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How Valuable Are They (Part 2)

Looking at the value of 4 defensive players and 1 special teams player for the Arizona Cardinals.

NFL: New York Giants at Arizona Cardinals Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
  1. DT Robert Nkemdiche---the physical tools are readily apparent when one evaluates Nkemdiche. He is a powder keg of dynamite. However, he is tightly wound athlete who has suffered pre-season leg injuries his first two years and has had to scramble his way back onto the field during the second half of the season. At the end of last year, however, Nkemdiche was making strides. He recorded 11 tackles, 1 forced fumble and a host of plays where he created havoc in the backfield. He finished the season with a respectable 73.8 PFF grade, ranking him #31 in DTs.
  2. DE Markus Golden---2016 was an outstanding year for Markus Golden as he registered 51 tackles, 12.5 sacks and 4 forced fumbles. What was surprising is that Golden was very slow out of the gates in 2017. In four games he had 11 tackles and 0 sacks. Then, sadly, he tore an ACL and was lost for the year. By all accounts, Golden’s rehab is going very well and there is a chance he could be ready to go when the season starts. The question remains, why did Golden get off to such a poor start in 2017? His PFF grade was 48.2.
  3. LB Deone Bucannon---Bucannon was the talk of the NFL his first two seasons because of his transition from college safety to NFL 3-4 money linebacker. However, the past two seasons have been very much a struggle for Bucannon, due to injuries, shoddy tackling and inconsistent play. Bucannon’s PFF grade in 2017 was a paltry 37.9 which ranked him as the #78 LB. Despite that, the Cardinals elected to pick up Bucannon’s 5th year option, which pays him a hefty $8.7M. Steve Wilks has counted on Bucannon becoming the leader of the defense as the starting WILL linebacker in the 4-3.
  4. CB Brandon Williams---much has been said about Brandon Williams’ fall from 3rd round rookie opening night starter in 2016 to bench warmer in 2017. In 2016, Williams recorded 26 tackles and broke up 3 passes. Late in the season he appeared to be making strides, so much so that Steve Keim and Bruce Arians continued to believe that Williams could be the starter opposite Patrick Peterson. Yet, in 2017 Williams was beat out by Justin Bethel and Tramon Williams, and rarely saw the field. Even though Williams was active for 16 games, he only recorded 2 tackles for the season and was not an asset on special teams, which, ironically, he was the captain of at Texas A&M.
  5. K Phil Dawson---Dawson was signed to a two year $6M contract with $1.5M guaranteed to be an upgrade over the inconsistent Chandler Catanzaro. During the first half of the season, Dawson was even worse than Catanzaro, missing badly on some FGs and extra points. Dawson blamed his miscues on the blocking schemes and personnel. Down the stretch, he was more accurate, although by then the Cardinals were out of the playoff hunt. He finished the year connecting on 32/40 FGs and 23/26 extra points. In 2016 at San Francisco, Dawson made 18/21 FGs and 34/35 extra points. In 2018, Dawson carries a $3.5M cap figure ($500K in dead money).


  1. Nkemdiche could benefit greatly from the switch to Steve Wilks’ 4-3. He will be asked to blow up a gap on each play, which is his forte. The keys are staying healthy and mastering the art of finishing off plays.
  2. It may take some time for Golden to return to form. As Seth suggested in an earlier article, it might be best early in the season to start Benson Mayowa and have Golden be an edge rusher in the sub packages. The Cardinals need to find out whether Golden is a fit at 4-3 DE, particularly in evaluating his value for a second contract.
  3. Bucannon needs to step up his game. He needs to diagnose plays faster and rediscover the fun of tackling. Will he be an asset or a liability in pass coverage? If he continued to struggle, that could open the door for Jeremy Cash who knows how to play fast and with a bang in Wilks’ system.
  4. Has anyone ever seen Brandon Williams make a good, hard, fundamental tackle? The fact that he couldn’t even contribute on STs the past two years does not bode well for his future in Arizona, especially working for a coach who demands physical play. Wilks is going to get good hard hitting from Jamar Taylor, Bene Benwikere, Lou Young and Chris Campbell. Thus, if Brandon Williams doesn’t wake up and smell the coffee, he won’t make the team this year.
  5. One of the most intriguing acquisitions the Cardinals made this off-season was the addition of UDFA K Matt McCrane of Kansas St. McCrane’s forte is consistent accuracy due to textbook form. If McCrane impresses, the decision to trade or release Phil Dawson will be easy. The Cardinals would save $3M on the cap and have a talented young kicker for the next 4 years.