One of the Cardinals’ top off-season priorities is to do a better job of developing the young talent on their roster.
Since Steve Keim became the team’s GM in 2013, the Cardinals have only re-signed two of its own draftees (S Tyrann Mathieu and RB David Johnson) to multi-year 2nd contracts.
This hurts the team, big-time (plus the fact that both Mathieu and Johnson, awarded contracts before their contract years, were or have been major disappointments as salary stealers)—-and it is the principal reason why Keim keeps drafting players at the same positions over and over, hoping eventually to get it right.
One of the most conspicuous examples is Keim’s drafting of 3 centers in 4 years (Evan Boehm, Mason Cole and Lamont Gaillard—-using 4th, 3rd and 6th round picks) and yet 33 year old A.Q. Shipley has remained the starter.
Another example has to do with all of the talk that the Cardinals need to draft another WR this season after spending a 3rd round pick (Chad Williams), two 2nd round picks (Christian Kirk and Andy Isabella), a 4th round pick (Hakeem Butler) and a 6th round pick (KeeSean Johnson) on WRs the past three drafts.
Meanwhile, Keim’s best WR draft pick to date was John Brown in the 3rd round of the 2014 NFL Draft—-but Brown couldn’t get out of Arizona fast enough after Bruce Arians mishandled the WR’s recovery from sickle cell anemia. Today, Brown is the star WR of the playoff bound Buffalo Bills. Through 13 games, Brown has 72 catches for 1,060 yards and 6 TDs.
John Brown has more catches, yards (by 300 yards) and TDs than any Cardinals’ WR this season.
So, here are the young players on offense who need to be developed if they are going to make a big contribution in 2020 and hopefully beyond:
QB Kyler Murray—-as Kyler said himself the difference between playing the Seahawks the first time to the second was like “night and day.” There was good news about his MRI yesterday—-just a slight hammy strain. Thus, there’s still a chance he might be able to play this week. The area of Murray’s game that he needs to develop is the 2 minute hurry-up offense. That’s an area of the game that he and the team could excel at. At the same time, Murray needs to keep improving at “staying on schedule” by throwing the ball away when necessary so as to avoid longer downs and distances. Kliff Kingsbury has been working with Murray on his body language—-which is a big art of learning how to be a leader on the field.
QB Drew Anderson—-2019 UCFA was cut when Cards claimed QB Kyle Sloter—-but was re-signed to PS when Sloter was pilfered by the Lions. Big strong kid with good arm and better than average mobility. Needs to hone his passing accuracy and ability to read defenses.
RB Chase Edmonds—-had the big 126 yard, 3 TD game versus Giants, was injured, but with Kenyan Drake taking command as starter and the team trying to find something in David Johnson, Edmonds has been put in moth balls. Big mistake, imo. With Drake now possibly out-pricing himself as a 2020 UFA, the Cardinals still do not know exactly what they have in Edmonds. Edmonds was a work horse, high volume, high production RB at Fordham and this year’s injury is a tad unusual in that he does not have an elaborate history of injuries. For all we know he could be just about as productive in the offense right now as Drake—-and Edmonds is on his 4th round rookie contract for another 2 years.
- Sorry to be cynical, but wouldn’t it be just like the Cardinals to way overpay for David Johnson at $13M a season for 3 years (having to trade or release him) and then overpay for Kenyan Drake in the $7-8M a year range without really knowing what they have in Chase Edmonds?
- Edmonds, imo, has the entire skill set that Kliff Kingsbury’s offense requires. He hits the hole with speed, can make tacklers miss, can bounce off tackles, protects the ball very well, has the speed to turn the corner, is an excellent receiver and reliable blocker. I think he could be the best all-around RB on the roster right now—-which is Vince Marotta’s hunch as well, as he was asking Dan Bickley about his hunch this week. I would have zero problem with Kingsbury naming Edmonds the 2020 starter, particularly if it means saving $7-8M on a Drake contract which worries me because Drake has never sustained a role as a lead RB in his 4 years in the NFL and he has never come close to rushing for 1,000 yards in a season. And this week in light of Drake’s end zone antics (opening up the vault to secure the money bag), we got a first hand glimpse of what now appears to be the driving force of Drake’s motivation.
TE Dan Arnold—-what a great late season pickup this was by Steve Keim. This kid has superb length, good speed and what appear to be velcro hands. If Larry Fitzgerald returns, the TE room could be set with Fitz, Maxx Williams (another great pickup by Keim), Dan Arnold and Darrell Daniels. Not only can Arnold be a productive receiver in the offense, he’s an able and willing blocker.
TE Darrell Daniels—-there is no denying that Daniels’ versatility is an asset. He’s a cog on STs and is a good situational blocker (was used at FB on Drakes’ 2nd TD late in the game). The question is, can the coaches develop him as a receiver? He made a good clutch 3rd down catch a few weeks ago, but an accurate pass this week from Brett Hundley went right through his hands.
T Justin Murray—-the job that Sean Kugler has done with Murray at RT has been outstanding. Murray has steadily improved—-he even recorded the highest game grade for any RT (per PFF) in the NFL for his 74.2 versus the 49ers in Week 11. Murray is a restricted free agent for next season—-thus he should be back at a team-friendly salary. Claiming Murray off of waivers was a very good move by Keim as Murray’s week to week development under Sean Kugler has been a pleasant surprise.
T Josh Miles—-for a 7th round draft pick, Miles flashed good size, strength and feet in the pre-season at 6-6, 310. In 3 of the 4 pre-season games at LT Miles earned pass blocking grades in the 70s, giving up but 1 sack and 3 QB hits on 89 pass plays. He did however incur 6 penalties, so that’s an area he obviously needs to improve. In 3 snaps at LT during the regular season, Miles graded well: 71.2 in pass blocking and 60.0 in run blocking.
T Brett Toth—-the Cardinals claimed Toth, the 6-6, 291, 23 year old Army grad from the Eagles after final cuts. The Eagles were hoping to sign Toth to their PS. While Toth was doing his military service this season he was placed on the reserve/non-injury list and recently the Cardinals designated him as a possible return. The word is that Sean Kugler is high on Toth’s length, angular frame and skill set. In one pre-season game with the Eagles at RT, Toth played 46 snaps versus the Jets and posted a 64.1 overall grade, with an impressive 70.1 pass blocking grade.
T William Sweet—-has spent the year on the IR (foot) after putting up very good grades at RT during the pre-season. In 32 snaps over 3 games, Sweet earned an overall grade of 69.4, with a pass blocking grade of 71.4 and a run blocking grade of 66.4. Sweet has good size at 6-6, 313, a strong base and better than average feet. By keeping Sweet on the IR and not working out an injury settlement, the Cardinals want to keep him in the mix for 2020.
G/C Mason Cole—-the coaches have been subbing the 6-5, 292 Cole in at guard to keep him and the guards fresh. His grades at guard (99 snaps) have been consistently strong: 65.7 overall, 72.3 in pass blocking and 61.4 in run blocking. The question is—-will Cole be moved back to center in 2020? A player of his skill belongs in the starting lineup.
C Lamont Gaillard—-the coaches have been lauding Gaillard’s tenacity. In the pre-season he had one rough game versus the Raiders at LG, but the next week at Minnesota when he played at center, he turned in his best performance, scoring a 64.8 overall grade including a stellar 83.0 pass blocking grade. The question is—-do the coaches view Gaillard as a potential starter at center and if they do, what kind of a timetable they have for him? If they think he’s one more year away, then they could re-sign A.Q. Shipley—-or—-they could start Mason Cole at center in 2020 and move Cole to RG and Gaillard to C in 2021 when J.R. Sweezy becomes a UFA.
C/G Sam Jones—-the former ASU Sun Devil has a chance to try to carve a utility niche on the roster next year after spending weeks this year on the Cardinals’ PS.
WR Andy Isabella—-there is no question that the lack of production from the Cardinals’ WR draft picks in 2019 has been a major disappointment. Part of the reason is that after the first few games, Kliff Kingsbury stopped using his 4 WR sets less regularly in favor of making better use of the team’s TEs. For Isabella, this has been a learning year transitioning into the NFL game as slot WR. Reports are that he has been struggling in practices with route running and making clean catches—-but we have not seen any of that in the games. Of course, his breathtaking 88 yard TD versus the 49ers was a perfect reminder why the Cardinals drafted him in the 2nd round. But, he really hasn’t been targeted much since then. He has 9 catches for 189 yards (21.0 ave) and 1 TD. His grades are solid: 64.2 overall and 64.0 in the passing game, plus he earned an 82.3 blocking grade versus the Seahawks this week. if you recall, his block on Fitz’s TD helped Fitz take it to the house. Knowing Isabella, he will be working like a man possessed this off-season to break out in year 2.
WR KeeSean Johnson—-Johnson was the rave of training camp because of his precise route running and good hands. This earned him a number of starts through the first 11 games, but he hasn’t as yet developed a consistent chemistry with Kyler Murray—-which for rookies, often takes time. With Isabella, Pharoh Cooper (upon his return) and Damiere Byrd seeing increased playing time, Johnson has been inactive for the pass 5 weeks. This becomes a huge off-season for Johnson—-for he needs to find his niche in the offense and get in good with Kyler Murray.
WR Hakeem Butler—-at 6-5, 228, 35” arms, 10 3/4” hands, 4.48 speed, 18 reps, 36” vertical and 128” broad jump, Hakeem Butler brings a physical presence and potentially big-play ability to the WR unit. His hand injury was unfortunate for him and the team because he could have been a big help in the red zone. His development in gaining consistency catching the football is of paramount importance. Once he secures the catch he is a tough runner in the open field who has a knack for breaking and bouncing off tackles.
WR Trent Sherfield—-he may well be one of the most underrated players on the roster. His performance at WR in the pre-season games was outstanding. Right now he remains a stalwart on STs but is not getting many reps at WR. With his toughness, good size at 6-1, 205 and 4.45 speed, he could emerge as a bona fide threat at slot WR—-an area where the Cardinals need improvement. Sherfield has always been highly motivated and eager to learn.
WR A.J. Richardson—-made a splash in the last pre-season game and looked smooth and natural as a route runner and pass catcher. He’s spent the year on the PS and has a chance to make a stronger roster case in 2020.
What young player on offense do you think will be the biggest surprise in 2020?