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Redbirds 50: Ranking the top 50 Cardinals players – #21-30

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We continue our ranking of the top 50 Arizona Cardinals players. See who made the cut in the latest batch of 10 players below.

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NFL: Arizona Cardinals-Rookie Minicamp
Rookie WR Hakeem Butler has an enormous ceiling if he can keep the drops under control. How high does he rank in the Redbirds 50?
Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Last week, we counted down the #41-50 and #31-40 players on the Arizona Cardinals roster. We got most of the special teamers and backups out of the way. In today’s installment of the Redbirds 50, we’ve got high-end backups, intriguing rookies, and we’ll get into our starters as well. Let’s start with the two guys battling for perhaps the only unsettled position in the starting 22.

#30: C A.Q. Shipley

2018 Stats: N/A (Did not play in 2018 due to a torn ACL)

Projected 2019 Role: Starting center/backup center

2019 Outlook: Prior to tearing his ACL last preseason, Shipley was the Redbirds’ starting center the previous two seasons, starting 32/32 games from 2016 to 2018. Shipley was a steady veteran presence in the middle of the line, even if his tape or technique didn’t wow you. His preseason injury was a harbinger for things to come in 2018, as the entire O-line struggled from the jump—including the next guy on this list, his rookie replacement. Can Shipley regain his starting role? Will he even be on the regular season roster if he doesn’t?

#29: C Mason Cole

2018 Stats: 16 games, 16 starts, 0 missed snaps

Projected 2019 Role: Starting center/backup center

2019 Outlook: Cole was a 3rd-round pick in the 2018 draft and was supposed to be Shipley’s eventual replacement… not his immediate one. But he started every game after Shipley’s injury and performed admirably enough for a rookie (even if he graded poorly by advanced metrics). He’s 10 years younger and has two healthier knees than Shipley, and the team is hoping that his trying year in the trenches helped him develop. Fair or not, he’s the incumbent, so the job is his to lose at this point. Will his youth and potential be enough to hold off Shipley’s experience?

#28: CB Tramaine Brock, Sr.

2018 Stats: 12 games, 5 starts, 23 tackles, 6 passes defended (with Denver)

Projected 2019 Role: Starting cornerback/backup cornerback

2019 Outlook: When we initially signed Brock, it looked like a depth signing with a strong possibility of him becoming the “starting” slot CB. Now, in the post Patrick Peterson suspension world, it’s looking more and more like Brock will be one of the starting outside corners come Week 1. He didn’t do much to distinguish himself under Vance Joseph last season in Denver, but he did have several solid years as a starter in San Francisco earlier in his career. We’ll need to rely on his starting experience for the first six games in 2019.

#27: G J.R. Sweezy

2018 Stats: 15 games, 15 starts (with Seattle)

Projected 2019 Role: Starting guard

2019 Outlook: There’s no getting around the fact that Sweezy has largely been a below-average guard throughout his career. While he has a solid reputation as a run blocker, he has his warts as a pass blocker like the guy he’s largely replacing (Mike Iupati). But he’s also been pretty durable—while he did miss the 2016 season after offseason back surgery, he’s only missed five games in the other five seasons he’s been a starter. It’s an ugly truth, but I think the Cardinals would take 14 or 15 games of mostly below-average guard play after starting six different players at guard in 2018.

#26: LB/DE Brooks Reed

2018 Stats: 16 games, 8 starts, 24 tackles, 1 sack, 1 forced fumble (with Atlanta)

Projected 2019 Role: Backup linebacker/defensive end

2019 Outlook: Reed, an 8-year veteran from That Team Down South, has primarily been known as a run-stopper in his tenures with the Texans and Falcons. (Only 21.5 career sacks, and no more than 6 in a single season—his rookie year.) He’ll play the same role in 2019 for the Cardinals, spelling Terrell Suggs on obvious run downs, doing the dirty work and setting the edge to allow our ILBs to make plays. Reed is hardly a flashy player, but he’s dependable. Sounds about right for a player right near the middle of these roster rankings.

#25: ILB Haason Reddick

2018 Stats: 16 games, 12 starts, 80 tackles, 4 sacks, 1 forced fumble

Projected 2019 Role: Starting inside linebacker

2019 Outlook: Reddick, a college defensive end, has been miscast as an inside linebacker his entire NFL career. He looked lost for most of the season like the rest of the LB corps under Al Holcomb last year, but he did flash some as a pass rusher. I have my doubts about whether he’ll ever be a true 3-4 ILB, but he’s still a very good athlete. Perhaps new DC Vance Joseph will find some creative uses for him in blitz packages—especially since pressure up the middle is very en vogue in the NFL these days. I could see him coming off the edge some, too. He’s been more of an athlete than a football player thus far, but there’s still untapped potential here.

#24: S Deionte Thompson

2018 Stats: N/A (rookie)

Projected 2019 Role: Backup safety

2019 Outlook: The Redbirds may have gotten a steal in the 5th round in Thompson, one of the best safeties in the nation last year under Nick Saban. He reportedly dropped from a potential 1st-round pick due to concerns about a degenerative knee condition, but all has been quiet on the injury front since the draft. Assuming health, Thompson figures to be the top backup safety and should play right away in sub packages. Thompson has a do-it-all toolkit and could be a starter—and top 20 player—as soon as next season. His ceiling is as high as anyone’s in this strong rookie class. Let’s just hope those injury concerns were overblown.

#23: WR Hakeem Butler

2018 Stats: N/A (rookie)

Projected 2019 Role: Backup wide receiver

2019 Outlook: Butler is similar to Thompson in that he has a high ceiling but also a glaring weakness. With Thompson, it’s his health. With Butler, it’s his hands—concerning for a wideout to be sure and likely why the 6’5” physical freak was available in the 4th round. If he can solve his case of the dropsies, Butler can be a prototypical “X” wideout, dominating smaller corners and serving as the focal point of the passing game. Could Butler be what the team was hoping Michael Floyd would be? Could he be Larry Fitzgerald’s heir apparent? That might sound crazy… but not that crazy, which is why he is ranked this high despite facing an uphill battle for playing time in 2019.

#22: G Justin Pugh

2018 Stats: 7 games, 7 starts

Projected 2019 Role: Starting guard

2019 Outlook: Pugh did not live up to expectations (or his salary) in his first season in the desert. He gave us just 7 games of subpar guard play before going on IR. But it’s easy to forget he was one of the best guards in the league before injury woes set in in New York. He likely won’t get back to that status again after three injury-plagued seasons, but is league-average guard play possible at this point in his career? I think it is, and I think that’s what we’ll get out of Pugh in 2019. How many games we get out of him is another question, but I think he’ll be effective while he’s in the lineup. Everything that could go wrong did last year, and Pugh should show more than what he did during that 3-13 disaster.

#21: Charles Clay

2018 Stats: 13 games, 12 starts, 21 receptions, 184 yards, 0 TDs

Projected 2019 Role: Starting tight end

2019 Outlook: Clay’s unimpressive last season in Buffalo while playing with an incredibly raw QB like Josh Allen belies how consistent and effective he has been throughout his career. In the five seasons before 2018, Clay averaged 57 receptions, 600 yards, and almost 4 TDs per year in very low-yield offenses in Miami and Buffalo. The last time an Arizona Cardinals tight end had a season like that was… never. In Kilff Kingsbury’s offense, Clay should equal or exceed those numbers working as Kyler Murray’s primary checkdown option while occasionally making plays up the seam. Clay could prove to be the most important—if not unheralded—of Steve Keim’s offseason signings.

Final Thoughts

In the next installment of the Redbirds 50, we’ll get into the top 20. Believe it or not, there are still three rookies yet to be ranked. Was the draft class that good, or is the rest of the roster that mediocre? It’s probably a little bit of both. We’ll get to them and the rest of the starting lineup later this week.

In the meantime, let us know your thoughts on these rankings so far in the comments. Any major qualms? Predictions for the top 20? Let’s hash it out.