Over the past few weeks, we’ve counted down the top 50 players on the Arizona Cardinals roster in groups of ten. Today, we complete the countdown with the top 10 overall. But first, below are links to the previous columns if you’d like to catch up, as well as the rest of the countdown in list form before a “special” #10-ranked player.
Redbirds 50 – #11-50
FA = free agent acquisition, R = rookie, W = waiver claim
#50: LS Aaron Brewer
#49: DE Michael Dogbe (R)
#48: OLB Cameron Malveaux
#47: S Rudy Ford
#46: C Lamont Gaillard (R)
#45: TE Maxx Williams (FA)
#44: LB Dennis Gardeck
#43: LB Tanner Vallejo (W)
#42: LB Zeke Turner
#41: DE Robert Nkemdiche
#40: WR KeeSean Johnson (R)
#39: CB/S Josh Shaw (FA)
#38: G Max Garcia (FA)
#37: LT Desmond Harrison (W)
#36: DT Terrell McClain (FA)
#35: QB Brett Hundley (FA)
#34: K Zane Gonzalez
#33: TE Ricky Seals-Jones
#32: RB Chase Edmonds
#31: OT Korey Cunningham
#30: C A.Q. Shipley
#29: C Mason Cole
#28: CB Tramaine Brock, Sr. (FA)
#27: G J.R. Sweezy (FA)
#26: LB/DE Brooks Reed (FA)
#25: ILB Haason Reddick
#24: S Deionte Thompson (R)
#23: WR Hakeem Butler (R)
#22: G Justin Pugh
#21: Charles Clay (FA)
#20: DE Zach Allen (R)
#19: CB Byron Murphy (R)
#18: WR Andy Isabella (R)
#17: CB Robert Alford (FA)
#16: DE Rodney Gunter
#15: RT Marcus Gilbert (T)
#14: LT D.J. Humphries
#13: DE Darius Philon (FA)
#12: OLB Terrell Suggs (FA)
#11: WR Christian Kirk
#10: P Andy Lee
2018 Stats: 16 games, 94 punts, 48.6 average, 32 inside the 20
Projected 2019 Role: Punter
2019 Outlook: Simply put, Andy Lee was the best punters in the league last season. Not only did he get the most work (94 punts), but he also led the league in average punt distance at 48.6 yards. (Although he did drop slightly to 5th in net average at 42.6.) He would have been a worthy Pro Bowl selection. I shudder to think how much worse we could have been last season if not for Lee consistently flipping the field. While Cardinals fans should hope he doesn’t get nearly as much work in 2019, he’s a legitimate special teams weapon who should help the defense immensely during Patrick Peterson’s 6-game suspension to open the season.
#9: DT Corey Peters
2018 Stats: 15 games, 15 starts, 50 tackles, 2.5 sacks, 1 fumble recovery
Projected 2019 Role: Starting defensive tackle
2019 Outlook: Corey Peters has been a rock in in the middle of the defensive line for the past three seasons, doing the dirty work in the trenches and playing a ton of snaps (65%). He doesn’t get much recognition (like Lee), but he was one of the few Cardinals defenders to consistently play well during last season’s 3-13 disaster. He’s also incredibly durable, having played 15 or more games in 6 of 8 seasons (and playing 10 and 12 games in the other two seasons). He’ll move back to 3-4 nose tackle in 2019, anchoring what should be a stout defensive line with Rodney Gunter and newcomer Darius Philon alongside him.
#8: QB Kyler Murray
2018 Stats: N/A (rookie)
Projected 2019 Role: Starting quarterback
2019 Outlook: That’s right—the #1 overall pick just sneaks into the top 10. That’s more a reflection of the overall state of the roster than anything else, but Murray’s talent and potential can’t be denied. Unlike last year’s 1st-round QB, Murray is being handed the reins to the offense right away—and the buzz, already getting louder every day—is sure to be deafening by the time Week 1 comes around. Can he live up to the hype—and this lofty ranking? A lot of national gurus and fantasy prognosticators seem to think so… even if there is still more than a smidge of doubt amongst Cardinals fans. This ranking—between a stalwart if not dominant DT and an upper-tier safety—seems about right on this roster.
#7: S D.J. Swearinger, Sr. (W)
2018 Stats: 15 games, 15 starts, 53 tackles, 4 interceptions, 1 sack, 3 forced fumbles, 1 fumble recovery (with Washington)
Projected 2019 Role: Starting safety
2019 Outlook: In a move that didn’t get a lot of attention, the Cardinals claimed Swearinger off waivers prior to Week 17 of last season. He left Washington rather acrimoniously, but he’s a talented player that the Cardinals are happy to welcome back to the desert for a second stint. He’s quietly become one of the better safeties in the league, hitting hard and rarely being caught out of position. He’ll step into the void left by the departed Antoine Bethea and Tre Boston as a starting safety alongside Budda Baker. He’s a darkhorse bet to lead the team in tackles and should make a few big plays (14 interceptions and 9 forced fumbles in his career). This under-the-radar acquisition should pay big dividends in 2019.
#6: ILB Jordan Hicks (FA)
2018 Stats: 12 games, 12 starts, 91 tackles, 3 sacks, 1 fumble recovery (with Philadelphia)
Projected 2019 Role: Starting inside linebacker
2019 Outlook: Hicks is another newcomer who should instantly impact the defense. Linebacker was a weak point for the Redbirds defense last season, with journeyman Josh Bynes and Gerald Hodges largely manning the middle for Al Holcomb’s much-maligned 4-2-5 defense. Although Bynes played well enough when healthy, Hicks is a clear upgrade and a true every-down, sideline-to-sideline ILB in the Karlos Dansby/Daryl Washington mold. Durability is a big question mark (he’s played in only 43 of a possible 64 games in his 4-year career), but talent is not—he was a top-10 LB per PFF last season. When he’s in the lineup, he’ll fill the stat sheet and disrupt the opposing offense.
#5: S Budda Baker
2018 Stats: 14 games, 13 starts, 102 tackles, 2 sacks, 1 forced fumble, 1 fumble recovery, 1 TD
Projected 2019 Role: Starting safety
2019 Outlook: With Peters, Hicks, Swearinger, and Baker all landing in the top 10, the Redbirds defense should be quite strong up the middle in 2019. And if Hicks or Swearinger doesn’t lead the team in tackles, it’ll be Baker, who was second with 102 last season. He’s an exciting young talent who seems like he still has potential to improve. One way to do so in 2019 would be to make more big plays—although he did score a TD on a fumble recovery last season, he has yet to intercept a pass in his career. Perhaps playing less slot corner this season will allow him to play centerfield a bit and pick off a few passes. If he can do that, perhaps he can add a second Pro Bowl appearance to his resume—this time as a defender.
#4: RB David Johnson
2018 Stats: 16 games, 16 starts, 258 rushes, 940 yards, 50 receptions, 446 yards, 10 TDs
Projected 2019 Role: Starting running back
2019 Outlook: This placement for DJ is based more on his 2016 season and the potential of another one like it in 2019 than anything he did in between. His 2017 season was a lost one due to a fractured wrist, and although he put up decent numbers last season, it was rather forgettable due to myriad issues with his OC, QB, and O-line. It’s hard to say whether he’s the same back that led the league in scrimmage yards in 2016—he certainly seems to think he is—but the potential for a monster season in this offense can’t be ignored. To get there, he’ll need to be more efficient both running (he hasn’t averaged over 4.2 YPC since his rookie season) and receiving (8.9 YPC last season; 11.0+ the previous three). Kyler Murray’s rushing ability should theoretically open up running lanes for DJ, but is the O-line good enough? And will he get as many targets with a vastly improved WR room?
#3: CB Patrick Peterson
2018 Stats: 16 games, 16 starts, 54 tackles, 2 interceptions, 1 sack, 1 fumble recovery
Projected 2019 Role: Starting cornerback (for 10 games)
2019 Outlook: Patrick Peterson is the no-doubt best player on this roster—he’s made the Pro Bowl every year of his career, and he’s a Hall of Famer in his prime. Unfortunately, we only get him for 62.5% of the season, as he’ll miss the first six games due to a PED-related suspension. That causes him to drop down to 3rd place on this list. Although the passing offenses we’ll face during those six weeks aren’t the most imposing, I think our CB corps (Alford, Brock, and Murphy) is going to struggle badly in those games, which will both highlight Pat Pete’s value and reinforce the gravity of his mistake. But when he returns, this defense has the potential to be the best we’ve had here in the desert since the NFC Championship Game run after the 2015 season—but we can’t get there without #21.
#2: WR Larry Fitzgerald
2018 Stats: 16 games, 16 starts, 69 receptions, 734 yards, 6 TDs, 1 TD pass
Projected 2019 Role: Starting wide receiver
2019 Outlook: The Legend had a big down year in 2018, through no fault of his own. That might have caused a lesser player to tumble down a rankings list like this. But compare Fitz’s 2014 season (63/784/2 TDs when Carson Palmer was injured most of the year) to his 2018 season (69/734/6 TDs with Bradford/Rosen). Then remember that he roared back with a 109/1,215/9 TD season in 2015 with a healthy Palmer. Sure, he’ll be 36 years old by the time the 2019 season starts, but would it surprise anyone if he erupted for a 100/1,100/8 TD season in the Murray/Kingsbury offense? Fitz came back for a reason, and it wasn’t to put up mediocre numbers before riding off into the sunset. He wants the ball and he wants to win. I’m not putting anything past him this season, even with several youngsters nipping at his heels.
#1: OLB Chandler Jones
2018 Stats: 16 games, 16 starts, 13 sacks, 3 forced fumbles, 1 fumble recovery
Projected 2019 Role: Starting outside linebacker
2019 Outlook: As the only Pro Bowler in his prime not suspended to start the season, Chandler Jones takes the #1 spot almost by default. That’s not to say he doesn’t deserve it though. In just three seasons in the desert, Jones is already in the top 10 on the Cardinals franchise all-time sack list. And if he produces in the 3-4 like he did in 2017 when he led the league with 17 sacks, he could pass Calais Campbell for #2 on that list by the end of the season. With a productive pass rushing mate in Terrell Suggs and stronger overall front seven, he just might get there. Add in his usual playmaking ability (19 career forced fumbles) and the likelihood of a multi-game improvement in the Cardinals record and Jones seems like a good bet for a third career Pro Bowl berth. So far, Jones is playing exactly like what his massive paycheck says he is—one of the best pass rushers in the NFL.
This concludes the Redbirds 50. We’ve gone from Brewer to Jones, long snapper to premiere pass rusher, and everything in between— special teamers and starters, rookies and journeymen.
One thing that’s interesting to note: of this top 50, an even 25—exactly half—were not on the roster last season. That’s probably not so unusual after a 3-13 season, but at least GM Steve Keim has been more proactive than usual this offseason. Whether or not that translates to more wins remains to be seen, however—but at the very least this team will be more exciting as Cardinals fans get to know all these new faces/names.
All right, Birdgang, you have one last chance to quibble with the rankings in the comments. Is Kyler ranked too high? Where would you have ranked Peterson? Any guesses as to who could leap into the top 10 next season? Let us know!