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Avoiding the injury imp: Five most irreplaceable Cardinals

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Training camp just started and the injuries are already piling up. Which players can we least afford to lose to injury?

NFL: Arizona Cardinals-Training Camp
Patrick Peterson, one of the most irreplaceable players on the Cardinals roster. Is he #1?
Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

The Cardinals’ training staff has had a busy past few days. On Friday, there was the first injury scare of the season when LB Deone Bucannon’s knee banged into new WR Brice Butler’s helmet during red zone drills. Fortunately, it seems like the Cardinals dodged a bullet—Bucannon will be okay.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t sound like we’ll be so lucky with starting C A.Q. Shipley, who went down on Saturday at the Red and White practice with a left leg injury and was carted off the field. We’ll be hoping for good news on the ironman offensive lineman (he’s played in every game the past two seasons), but the initial reports didn’t sound good.

(UPDATE: Reports are confirming the worst for Shipley—he’s out for the year.)

Of course, training camp injuries are a part of life for NFL teams. And you hate to say it, but more injuries are probably coming. The coaches know it, the players know it, the fans know it. It’s a bit cynical to think about, sure, but it’s worth talking about. And while the Redbirds will most likely survive the Shipley injury (Mason Cole, come on down!), that’s not true of every player. Which leads to the following questions:

“Who are the most irreplaceable players on the roster? Who can the Cardinals least afford to lose to injury?”

There’s a lot to consider when answering these questions, including the position of the player, the depth chart behind them, their intangible contributions in the locker room, and their standing with the fans. My list is below, starting with a few honorable mentions. There are guys you can replace, and guys you can’t. These aren’t quite guys you can’t replace, but they’re almost guys you can’t replace.

Honorable Mentions

  • LT D.J. Humphries – The other D.J. is the best player on a rebuilt O-line and responsible for protecting the QB’s blind side. The depth chart behind him is also perilously thin.
  • DT Corey Peters – A rock up the middle and the lynchpin of our run defense. Gunter and, hopefully, Nkemdiche behind him are capable but not as potentially dominant.
  • S Budda Baker – Baker is dynamic young playmaker expected to take a leap forward this season. Our safety depth is a strength with Tre Boston now in the fold, but it would be devastating to lose a fan favorite like Baker.

5) QB Sam Bradford

Quarterback would probably be #1 for most teams, but the Redbirds’ QB situation is a bit different than most. For one, Bradford is a known injury risk, so we made sure to prepare for the inevitable in drafting Josh Rosen in the 1st round and signing capable backup Mike Glennon. While Rosen is unproven and Glennon has proven to be league-average at best, neither is on the Ryan Lindley level of futility, thankfully. And two, Bradford has never played a snap here in the desert, so you can’t really say he’s truly irreplaceable yet. But the complexion of the season would certainly change for the worse if he were to go down.

4) RB David Johnson

Were you expecting to see DJ a bit higher on this list? After all, he’s our most exciting offensive playmaker and perhaps the identity of our team moving forward. But there are a few mitigating factors here. One is that DJ missed almost the whole season last year and we still finished a respectable 8-8. Another is that RB is one of the more fungible positions in football, where undrafted free agents and washed-up veterans can contribute right away. Finally, the backfield depth chart is looking stronger than it has in years with rookie Chase Edmonds already turning heads in camp and several usual suspects behind him. Still, it would be crushing to lose DJ to injury two years in a row.

3) DE Chandler Jones

Chandler Jones’s second year in the desert was everything the Cardinals could have hoped for, as he led the league in sacks and emerged as a leader on the front seven. The scary thing is he might be even better this season—he’s aiming to increase his sack total, and I’m sure you’ve already seen THAT video. Assuming there are no problems adapting to new DC Al Holcomb’s preferred 4-3 alignment, Jones will be terrorizing Russell Wilson and the rest of the NFC West QBs again all season. But our pass rush would most likely implode if he were to go down, as the depth chart behind him is rather unimposing, especially with Markus Golden still recovering from his torn ACL. Patrick Peterson and Co. would be in for a long day every Sunday with opposing QBs having a clean pocket to throw from every down.

2) WR Larry Fitzgerald

I almost put Fitz at #1 due to the sheer anguish Cardinals fans would experience seeing the franchise icon go down. He’s a true legend, both on and off the field, and almost never misses a game (fewer than 10 in his career). He’s also our most important offensive player—yes, more important than our QB or RB. With Bradford or DJ, there’s at least someone behind them on the depth chart that can adequately replace them. Not so with Fitz, as our WR room is as unproven as it’s probably ever been we drafted him. Does anyone think Brice Butler, Chad Williams, or J.J. Nelson can come close to replacing Fitz? I don’t think so. The Redbirds’ attack would grind to a halt without Fitz’s reliable hands, clutch playmaking, and quiet leadership.

1) CB Patrick Peterson

All that said, I think Peterson is the most irreplaceable Cardinals player. No, he’s not quite an icon like Fitz, and he’s not an explosive playmaker like DJ or Jones, but our defense—the true strength of our team the past couple seasons—would likely collapse without Peterson’s ability to shut down the opposing team’s #1 WR. Yes, he has voiced some frustrations about how he’s been used, and there are some question marks about his ability to adapt to the zone scheme Holcomb is installing, but he’s been a leader on this defense almost since he first stepped onto the field, and he’s become perhaps the most vocal team leader in the locker room as well. And, like Fitz, there’s no one proven on the depth chart behind him, just an uninspiring collection of rookies, journeymen, and castoffs. With Russell Wilson, Jimmy Garoppolo, and Jared Goff all on the schedule twice—and Philip Rivers, Matthew Stafford, Matt Ryan, and Aaron freaking Rodgers also on the docket—we may need PP21 more than ever this season.

Final Thoughts

It may not be fun to think about, but injuries are going to happen—just hopefully not to any of these guys. So let’s knock on wood and hope that the injury imp doesn’t bite us too hard during camp/preseason.

In the meantime, let us know what you think in the comments. Is Fitz or Peterson the most irreplaceable Cardinal? Or is it someone else? Did we miss anyone? Give us a shout below!