Deone Bucannon’s fifth-year option was picked up and he will take on a more vocal leadership role in the upcoming season. He has the physical skills and the hard-hitting nature that can set the tone for this defense as he transitions to the weak-side linebacker position. After two seasons dealing with nagging leg injuries, he is finally healthy and should thrive in his new role. With him entering his contract year and his expanded leadership role, a contract extension could be in the works for him.
Cardinals’ 2017 first-round pick Haason Reddick did not perform the way he had hoped. He was asked to learn and do too much last season. He played defensive end at Temple and was initially drafted to play inside linebacker. Several games into the 2017 season, he was forced to move to outside linebacker where he played for the remainder of the season. But now with a year of experience in the NFL, he should be able to play a lot faster as the strong-side linebacker.
The Cardinals decided not to bring back Dansby but, instead, re-signed Josh Bynes to a three-year deal to be the starting mike linebacker. He was impressive in his limited playing time last season (36 total tackles, 1 sack, 2 forced fumbles, 1 interception). At 6’1’’ 235 pounds, he is undersized for his position but displayed good awareness and speed on both defense and special teams in 2017.
Beyond the starters, there isn’t much experience at the linebacker position. Jeremy Cash played with the Panthers for two seasons primarily on special teams but was active for only nine games in his career. Scooby Wright’s lack of speed relegates him to special-team duties only. Fourth-year linebacker Edmond Robinson has only 13 tackles in his career.
Undrafted linebacker Dennis Gardeck is one of the more intriguing rookies on the team. His Pro Day was phenomenal (4.57 40, 31 Bench Reps, 36.5 Vertical) and his production at Sioux Falls College was good too (14 sacks, 21 tackles for loss). With the lack of experienced depth on the roster, he has a really good chance to stay on the team. Airius Moore is also an undrafted linebacker who had 270 career tackles at North Carolina State. Matthew Oplinger from Yale had 11.5 sacks in his senior season.
Bucannon and Reddick will be one of the fastest outside linebacker duos in the NFL. Bynes will have to prove to the Cardinals that he can produce on a regular basis. This team is in serious need of depth. They certainly have a lot of intriguing undrafted rookies and have other depth at linebacker who have played in the NFL, but none of them have significant NFL experience. Expect the team to add an experienced veteran for depth before the regular season begins.
The starting linebackers look great but if any injuries were to happen, can the Cardinals rely on their current depth for help?