate that being healthy this season has made a big difference, and Arians has heaped praise on him and said he's pushing for starting time. Considering the talent level and fit in Bruce's offense of Gresham and Fells ahead of him, that's high praise indeed.
Shipley kept making plays last camp and preseason, and it seems he's done nothing but this year again as well, with a few nice catches and runs afterward from Matt Barkley in a game which he played despite hurting himself earlier in the week during camp. It's gonna be an interesting push for the final roster as Wide Receiver is the deepest position Arizona has, but he's making himself impossible to ignore.
With the Cornerback position somewhat up in the air, and with how coaches have raved about Brooks this offseason, he might be a lock on the roster at this point. Brooks has excellent awareness and has shown instinctual play in zone coverage in camp and this preseason, especially last night as he sniffed out a screen and allowed Chris Clemons to force a fumble.
Despite not having the physical measurables of Williams or Bethel, Brooks seems to be in the right place at the right time. He should see his time increase as he keeps making plays.
A few seasons ago, #FreeEllington was a trending hashtag on Twitter, as Cardinals fans wanted to see more of Andre Ellington's potential and less snaps or carries from Rashard Mendenhall.
Oh how times have changed.
Yet Ellington, now healthy and the 3rd back, seems to be as explosive as ever and is back to making plays day in and day out as a runner, receiver and even is getting a chance as a kick returner. He's shown rare explosion for sure...but is this just who he's going to be until he inevitably gets hurt?
Maybe it is. But for now, as the third back, if he can stay healthy in that position, it seems like he might be ready for a truly turnaround, breakout season. Just not in the way or role that many expected.
Golden's been a bubble guy who made the roster (and a great block in the Seattle game last year) the last two years. However, he's really done nothing to help his case in comparison to the talk coaches have been giving Jaxon Shipley and Chris Hubert, or with Jaron Brown seeming to have stepped up and elevated his play in the offseason. He's also now competing with Andre Ellington as a kick returner, meaning that his spot on the roster is more in doubt. Or maybe we're all reading it wrong and he's doing fine. But fine might not be good enough to make this final 53.
I was tempted to have a middling category for Barkley, but his play just hasn't been holding up in preseason despite a few great throws from last night. He
You never like to see your backup struggle some, but Stanton didn't play well in the game. He's still miles ahead of Barkley but it goes without saying that fans would prefer to see him slinging it and playing well. Let me say this: there's no such thing as a great backup QB, because great backups are future starters.
Stanton isn't one of those guys. What he is, however, is a decent enough stopgap and backup quarterback for the next two years if Palmer gets hurt. It'll be interesting if his accuracy declines further, however, and he's forced to see time. Let's hope it doesn't come to that.
Butler has done very little except let interceptions slip through his hands and miss angles on tackling so far in camp and preseason. The film isn't going to be very pretty and it's tough to see him make the roster, even as an experienced veteran
Christian has a lot against him, let's be fair. He's a smaller tight end going up against a roster with Fells, Gresham, Niklas, Momah and even Stepfan Taylor from time to time as Tight Ends. But he's done little to help himself and it's tough to rectify keeping him on the practice squad another year vs. trying to find a player who fits Arians' style better. Mr Irrelevant has been that in camp, despite hard work, the NFL is a league of "have's" and "have-not's" and that's a difficult truth for the thousands who don't, but that's how it is. The league is unforgiving.
And finally there is...
The curious case of Justin Bethel. Is he more than a special teams ace? So far, we can't tell as he still hasn't played. Arians saying that Bethel's play was a matter of "pain tolerance" is either good or bad, depending on what Arians' view on his ability to practice is. But the fact remains that Bethel has missed the whole offseason and, injured or not, that only hurts him in Arians' eyes.
You could say that's why he's given the starting job to Brandon Williams but that wouldn't be quite accurate. Williams has EARNED the job with his play thus far. Could he lose it or Bethel retake it? Certainly. But he'll have to hit the field to show that. Maybe we'll get to see after the Chargers game this next week if Bethel can quickly ascertain himself as the second best corner on the field, similar to how Bobby Massie did after his two-game suspension.
Until then, time will tell whether the money the Cardinals invested in Bethel will pay off.
Any thoughts? Agree or Disagree? Sound off in the comments!