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Projecting the Cardinals 53: Defense

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We sat down and looked at who the Cardinals will carry on Offense. Who will join the team on Defense?

NFL: Arizona Cardinals-OTA Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

The Cardinals have plenty of questions heading into 2017. Was the 2015 season a fluke? Was 2016 a fluke? Is this roster capable of winning it all now? Those are questions that will be answered during the season. Right now, the team has 90 question marks on their roster. Those 90 questions will have to be turned into 53 answers for their 2017 campaign.

We looked at the 24 players I saw making the offensive side of the ball for 2017. That leaves the Cardinals with 26 spots on the defensive side, and their three special teams players. Who will those 26 players be? Here is my guess.

Cornerbacks:

Justin Bethel
Eli Bouka
Rudy Ford
Harlan Miller
Patrick Peterson
Sojourn Shelton
Brandon Williams

Is it possible for the Cardinals to have more questions at corner than they did in 2016? As of today, Peterson is the only player who knows their role. Williams and Bethel are battling it out for the spot opposite, and Bethel’s name is written in pencil as that guy. Eli Bouka was added in 2016 as a guy who the team knew would not be ready after suffering an achilles injury, but the team liked his potential. It will be interesting to see what Harlan Miller plays. He played safety when the team was hurting for safety help, and did well. Both Ford and Shelton figure to make the roster as special teams contributors.

Roster Spots: 31

Defensive Line:

Rodney Gunter
Josh Mauro
Robert Nkemdiche
Corey Peters
Frostee Rucker
Ed Stinson

The only player who will be likely start is Nkemdiche. To replace the hole left by Calais Campbell, the Cardinals will probably use a committee approach with Mauro, Gunter, Rucker, and Stinson until someone can show they deserve more reps. I thought about keeping Olsen Pierre over Rucker, but the lack of veteran leadership on the defensive line changed my mind. Xavier Williams doesn’t offer the kind of versatility the Cardinals are building this offseason. He only played 118 snaps last season, least among the Cardinals defensive front.

Roster Spots: 37

Inside Linebackers:

Deone Bucannon
Karlos Dansby
Gabe Martin
Haason Reddick
Scooby Wright
Alani Fua

This position will depend heavily on whether or not Bucannon is ready to go week one. If he’s not, I see the Cardinals carrying five linebackers. If not, the team carries the four. Last season, Bucannon played 819 snaps, Minter played 1002. The Cardinals don’t typically rotate their inside backers, meaning Dansby and Reddick figure to get a heavy workload. If Buannon gets healthy, he could be rotated in on passing downs over Dansby. Scooby will make the roster for his special teams abilities.

Roster Spots: 43

Oustide Linebackers:

Markus Golden
Chandler Jones
Kareem Martin

So... Only three? Yes. The Cardinals have enough versatility to roll with three players. Haason Reddick offers the ability to play outside, inside, and with his hand in the dirt. Gabe Martin entered the league as an outside linebacker out of Bowling Green, before the team moved him inside. Fua also left BYU as an outside linebacker, before the Cardinals moved him inside. Golden played 762 snaps, with Jones getting 939. While injury is always a concern, the Cardinals have the versatility to manage without one.

Roster Spots: 46

Safeties:

Budda Baker
Antoine Bethea
Tyvon Branch
Tyrann Mathieu

Bethea and Mahtieu figure to be the starters. Baker and Branch will get their fair share of chances as well. Baker, Branch, and Mathieu offer the ability to play some slot corner as well, so plenty of options in the secondary.

Roster Spots: 50

Special Teams:

Richie Leone
Aaron Brewer
Phil Dawson

The only competiton the Cardinals have this year is Wile and Richie Leone. Wile averaged 43.7 yards per punt in three games for the Cardinals. That number was hurt by the Saints game, as he punted twice on a short field. Leone avereaged 49.3 yards per punt on 97 kicks. Both players have the leg to succeed, so it will really come down to who has better control. As of right now, I’m a Leone fan.

Roster Spots: 53

What do you think? Clearly it’s far too early to get a clear picture, there are still plenty of guys who could be signed, or let go during this process. Discuss!

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