Looking at each positional group on the roster and an early offseason depth chart.
- Corey Peters
- Olsen Pierre
- Robert Nkemdiche
- Rodney Gunter
- Pasoni Tasini
Sleeper: Peli Anau
It should be very interesting to see whether new DL coach Don Johnson can maximize the talents of this group. Corey Peters is the stalwart run stuffer. Olsen Pierre is the top inside pass rusher. Robert Nkemdiche has the strength and explosion to blow up plays before they even get started. Rodney Gunter is in a contract year and has yet to scratch the surface of his physical talent. Pasoni Tasini, like Nkemdiche, is a strong and quick penetrator, particularly in short yardage situations. And sleeper Peli Anau has upside as an interior pass rusher.
- Chandler Jones
- Markus Golden
- Benson Mayowa
- Alec James
- Praise Martin-Ogwike
Sleeper: Moubarak Djeri
Chandler Jones is fast emerging as the alpha leader of the defense. Markus Golden might be a little on the small side as a 43 base DE, but will be turned loose in all passing situations. Steve Wilks has simplified Jones’ and Golden’s roles---rush, rush, rush---no worries about dropping off into coverage. Benson Mayowa should be dynamic as the 3rd pass rusher. Alec James (UDFA, 6-3, 272 Wisconsin) gets the nod already as the #4 because he has the size and strength to take Kareem Martin’s edge anchor role. Praise Martin-Ogwike is a situational edge rusher who plays fast. Bryson Albright is an edge rusher and STs contributor, so he is also in the mix. And, the sleeper here is German project Moubarak Djeri, who, at 6-3, 275 has the raw physical gifts to make a splash.
- Deone Bucannon
- Haason Reddick
- Josh Bynes
- Jeremy Cash
- Scooby Wright
Sleepers: Frank Ginda, Matthew Oplinger, Dennis Gardeck and Mike Needham
Deone Bucannon is going to start at WILL and is in a pivotal contract year coming off two subpar seasons due to injury and inconsistent play. A switch to 43 WILL could be a boon for Bucannon. Haason Reddick will start at SAM, which is made to order for his talents on the edge versus the run, in coverage and on timed blitzes. Josh Bynes, recently signed to a 3-year contract, will start at MIKE and man the middle making stops between the tackles and covering the seams on pass plays. Jeremy Cash could push Bucannon at WILL. Cash is fast and a fierce hitter. Scooby Wright needs to prove that he is quick enough to play MIKE in Wilks’ defense. Wright’s STs prowess and intense will to succeed could curry favor with the new coaches.
Wright will be challenged by San Jose St. tackling machine, Frank Ginda, who is rangy, hard-hitting and quick (6.80 3 cone). Ginda’s 4.7 speed and surprising strength (29 reps) are impressive for a MIKE LB. Yale’s Mike Oplinger is a versatile LB who projects to SAM. Last year he registered 14.5 TFL and 11.5 sacks to win Ivy League Defensive Player of the Year. The outlier here may well be athletic dynamo Chris Gardeck who has legit 4.57 speed, at 6-0, 242, did 31 reps at 225 and amassed 345 career tackles, 57.5 TFL, 32 sacks, and 9 forced fumbles. Transitioning from Sioux Falls to the NFL will be quite a challenge, but he is already creating a buzz with regard to his intense workout regimen. And Mike Needham of Southern Utah, a 3 time 1st team Big Sky LB has good length (6-3, 224), speed (4.56), vertical (35”) and quickness (4.42 SS), and may be the best pass defender of the bunch (5 ints. last year) to go with 76 tackles, 9 TFL and 3 sacks.
- Patrick Peterson
- Marcus Williams
- Brandon Williams
- Bene Benwikere
- Chris Campbell
Sleepers: Deatrick Nichols and Tavierre Thomas
Patrick Peterson has asked for a more expanded role this year and he is going to get it in Wilks’ defense. If Josh Norman is correct, Wilks may help Peterson take his game to ‘the next stratosphere.” It’s difficult to believe that the Cardinals head into yet another season with such uncertainty at RCB. Marcus Williams hopes to be the next Keim Time 1 year prove-it deal winner. Marcus has bounced around some, but he is a ball hawk who comes with 10 career interceptions, 119 tackles and 2.5 sacks. The next question is whether Wilks and DB coach David Merritt can turn Brandon Williams into a bona fide NFL CB. Wilks says that he is seeing progress early on. Bene Benwikere and Lou Young are former players in Wilks’ system who know the ropes and could provide solid depth. And it should be interesting to see how quickly aggressive Penn St. rookie CB Chris Campbell can climb up the ladder. Campbell put on a show at the Senior Bowl. In one practice he successfully defended 11 one-on-one passes in a row.
The sleepers here, Deatrick Nichols of Central Florida and Tavierre Thomas of Ferris St. have legitimate shots to make the roster. Nichols projects as a slot CB and he has the speed (4.4) and quickness (outstanding 6.72 3 cone) to be a playmaker. At CFU he picked off 11 passes the past three seasons. And Tavierre Thomas boasts 4.38 speed and was a 2 time Division 2 All-American who picked off 10 passes and registered 33 pass breakups the past two seasons.
One would imagine that Steve Keim will still be in search of another veteran addition such as former Cardinals’ 1st round pick Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, who is very familiar with DB coach David Merritt.
- Antoine Bethea
- Budda Baker
- Rudy Ford
- Harlan Miller
- Zeke Turner
Sleeper: A.J. Howard
Antoine Bethea proved last season that he has good range and instincts at the FS position. He has always been a solid, reliable tackler. Once Budda Baker was inserted into the Cardinals’ defense, the energy level and tackling intensity instantly improved. Baker is a catalyst who brings supreme effort and enthusiasm. Rudy Ford has 4.4 peed, but has yet to prove he is suited to play safety---although he could be a factor at slot CB. Harlan Miller has a good feel for the FS position, but thus far he has lacked the requisite speed and alley-tackling prowess that NFL safeties thrive on. Zeke Turner, Baker’s backup at Washington is a STs baller who could continue to show growth as a safety (1-year starter at UW).
The sleeper here is A.J. Howard of Appalachian St. He is a dynamic STs player, but also brings three years of starting experience and high production at the SS position. His 4.5 speed is a plus, but he also put up 24 reps, which attests to the physical way in which he plays the game. This past year Howard made a solo stop at the 1 yard line as time expired to secure a 20-13 win over Texas St. and he helped App St. to lead the Sun Belt for the 3rd consecutive year in fewest yards and points allowed per game.
The safety group needs one or two veteran additions. Now that the Chargers picked S Derwin James in the 1st round, perhaps Steve Keim can close the deal on UFA S Tre Boston, who worked with Steve Wilks and Al Holcomb in Carolina. The Cardinals tried to sign Boston early on in free agency.
Because Steve Keim focused the draft primarily on offense, one would expect that he will use some of the remaining $18.2M in cap space on defensive free agents. Or perhaps he can make a couple of timely trades. For example, the Browns, in light of drafting CB Denzel Ward at #4, are now willing to trade CB Jamar Taylor. Tatlor was a former 2nd round pick of the Dolphins who was traded to the Browns in 2016. Since joining the Browns, Taylor’s performance has risen dramatically. In 2016 he earned an 82.8 PFF grade. In 2017 his grade was a solid 77.0. He has 2 years left on his contract with base salaries of $4.25 in 2018 and $4.08M in 2019. For a good, starting RCB, $4M a year is a bargain.