You have probably heard of the term “precision routes” before, correct? But, we Cardinals’ fans have never witnessed the kind of precision routes that Kliff Kingsbury teaches his WRs. Every step is measured, accounted for and practiced to perfection. It’s like teaching dance steps—-it’s an excercise in highly coordinated rhythm and timing—-the kind you get from a metronome.
Not only does Kingsbury demand precision routes, he expects his WRs to be in relentless football shape, so that the WRs can stay on the field for lengthy stretches and so that, by the fourth quarter, the WRs have the opposing secondary gasping for air.
When Ricky Seals-Jones, who had a taste of Kingsbury’s Air Raid at Texas A&M, heard that Kingsbury would be his new head coach, the first thing he said was something to the effect of “Whoa, I had better start running sprints.”
Thus, the WR competition in training camp, is going to be a day by day separation of the men from the boys. The contenders from the pretenders. The in-shape from the out-of-shape.
To help coordinate the dance steps the Cardinals’ WRs are going to master, Kingsbury hired former Packers’ WR coach, David Raih.
Do yourself a favor and read Bob McManaman’s article on Raih in today’s Arizona Republic. Bobby Mac did a fabulous job relating what is a phenomenal story.
The gist is that Raih was making a hefty six figure salary selling knee and hip implants for Zimmer Inc. in LA. But, he had such a burning desire to coach that he basically camped out in Rick Neuheisel’s office at UCLA until Neuheisel agreed to meet him and then agreed to add him to his staff without a salary....during a couple of days where he was supposed to be honored in Las Vegas with a prestigious salesman’s award.
A few years later, Raih went to Lubbock, Texas, to camp out in Kliff Kingsbury’s office, until Kingsbury hired him.
This year Raih was invited to reunite with Kingsbury in Arizona and he gets to coach the legendary Larry Fitzgerald, whose mom went to the same high school as Larry in Minnesota. If this doesn’t feel like fate—-what does?
In looking at the current WRs on the Cardinals’ roster—-here are some quick thoughts:
First of all, we should acknowledge that Larry Fitzgerald, Christian Kirk and David Johnson make for an immediately formidable triple threat. The offense is going to be catered around their strengths. I added Johnson in here because Kingsbury has vowed to exploit coverage mismatches while moving Johnson around the formations like the queen on a chessboard.
What Fitzgerald, Kirk and Johnson all have in common is strong RAC (run after catch) ability—-and that’s what Kingsbury covets in his arsenal of WRs.
The next two WRs on the current roster who would appear to have a leg up on the competition are Pharoh Cooper and Trent Sherfield—-first, because both of them factor prominently on STs, Cooper as the punt returner and Sherfield as a gunner.
It helps too that Cooper and Sherfield have very good RAC potential. Cooper has been wanting to make his mark as a RAC WR and this is his opportunity to make a splash, provided that he can master the dance steps and catch radius in order to snatch the ball and run. Sherfield can play both wide and in the slot, which is the kind of versatility that a coach wants from a #4 or #5 WR.
Without question, this is a make or break year for 2017 3rd round pick Chad Williams. Williams came to camp in better shape last year and this year he will have to be in tip-top shape. It is imperative that Williams play with a giant chip on his shoulder, if he is going to make the roster and be a productive contributor. Chad Williams has the talent.
The top sleeper WR on the roster is Jalen Tolliver—-a player who has good size at 6-3, 210 and a nifty ability to use his leverage to create quick separation. His hands are an asset, as is his toughness. And he can catch the ball in a crowd.
Another WR with good size and talent is former LSU Tiger Malachai Dupree (6-2, 196), who put up career totals of 98 catches for 1,609 yards (16.4 ave.) and 14 TDs in the SEC.
The Cardinals also added CFL standout Bryant Mitchell (6-2, 198) who caught 60 passes for 876 yards (14.5 ave.) and 3 TDs for the Edmonton Eskimos last year. Mitchell is a grinder and strong possession-type WR.
It’s possible that the Cardinals will sign a free agent slot WR such as Randall Cobb (Packers) or Jamison Crowder (Redskins). But, the team probably will move on from J.J. Nelson and it likely will focus on adding two WRs in the 2019 NFL Draft.
Two college WRs with immediate connections are Antoine Wesley (Texas Tech—-Kingsbury) and Andy Isabella (UMass—-Whipple). They are perfect compliments—-as Wesley brings length and speed on the perimeter, while Isabella brings quickness and elusiveness from the slot.
Wesley currently projects and 3rd round pick, while Isabella is probably a late 3rd or early 4th rounder.
The big question for Keim and Kingsbury is whether to take a WR at #33, because there are likely going to be some gems on the board, like Marquise Brown (Oklahoma), Deebo Samuel (South Carolina), Riley Ridley (Alabama) and Parris Campbell (Ohio St.). All four of these WRs bring speed and outstanding RAC ability.
There has been speculation that the Cardinals might trade for WR Antonio Brown. That would create quite a splash, if they did. However, the aforementioned draft prospects would be significantly more affordable and potentially dynamic for the next four years in their own ways.
Some of the taller WR prospects in the draft such as D.K. Metcalf (Mississippi), N’Keal Harry (Arizona St.) and A.J. Brown (Mississippi) could be tempting, but Kingsbury’s Air Raid is not typically a scheme that relies heavily of 50/50 balls. Just the same, Kingsbury likes big WRs who can use size and leverage to their advantage. All three of these WR have big play ability.
It’s most likely that the Cardinals will look to add speed and elusiveness to their WR unit. It’s been years for the Cardinals without having a speedy, elusive, tough slot WR. Fitzgerald has made up for that to a significant degree, but it’s time for the Cardinals to add an electric playmaker in the slot.
What do you think? Should the Cardinals sign a free agent? Trade for Antonio Brown? Or should they simply draft two WRs and go young?