The Arizona Cardinals had one of the worst front sevens in the NFL last season when it came to stuffing the run game. They allowed an average of 154.9 rushing yards per game, worst in the NFL.
Fortunately, Steve Keim set out to fix the front seven as soon as the offseason began.
They added Brooks Reed, who was released by the Falcons, for depth.
The Cardinals have announced the additions of Terrell Suggs and Jordan Hicks from free agency.
Chandler Jones will move back to outside linebacker in Vance Joseph’s 3-4 scheme. He led the NFL in sacks (17) in 2017.
Haason Reddick is expected to be the starting inside linebacker opposite Hicks for now. But I wouldn’t be surprised if the Cardinals add another inside linebacker in free agency, such as Brandon Marshall or Zach Brown, to compete with Reddick for the starting job.
Here’s how the Cardinals’ linebacker group looked like in 2018:
Deone Bucannon, Haason Reddick, Josh Bynes, Gerald Hodges, Dennis Gardeck, Zeke Turner, Joe Walker
This was a linebacker group that struggled mightily against the pass. Bucannon was benched for a good chunk of the 2018 season due to his struggles in coverage and his inability to shed the blocks of offensive linemen. Hodges started in place of him but wasn’t that much better.
Reddick has yet to live up to the expectations Keim had of him when he was a first-round pick but made strides last season. Bynes was one of the best linebackers last season at stuffing the run but was a liability against the pass. Gardeck, Turner, and Walker played primarily on special teams.
Here’s how the Cardinals’ linebacker group will look like in 2019:
Chandler Jones, Jordan Hicks, Haason Reddick, Terrell Suggs, Nick Bosa, Brooks Reed, Dennis Gardeck, Zeke Turner, Joe Walker, Tanner Vallejo
Terrell Suggs is the Baltimore Ravens’ all-time sack leader. He’s a great leader and is a high-energy player. Since 2015, Jordan Hicks has been the second-best coverage linebacker according to PFF. He also posted an 81.3 run-defense grade in 2018. Reed had his best years in the NFL when he was a 3-4 linebackers for the Texans. Bosa could very well be the no. 1 overall pick for the Cardinals, and is widely considered to be the top player in the 2019 draft. If he gets drafted to Arizona, he’ll have the opportunity to be mentored by two of the top pass rushers in NFL history in Suggs and Jones.
If the Cardinals can stay healthy, they should expect to see immediate improvement from being the worst team against the run to one of the best in 2019. This is arguably the deepest and most-talented group of linebackers in their history.