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Arrested development: Checking in on Arizona Cardinals 6 developmental players

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Even with the surprise win last week, the final few games of the season don’t mean anything in the standings. Instead, these games will be used to develop young players. Here are six that we’ll be keeping our eye on.

NFL: Arizona Cardinals at Green Bay Packers
It wasn’t necessarily pretty, but Josh Rosen’s 33-yard scamper helped set up a Cardinals touchdown. What did Sunday’s win mean for his development?
Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports

Last week, we identified six young Cardinals players we would be keeping tabs on as the season winds down. Today, we’ll check in on those players after the stunning 20-17 win over the Packers to see how they did and whether they are tracking to accomplish the goals we set for them.

We’ll start once again with the most important player on the team:

QB Josh Rosen

Question: “Is Rosen a franchise QB?”

Week 13 Progress: Rosen played… okay in Lambeau. Not terrible, not great, but okay. He was an efficient 5/6 for 48 yards on the first touchdown drive in the 2nd quarter, and there were the two huge plays in the second half—the 33-yard scramble on a touchdown drive late in the 3rd quarter, and, of course, the 32-yard toss to Larry Fitzgerald on the game-winning FG drive in the 4th. But he also missed on a lot of throws (only 11/26 on the day) and, while he didn’t turn the ball over, there were a couple of passes that probably should have been picked off. The weather and C Mason Cole’s snapping issues obviously affected his performance, but he didn’t get any closer to goals we set of a completion percentage of 60%, YPA of 6.5, and positive TD:INT ratio.

What to Watch in Week 14: This figures to be another low-scoring affair (over/under of just 40.5), and Detroit defends the pass (#12 in YPG against) better than the run (#19). With a gameplan that should feature a ton of David Johnson and Chase Edmonds again, Rosen probably won’t get to 30 attempts, a number he’s failed to hit in the last three games. But can he be more efficient than the 49% completions he’s had in those games? He needs to show us more than he has in these final four games.

Trending: Steady ↔

WR Christian Kirk

Question: “Can Kirk develop into a #1 WR?”

Week 13 Progress: Kirk was having a pretty good game in Lambeau before he got hurt—3 receptions for 54 yards on a team-high 8 targets, as well as a 23-yard gain on a jet sweep. It’s easy to imagine him getting another reception or two on the final drive had he been available. So he likely would have been on pace to meet the goals we set for him of averaging 5 receptions a game with two TDs and a 100-yard day by the end of the season. But, alas, Kirk was placed on the IR list with a broken foot and is out for the season. But even with the premature end to his season, Kirk will likely be a top-2 WR for us next season.

What to Watch in Week 14: With Kirk out, we’ll use this space to track the three young receivers the team will use to try to replace Kirk’s production—Chad Williams, Trent Sherfield, and Jalen Tolliver. Williams (injury) and Tolliver (practice squad) didn’t play on Sunday, but Sherfield did have a nice 21-yard catch to convert a third down against the Packers. Can any of these three make an impact in the final four games and stake a claim for a roster spot next season?

Trending: N/A (injury)

T Korey Cunningham

Question: “Can Cunningham play well enough to be an option at RT* next season?”

* With D.J. Humphries also going on IR, Cunningham will continue to play LT for the rest of the season.

Week 13 Progress: As previously noted, the offensive line as a whole played pretty well on Sunday, keeping Rosen mostly upright and paving the way for a season-high 182 yards rushing as a team. Cunningham himself impressed both as a pass blocker (no sacks given up) and run blocker (several successful runs to the left) last week. So far so good on the goal of minimizing sacks. However, he definitely failed at the other goal we set for him—minimizing penalties. Cunningham had two holds and a false start called against him. Both holds led directly to punts, and the false start came at the goal line. These kinds of struggles aren’t unexpected for a rookie, but he needs to work on his discipline these next four games.

What to Watch in Week 14: Crowd noise/false starts shouldn’t be as big of an issue given the Redbirds are playing at home, but Detroit has a sneaky-good pass rush (#10 in sacks), and their two pass rushers on the left, DE Ezekiel Ansah and OLB Devon Kennard, have combined for 10 of them. This will be a good test for Cunningham.

Trending: Steady ↔

DT Robert Nkemdiche

Question: “Can Nkemdiche produce consistently and become a reliable starter?”

Week 13 Progress: Nkemdiche was once again used as a rotation tackle last week, with Corey Peters and Rodney Gunter getting the starts inside. But whereas last week Diche outsnapped Peters (36-35), this week Peters outsnapped Diche (50-31). (Gunter had a steady 43 and 49 snaps the past two games.) Diche played well in his limited snaps—2 tackles, 1 for a loss, and a forced fumble that was negated due to forward progress, which is somewhat in line with the goals we set for him—but they key word is “limited.” The team knows what it has in both Peters (under contract for next season) and Gunter (UFA after the season), so I would hope to see the snap counts start trending in Diche’s favor in the final four games.

What to Watch in Week 14: If Diche can play 50% or more of the defensive snaps (like he did versus the Chargers), he could feast this week. Remember what Aaron Donald did against them last week? Detroit figures to be passing a ton as usual (#9 in attempts), and they have a below-average O-line (#9 in sacks against, #18 in YPC). Diche could be in the backfield all day… if he gets the chance. And he just might, with another rotation D-lineman, Olsen Pierre, also landing on IR. Let Diche loose!

Trending: Steady ↔

LB Haason Reddick

Question: “Will Reddick be a starter next season?”

Week 13 Progress: Reddick was mostly anonymous on Sunday. Although he played all 76 defensive snaps and had 5 solo tackles, he didn’t get his hands on the quarterback (no hits or sacks) or the football (no passes defended or turnovers), and he didn’t make any plays in the backfield. He also got completely trucked by Aaron Jones on his 4th-quarter TD run. So not a particularly impressive day—you’d like to see him do a bit more than just make routine tackles.

What to Watch in Week 14: Reddick might not have many opportunities to make plays against Detroit unless DC Al Holcomb starts sending him on more blitzes—Detroit is #25 in the league in rushing attempts and only 12% of their pass attempts go to TEs. Can he pick off a tipped pass? Blow up a screen? Stuff a goal line attempt?

Trending: Down ↓

K Zane Gonzalez

Question: “Will Gonzalez be our kicker next season?”

Week 13 Progress: Gonzalez was one of the big winners on Sunday, making all four of his kicks, including the game-winner from 44 yards out. He also had two touchbacks out of five total kickoffs. No matter what happens from here on out, Gonzalez is already a massive improvement from Phil Dawson. You’d love to see him hit one from 50 at some point, but making two from 44 yards in Wisconsin in December is just as impressive, if not more so.

What to Watch in Week 14: The next three games are cushy from a kicking perspective—two home games at State Farm Stadium and a road game in a dome at Atlanta. Things get tough in Week 17 though with a trip to Seattle. Weather could be a factor in that one. But he should be comfortable on home turf this week—and we’ll need him to be, given the tight point spread (Detroit is favored by 2.5). Does he have another game-winner in him?

Trending: Up ↑

Final Thoughts

We saw both good and bad out of Rosen, Cunningham, and Reddick in Week 13. Nkemdiche didn’t really have many opportunities to shine, and Kirk was unfortunately injured near the end of a strong game. Of the players we’re tracking, only Gonzalez really improved his stock in the game versus the Packers. These guys all have four more games to show us who they will be in 2019.

What did you think of these players’ performances against the Packers, Bird Gang? Good, bad, or meh? Were there any other young players you were watching? Let’s talk player development in the comments.