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Surprise Cardinals

Los Angeles Rams v Arizona Cardinals Photo by Norm Hall/Getty Images

Note: Let me set the record straight. I think we can all agree that the PFF grades are not the most accurate barometer for gauging the quality of the players’ performances. However, I think the grades are very useful as baseline measuring sticks and often serve as a basis for discussion points. This year the Cardinals are relying on analytics more that ever before. Thus, I feel as if we should take advantage of whatever grades we can get our hands on, with the understanding that we have every right to agree or disagree with the numbers.

While the Cardinals are mired in a 5 game losing streak, one of the silver linings is that there are a few Cardinals who are achieving at a higher level than most fans might have expected. In my opinion, they are:

RT Justin Murray (pictured in the photo).

The Eye Test: Murray has settled down nicely into the position. He plays what I would call a “clean” game. Unlike his counterpart D.J. Humphries who has committed 12 penalties on the season, Murray has only committed 2—-and those were earlier in the season. In fact, Murray has not committed a penalty in his last six starts. The other clean aspect of his game is his command of the fundamentals. In pass pro, his drop step is quick and effective, his hand punches are consistently on target and thanks to a his good, solid ‘fan” technique, he maintains good balance and steering control.

PFF Grade: Overall: 61.6. Pass blocking: 65.2; Run blocking: 52.5.

Highlights: In Week 11 vs. the 49ers—-Murray earned the highest game grade of any RT in the NFL at 74.2 and then backed it up with the highest OL grade for the Cardinals this past week versus the Rams at 67.6.

2020 Status: ERFA.

2020 Projection: starting RT. At 6-5, 307, Murray has ideal size. He’s 26 and heading into his prime.

RB Chase Edmonds

The Eye Test: Chase Edmond’s improvement from last year to this year has been impressive and is a testament to his diligence. His 126 yard, 3 TD performance in the downpours at the Meadowlands was outstanding. In that game he carried the team to victory, showing an instinctive ability to follow his blocks and time his smooth bursts up the field and into the end zone. Larry Fitzgerald raves about this kid’s work ethic and passion for the game. Coming from Larry, that means a lot.

PFF Grade: 73.6. (3rd highest grade on the offense)

Highlights: Of course his stellar performance versus the Giants, but Edmonds highest game grade came in the win versus the Falcons the week before when he scored am 87.3 for his all-around excellence.

2020 Status: Entering year 3 of his rookie contract.

2020 Projection: starter or major contributor as RB2. I believe that Edmonds is the best all-around fit as rusher, blocker and receiver at RB in Kliff Kingsbury’s offense. His eye for detail and ability to be a work horse when needed are major plusses.

TE Maxx Williams

The Eye Test: Williams is an all-out mauler in the running game and a sure handed receiver when thrown to (away from the sun). If they invited blocking TEs to the Pro Bowl, Williams could get the vote.

PFF Grade: 77.6 (highest grade on offense), 79.6 (pass protection), 82.0 (run blocking)

2020 Status: Signed to a 2 year extension at $3.5M a year.

2020 Projection: starter

TE Darrell Daniels

The Eye Test: Daniels is a solid blocker and situational receiver when called upon. He plays well within the system and is reliable in carrying out his assignments (0 penalties), primarily as a run blocker.

PFF Grade: 75.4 (2nd highest on offense) 66.7 run blocking grade. The concern is his 43.7 STs grade, although he has flashed at times.

2020 Status: Under contract @ $735K

2020 Projection: roster bubble.

WR Pharoh Cooper

The Eye Test: Cooper is a spirited player who keeps making solid contributions in the passing game and on STs. What’s to like about him is his hunger to catch the football and to try to turn his receptions into RAC plays. He’s made significant strides in his route running and his ability to look that ball into the triangle (hands). On running plays he is a plus blocker.

PFF Grade: 68.6 (7th highest on offense) plus 62.1 STs grade (70.4 as punt returner).

2020 Status: UFA

2020 Projection: I believe the Cardinals will re-sign him (likely to a 1-2 year contract @ $1.2M-1.4M a year) and he will fill a similar role in the WR rotation and KR/PR.

DT Zach Kerr

The Eye Test: Big, strong physical player at the point of attack. Surprising two-way (pass rush and run stop) ability, given his size (6-2, 334) as he over the past few weeks has produced 11 tackles and 12 QB pressures. Tackling needs a little stronger technique, but he’s a round the ball a lot.

PFF Grade: 76.9 (2nd highest grade on defense), 77.7 vs. the run, 75.8 pass rush.

2020 Status: UFA

2020 Projection: At this point in his career at age 29, Kerr is a rotational DT, not a starter. I believe the Cardinals will re-sign him to a 1-2 year deal similar to Cooper’s at $1.2M-1.4M a year.

LB Joe Walker

The Eye Test: Good athlete who can run downhill to the ball and do a good job of chasing RBs in coverage. Not great at taking on blocks, but very capable of making plays when he gets a clear path to the ball or his man. At times, is a textbook tackler.

PFF Grade: 50.3 (early grades in the season have hurt this grade)

Highlights: Since becoming the starter—-here are his game grades:

W9—-SF—-72.1 (overall), 84.8 (vs. run), 59.1 (tackling), 49.1 (coverage)

W10—-TB—-56.0 (overall), 50.3 (vs. run), 84.0 (tackling), 65.9 (coverage)

W11—-SF—-71.3 (overall), 70.6 (vs. run), 79.5 (tackling), 66.2 (coverage)

W13—-LAR—-62.9 (overall), 66.4 (vs. run), 79.0 (tackling), 56.8 (coverage)

Those numbers are very encouraging.

STs Grade: 71.2 (2nd highest on STs)

2020 Status: ERFA (26 years old)

2020 Projection: likely the #3 or #4 ILB, but well in the mix to make his case to start, and continues as ST ace.

Honorable Mentions:

LG Justin Pugh: 78.4 pass blocking grade

RG J.R. Sweezy: 73.0 pass blocking grade

C A.Q. Shipley: 71.1 pass blocking grade

LT D.J. Humphries: 70.9 pass blocking grade

LG Mason Cole: 70.3 pass blocking grade

ST Dennis Gardeck: 72.6 (highest ST grade on team)

ST Charles Washington: 71.1 (3rd highest ST grade on team)

S Jalen Thompson: 73.0 tackling grade

CB Chris Jones: 71.1 coverage grade

CB Kevin Peterson: 63.9 coverage grade

Pro Bowl Candidates (Vote Ins or Possible Alternates):

DE Chandler Jones

LB Jordan Hicks

S Budda Baker

G Justin Pugh

G J.R, Sweezy

K Zane Gonzalez

P Andy Lee

ST Dennis Gardeck

As far as the surprise players, this is where Steve Keim, Quentin Harris and Adrian Wilson and the coaches deserve a great deal of credit.