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Focus on 2019: Cardinals roster picture starting to become clear

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The Cardinals seem about done with free agency (for now). With the draft up next, how is the Cardinals 2019 roster looking at this point?

Arizona Cardinals v Seattle Seahawks
Larry Fitzgerald—back in the fold for another season—is about one of the only sure things on the roster. How’s the rest of the team around him taking shape?
Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

With free agency mostly in the rearview and the NFL draft on the horizon, the 2019 Arizona Cardinals are starting come into focus. It’s not necessarily a pretty picture—as should be expected for a team in the midst of a rebuild—but the overall shape of the team is starting to become more clear.

With that in mind, let’s take a look at the how the Redbirds’ depth chart is shaping up under new coach Kliff Kingsbury, focusing mostly on the starters. Does the roster look stronger than last year’s 3-13 team? What holes are there still to fill in the starting lineup? Let’s take a look, starting with the offense.

Offense

Quarterbacks

Starter: Josh Rosen/Kyler Murray

Notable Depth: Brett Hundley, Charles Kanoff

Obviously, the main question about the roster as a whole is who will be behind center for the team in Week 1. The team is still publicly backing Josh Rosen, but there continues to be a ton of smoke about the possibility of drafting Kyler Murray. We won’t try to answer the QB question here, but regardless of whether Rosen or Murray is the Cardinals’ QB in 2019, it will be another year of development at the position—and for the team as a whole.

Running Back

Starter: David Johnson

Notable Depth: Chase Edmonds, T.J. Logan, D.J. Foster

The depth chart is settled here—DJ is the guy, and Edmonds will see the scraps. (Unless Kingsbury plans to integrate him into the offense a bit more?) But it would be no surprise to see the team use a late-round draft pick or sign a UDFA to compete with the likes of Logan and Foster for a roster spot. As far as fullback goes, it sure doesn’t seem like Kingsbury is planning on using one, so we’ll ignore that position for now.

Wide Receiver

Starters: Larry Fitzgerald (WR1), Christian Kirk (WR2), TBD (WR3)

Notable Depth: Kevin White, Chad Williams, Trent Sherfield, Damiere Byrd

All apologies to Fitz and Kirk, but that’s an ugly receiver room. Those two have the top spots locked down, but as we’ve mentioned previously, the WR3 and WR4 for next season probably aren’t on the roster yet… but if they are, it’s going to be a very long season for whoever is playing QB. I’m not touching the Kevin White Kool-Aid (although he’s probably the current second starter outside), Williams has shown absolutely nothing in his two seasons, and Sherfield is a JAG. (And, no, I don’t think Byrd is the answer either.) GM Steve Keim will need to hit this position hard early in the draft and in free agency after the draft when a few more names might shake loose. Or perhaps another name will become available via trade?

Tight End

Starter: Charles Clay

Notable Depth: Ricky Seals-Jones

This should be a competent duo in 2019—and they’d better be, given the state of the receiver room. Clay should catch a ton of balls in the middle of the field, and RSJ should be able to make a few plays up the seam and (hopefully) in the red zone. But most fans and pundits expect the team to spend a mid-round pick on a tight end in the draft—a must, given that both Clay and RSJ are on 1-year deals.

Offensive Line

Starters: D.J. Humphries (LT), Justin Pugh (LG), Mason Cole (C), J.R. Sweezy (RG), Marcus Gilbert (RT)

Notable Depth: Korey Cunningham, Max Garcia, A.Q. Shipley, Jeremy Vujnovich, Will Holden

Keim will likely fortify the youth/depth along the O-line in the draft, but the starters seem set (for 2019 at least). If everyone could stay healthy, this would have a chance to be a league-average O-line—a monumental improvement from last year’s god-awful unit. Of course, everyone but Cole has durability questions, so our depth will almost certainly be tested once again in 2019. Perhaps a more important question than that though: Who will be our tackles in 2020?

Defense

Defensive Line

Starters: Darius Philon (DE), Corey Peters (DT), TBD (DE)

Notable Depth: Robert Nkemdiche (injured), Pasoni Tasini, Vincent Valentine, Cameron Malveaux

Along with WR, the D-line is in biggest need of attention in the draft and beyond. Philon was a nice pickup, but we still need a second starter at DE (especially since you can’t really expect anything from Diche in 2019), and the depth guys are all JAGs. Expect multiple draft picks to be spent along the D-line—Quinnen Williams would look good in Cardinals red, don’t you think?—as well as a bargain free agent. The current group isn’t going to have a prayer at stopping the running attacks of the Rams or Seahawks without reinforcements.

Linebacker

Starters: Chandler Jones (OLB), Jordan Hicks (ILB), Haason Reddick (ILB), Terrell Suggs (OLB)

Notable Depth: Brooks Reed, Vontarrius Dora, Zeke Turner, Tanner Vallejo

The starters look like a strong group with Reed likely to split time with Suggs—this is a drastically improved group from last season. But the depth is a real question here, especially at OLB. It seems like we’re still a pass rusher short, and we’re very green inside if (when?) Hicks were to miss time. I don’t think we need to do much at ILB (especially given guys like Dennis Gardeck and Joe Walker are further down the depth chart), but Keim should have his eye on at least one pass rusher in the draft—preferably before Day 3.

Defensive Back

Starters: Patrick Peterson (CB1), D.J. Swearinger (SS), Budda Baker (FS), Robert Alford (CB2), TBD (CB3)

Notable Depth: David Amerson, Josh Shaw, Rudy Ford, Jonathan Owens

This looks like every Cardinals’ DB depth chart since 2011—lockdown CB1, questionable CB2, strong safeties, questionable depth. I don’t think Alford solves our CB2 problem, I don’t love any of our CB3 options (Amerson or Shaw? Deatrick Nichols?), and another safety wouldn’t be a bad idea. Still, we can get by with this group for 2019—but investing in a young corner with a mid-round pick would make me feel better about 2020.

Special Teams

Starters: Zane Gonzalez (K), Andy Lee (P), Aaron Brewer (LS), Pharoh Cooper (PR), T.J. Logan (KR)

Special teams were a much-improved unit in 2018 and should continue to be solid in 2019. Lee is one of the best punters in the game, and Gonzalez will be better than Phil Dawson almost by default. If we could get a little more out of our return game, it would be a boon. Can Cooper return to his Pro Bowl form? Can Logan make a mark? Kirk and Peterson also figure to be in the picture at PR, as usual. Maybe Byrd sees some reps? (Assuming he makes the regular season roster.)

Final Thoughts

By my count, we still have three “starting” positions that need to be filled—DE, WR3, and CB3. None of the options currently on the roster is particularly appetizing, so Keim will need to fill those holes in the draft or in the second wave of free agency. There are also several positions in need of depth. And there is, of course, the ever-looming question about what we do with the #1 overall pick—and who our QB will be.

But even with those question marks, the 2019 edition of the Arizona Cardinals is starting to take shape. It… it looks a lot like last year’s edition, to be honest. Stopgap solutions at key positions (OT, CB2), uninspiring free agent signings, major question marks on offense.

Still, I think we’re in better shape than we were heading into last season. We have a coach people are excited about, we’re switching back to the 3-4 that’s been our bread and butter on defense, and we’ll have a young QB ready to make a leap—whomever it winds up being. It’s hard to imagine this group approaching .500, but I think we’ll be innovative and scrappy enough to avoid another 3-13 disaster.

Here’s hoping, anyway.

What are your thoughts on this roster going into the draft, Redbirds fans? What strengths or weaknesses do you see? Give us your evaluation in the comments!