- C A.Q. Shipley---Shipley has started the last two years and has proven himself to be durable, passionate and competitive. For most of the season last year, he had the highest PFF grade on the Cardinals’ subpar offensive line. With 5 games left he was ranked the #19 C in the NFL per PFF’s performance grades. But, he finished the year on a downswing and slipped to #28 with a season ending grade of 45.8. With a new coaching staff in place, and with Evan Boehm, Daniel Munyer and 3rd round draft pick Mason Cole in the mix at center, will Shipley be able to hold on to his starting role in the pivot?
- WR J.J. Nelson---drafted as a deep threat with blazing 4.28 speed, Nelson has had his share of bright moments with the Cardinals. In three years, he’s caught 74 passes for 1,375 yards (18.6 ave.) and scored 10 TDs. On reverses he’s rushed 8 times for 120 yards (15.0 ave). On the flip side, 74 catches on 162 targets (42%) is an area that needs improvement, although the percentage is mitigated somewhat by the fact that typically the deeper the passes, the fewer the completions. Nelson had 4 drops in 2016 and 2 drops in 2107. He has yet to show a thorough command of the route tree, nor has he been a significant contributor on special teams.
- RB Elijhaa Penny---a pre-season standout as a UDFA in 2016, Elijhaa Penny made the roster in 2017 and was a solid contributor. He rushed for 124 yards on 31 carries (4.0 ave) , scored 2 TDs, and caught 4 passes for 38 yards (9.4 ave.). He was second on the team (behind Budda Baker) in special teams’ tackles with 12. Although he is not particularly swift afoot, Penny is a highly competitive grinder who thrives in the physical aspects of the game.
- TE Jermaine Gresham---Gresham’s response to being signed to a lucrative 4 year $28M contract with $16.5M in guarantees, was not what he or anyone had hoped. He started 14 games, caught 33 passes on 46 targets (71.7%) for 322 yards (9.8 ave.) and scored 2 TDs. Those pedestrian numbers are actually the good news. The bad news is that Gresham’s blocking was erratic and often undisciplined. Gresham led the team in penalties with 10 (5 false stats, 4 holding calls and 1 face mask personal foul). Gresham’s 2017 PFF grade was a disappointing 47.4, ranking him #45 among TEs. To make matters worse, Gresham tore an Achilles late in the season and is currently in rehab. Perhaps being reunited with his college QB Sam Bradford might inspire better play this year from Gresham, if and when he can return to the field.
- I admire A.Q. Shipley’s tenacity and mental approach to the game. But, today’s NFL centers need to have longer reach and need to run better. Shipley will be tough to beat out because he is like a dog with a bone, but I hope that Mason Cole is the answer at center, short and long term.
- It’s possible that J.J. Nelson will take his game to the next level this year under Mike McCoy. Because the Cardinals have better and more talented depth this year in the slot, Nelson should have an easier job getting free deep and on the perimeter. Plus, he’s an excellent asset on reverses.
- While Elijhaa Penny lacks breakaway speed, he is a textbook, hit the hole hard and lower the shoulder on contact power RB. It was a joy to watch him run over D.J. Swearinger twice. Plus, he protects the ball---0 fumbles in 35 touches. Best of all, he is one of the top players on STs.
- It’s impossible to justify the contract Gresham was given. Equally mystifying has been Steve Keim’s lack of attention this off-season to the TE group, particularly seeing as Mike McCoy’s offense and the Cardinals’ QBs employ TEs as security blankets. Josh Rosen, in particular, is as good at throwing to TEs as any college QB in recent memory. Jermaine Gresham has all the physical talent one could want, but too often he loses focus, abandons proper blocking techniques and incurs drive ending penalties. If there is one guy who could get him back on track it is Sam Bradford, so that is the hope.
What are your thoughts?