The Arizona Cardinals are now less than two weeks away from kicking off the season opener. Before they can plan for that, they have two more games to play. There's the Broncos on Thursday evening, and then that gets followed up by the numbers game the Cardinals have to play right afterwards.
That numbers game will determine which players get to keep their NFL dreams alive for just a little bit longer. I reviewed this with a Defensive and Offensive breakdown shortly before the start of camp. Now that we're merely days away from the final cuts, it's time to do one last run down and guess. We will also incorporate those players who are Practice Squad candidates.
Previously I had predicted Barkley would make this list as well, but thanks in large part to an unimpressive Camp and Preseason, Barkley will have to settle for a chance to make the Practice Squad. Stanton has been unimpressive as well, but unless some shocking cut is made, and the Cardinals love that player, he stays.
(Roster Spots: 2)
This prediction stays the same as my previous one. Kerwynn Williams has been impressive in camp, but Stepfan Taylor has matched him play for play. Taylor also adds the return coverage element that Williams does not on Special Teams. It's possible the Cardinals could fit both Williams and Penny on the Practice Squad.
(Roster Spots: 6)
Had it not been for the concussion to Smoke, or the knee injury to Fitzgerald, I would have listed only five receivers for the Cardinals. Golden knows the offense and has been a valuable Special Teams contirbutor for the Cardinals in previous season, so he's the obvious front runner to make the roster. Jaxon Shipley has provided on Special Teams in his two Preseason, so he will likely find a spot on the Practice Squad again. Chris Hubert was never a guy to make the roster for the Cardinals this season, but a spot on the Practice Squad, and a chance to return in 2017 could be in his future.
(Roster Spots: 12)
Fells and Gresham were locks to make the roster at the opening of camp. Niklas and Momah not so much. However a very big camp from Niklas secured his season in Arizona. Momah should make the roster as well, even though he has been rusty coming back from his injury in 2015. With Gerald Christian gone, that leaves Hakeem Valles. Valles won't make the roster, but could be a Practice Squad option, depending on who hits the market in a few days.
(Roster Spots: 16)
Officially the Cardinals will only keep two tackles. Unofficialy they will have a third "Swing Tackle" in another player. Rob Crisp, despite being a coaching staff favorite has looked awful in his performances. John Wetzel, the first year player out of Boston College, has looked significantly better, and is a candidate for the Practice Squad.
(Roster Spots: 18)
Iupati and Mathis are the starters. Watford is your backup to everyone player. He's capable of playing all five positions along the line. Toner has been a solid contributor, getting better each week. Initially I would have had Toner as a Practice Squad player, but he has impressed me enough to make my 53. Antoine McClain has had some ups and downs, and could be in line for another Practice Squad year.
(Roster Spots: 22)
The last two players to round out the offensive roster. Shipley will be your starter, but Boehm has looked much more improved in each game he plays. His shotgun snaps are lower, and he continues to show better footwork. He could very well batle for the starting job next season.
(Roster Spots: 24)
So offensively, we finish with 24 players. That allows us an extra player defensively.
It's been said numerous times that the Cardinals could let go of some talented players. In this edition, Red Bryant will be let go. Bryant was signed to be a run stuffer, and he's done just that. However with a healthy Nkemdiche and Corey Peters, and a big player in Xavier Williams, the Cardinals have two guys who can stop the run. Olsen Pierre has been a pleasent surprise, showing glimpses of great play, but with too many bodies in a deep defenisve line, it becomes a numbers game.
(Roster Spots: 32)
Another injury to Shaq Riddick should end his time in Arizona. Okafor will be battling a triceps injury all season, so retaining Martin, who was a bubble player, will be key to maintaining his health. Golden and Jones are the starters on the outside. Tristan Okpalaugo, has had some nice plays in game time, but with being a pure pass rusher, and having zero impact in the run game, Okpalaugo is a strong practice squad consideration.
(Roster Spots: 36)
All preseason the story here has been several players fighting for one spot. Bucannon and Minter are the unquestionable starters. Fua will stay once again. He provides special teams impact, and makes an impact on the defense. Lamar Louis has done the same. The UDFA out of LSU has had his name called a number of times the last few games. He's made hustle plays on special teams, and has shown ability in coverage. Gabe Martin is Practice Squad eligible sitll, and Donald Butler will be on to his next home.
(Roster Spots: 40)
The Cardinals will keep four cornerbacks again this season. Behind Peterson every player has a question mark. Bethel is battling a foot injury again, Williams has improved each game, yet is still learning the position. Brooks, like Williams, has not played an NFL down. Luckily for the Cardinals, they have two safeties that are able to play in the slot, giving the Cardinals a little bit of leeway with their unproven corners.
(Roster Spots: 44)
Two rookies crack the Safeties list. Branch and Mathieu are capable of playing in the slot. Meaning the Cardinals could use Peterson and Williams (Projected Starter) as their two main corners, and allow Branch and Mathieu to slip into that Slot Cornerback role. Tony Jefferson is listed as one starter. DJ Swearinger has looked better in coverage than in previous years. Marquis Christian has looked solid in coverage, and showed us a lot of those big hits he was known for in college. Matthias Farley has looked better than advertised, and could be taken away if waived.
(Roster Spots: 50)
It appears I was wrong in my hopes that Butler would be gone. There is a certain veteran punter... Britton Colquitt, who is a marked upgrade over Butler. Outside of that, Catanzaro was obvious, and we knew very little about the Long Snapper job, so there's that.
(Roster Spots: 53)
We fill out the 53 man roster. Obviously there will be players who hit the market that the Cardinals will have graded higher than some of their own, meaning it's very fluid. This is tentative, and Keim and Arians make it very obvious by making dozens of transactions a year to build the bottom of the roster.