Amidst the recent struggles the Cardinals have had over the past 20 games, I am finding myself feeling very excited and encouraged about the emerging youth on this football team.
Steve Keim built the current roster in such a way that the younger players can bring much needed energy and enthusiasm to what is otherwise a veteran team. Here are some of the players (by position) to feel very encouraged about:
QB: Blaine Gabbert: Gabbert is only 27 years old and he brings a dimension that few of the recent Cardinals' QBs have had --- a combination of size, arm strength and above average mobility. If you saw how the Broncos beat up on the Cowboys with Trevor Siemien at QB, Siemien's ability to bootleg and shift the pocket was superb and it kept the Cowboys' defense off-balance and on their heels all afternoon. This is what Gabbert can bring to the Cardinals' offense, if and when he gets his chance. Better yet, Gabbert has a superior skills set to Siemien's. Had Gabbert grown up in the Broncos' system I have no doubt that he would be considered one of the top QBs in the NFL today.
RB: David Johnson: Not only is Johnson one of the most dynamic combo running back the NFL has seen in recent years, he is thoroughly lovable as a human being. Ever kind and humble, Johnson is like the golden retriever who will do anything to bring a smile to your face. With Larry Fitzgerald on the verge of retiring, Johnson will now become the hard-working, modest face of the franchise, hopefully for the better part of the next decade.
T.J. Logan: Can't wait to see him healthy. Logan's speed and his aggressiveness are a formidable one-two punch. He is a home run waiting to happen in the return game and out of the backfield.
WR: J.J. Nelson: There is something magical about J.J. Nelson, not just because he has legitimate 4.28 speed, but because he has remarkable body control. BA said it best about Nelson...he's a speed guy who can cut and change direction without losing speed or the ability to track the football.
Carlton Agudosi: The way he moves for a WR his size is stunning. It is amazing that Rutgers did not do more to maximize his skills. Tall, angular WRs are becoming quite an asset in today's NFL. Look at what issues WRs like Mike Evans and Kelvin Benjamin are presenting to NFL defenses. The Cardinals might have one of their own in Agudosi, if they can develop him.
TE: Ricky Seals-Jones: Again, the combination of length and speed with Seals-Jones is akin to that of Agudosi's. Seals-Jones was starting to emerge as a receiving threat the last couple games of the pre-season. His talent is unmistakable.
OL: Evan Boehm: Boehm is a blue collar, smart, take nothing for granted type of competitor. He works his tail off and gets good results. Has an excellent combination of a strong base and superb upper body strength.
John Wetzel: Give Wetzel an assignment and give him a week to prepare for it and he gets after it big-time. The thing i love about him is he is the best run blocking tackle on the roster and he has been making very good strides as a pass protector. Last week versus Jabaal Sheard and John Simon -- Wetzel yielded 0 sacks and 0 QB pressures on 40 pass attempts. I think that for the past two years he has been one of the top 4-5 best offensive linemen on the roster and it's now time to keep him in the starting lineup at either of the tackle spots.
DT: Robert Nkemdiche: This guy is a keg of dynamite. What was so encouraging about him in the pre-season was that not only was he starting to blow up his side of the line, he was showing an increased ability to locate the football and to finish off plays. Once Nkemdiche has a taste of success in the regular season games, he is going to be an at-times unstoppable force.
OLB/DE: Markus Golden: They call him "Junk" as in junkyard dog because Golden is the epitome of tenacity and relentlessness. He's a better athlete than he gets credit for, imo. He's got an inmate ability to out-muscle blocks and the short area quickness to change directions and find his way to the football. Here is a guy who leaves it all out on the field. Better yet, when BA said after week one that the offensive struggles kept the defense out on the field too long, which is why they tired at the end of the game, Golden wanted no part of that thinking. He said the defense should be able to handle any type of situation and, that it's on them to get it done.
LB: Deone Bucannon: I still feel as if Deone Bucannon's best football is ahead of him. Recently he's been battling through injury and inconsistent play, but once he gets his feet back under him and once he starts trusting his instincts more regularly he is going to be a prolific playmaker. The thing about Deone is that he has always relished the physical aspects of the game.
Haason Reddick: His versatility is eye-popping. Here's a guy who can play ILB, OLB and SS because he's a superb athlete with 4.4 speed who can chase, tackle, rush the passer and cover RBs and TEs. His background as a defensive back and defensive end at Temple has allowed him to attain a diversity of skills that in today's NFL are in high demand.
S: Budda Baker: Just as Reddick's greatest strength is his versatility, the same can be applied to Budda Baker. There is little that this defensive back can't do. He's sticky in coverage. he has a nose for the football and he is a fundamental tackler who drives through the man, as evidence by the sure and swift tackle he made on Sydney Moncrief to force an all-important punt in the Colts game. The Cardinals love to invert their safeties and to use them, if possible as slot CBs, and Baker can handle all of these assignments. Plus, he is already emerging as a star on STs.
Rudy Ford: The Cardinals need speed on the back end of their defense and this is what Ford brings. He's an aggressive player who needs time in order to develop his instincts and all of the nuances of playing safety...like taking proper angles to the football, play recognition over the top and storming the alleys to make open field tackles.
RB Elijhaa Penny --- has stood out on STs thus far.
WR Chad Williams --- got his feet wet versus the Colts with a nice chain moving reception.
C/G Daniel Munyer --- he's got the feet and short area quickness to be very good.
G Dorian Johnson --- give him a year to develop and he will start to turn heads.
T Will Holden --- did a decent job as blocking TE versus Colts, can be a swing tackle.
DT Rodney Gunter --- shows flashes of ability as a penetrator, now he needs to develop his pass rush.
DT Xavier Williams --- earned a high grade in his run stopping versus the Colts.
DT Olsen Pierre --- coaches have raved about him, but he hasn't emerged as a playmaker yet.
LB Kareem Martin --- coming off good pre-season in Okafor's old role.
CB Brandon Williams --- showed some encouraging signs of improvement in pre-season.