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Redbirds 50: Ranking the top 50 Cardinals players – #11-20

Just one more batch of players before we get to the top 10. Here’s the penultimate installment of the Redbirds 50.

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NFL: Arizona Cardinals at Kansas City Chiefs
WR Christian Kirk had a strong rookie season here in the desert. How high does he rank on the Redbirds 50?
Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

On Monday, we counted down the #21-30 players on the Cardinals roster, a mix of low-end starters and high-upside backups. Today in the Redbirds 50, we delve deeper into the starting lineup in this final grouping before the top 10. We’ll start with a few high-ranking rookies who could be ranked even higher next year.

#20: DE Zach Allen

2018 Stats: N/A (rookie)

Projected 2019 Role: Rotational defensive lineman

2019 Outlook: Other than #1 overall pick Kyler Murray, 3rd-round pick Allen has probably received the most glowing praise over the offseason. A lot of it is typical coachspeak aphorisms—“high motor,” “plays with energy,” “effort player”—but he has the scouting reports and college production to back it up. Given the team’s lack of depth on the defensive line, Allen is in line for a ton of playing time right away behind starters Rodney Gunter and Darius Philon (both of whom played less than 60% of defensive snaps last season). And with Gunter on a 1‑year deal, Allen will likely slide into his starting role in 2020. Or can he usurp Gunter’s starting spot sooner than that?

#19: CB Byron Murphy

2018 Stats: N/A (rookie)

Projected 2019 Role: Starting slot cornerback

2019 Outlook: Like Allen, Murphy will see the field a ton as a rookie. He very well might have won the slot CB gig even before Patrick Peterson’s suspension, but now he’ll likely man the slot in Week 1 almost by default. So the reported #5 overall player on the Cardinals’ draft board had better be ready to handle NFL slot receivers. Fortunately, there aren’t too many dangerous slot weapons on the docket for the six weeks Peterson is suspended—Danny Amendola (Detroit), Willie Snead IV (Baltimore), Curtis Samuel (Carolina), David Moore (Seattle), Tyler Boyd (Cincinnati), and Mohamed Sanu (Atlanta). Boyd is the best of the bunch, but Murphy should be able to hold his own against this group—and likely for the rest of the season as well.

#18: WR Andy Isabella

2018 Stats: N/A (rookie)

Projected 2019 Role: Starting slot wide receiver

2019 Outlook: Isabella, the player taken with the draft pick we received from the Dolphins in the Josh Rosen trade, will be Murphy’s offensive counterpart as the slot receiver. He’s undersized even for a slot guy (5’9”, 188 lbs), but he has video game speed and agility, so watch out if he develops timing with Murray in the preseason. He’ll likely struggle at times against the size of NFL corners, but he’ll be a livewire with the ball in his hands and should make his share of big plays. He also has the speed to play on the outside (4.31 40 time), so Kingsbury can maneuver him all over the formation to create mismatches either for him or another WR. Redbirds fans will quickly forget about Rosen when watching this speedster from UMASS play.

#17: CB Robert Alford

2018 Stats: 15 games, 15 starts, 50 tackles, 11 passes defended (with Atlanta)

Projected 2019 Role: Starting cornerback

2019 Outlook: I wasn’t the biggest fan of the Alford signing—why were we in such a hurry to sign a 30-year-old CB coming off an ineffective season?—but he’s a longtime starter (76 career starts) who has graded well by advanced metrics in the past even if he hasn’t put up elite numbers. And there are rumblings that last year’s ineffectiveness was due to an ankle injury he suffered halfway through the season. I remain skeptical that he’ll play up to the $22.5M contract we signed him to, but he’s going to be our CB1 for the first six weeks and he’s had long stretches of above-average play in the past. Here’s hoping he can reach that level again here in the desert.

#16: DE Rodney Gunter

2018 Stats: 16 games, 10 starts, 44 tackles, 4.5 sacks, 2 forced fumbles

Projected 2019 Role: Starting defensive end

2019 Outlook: Gunter has played a lot of roles along the defensive line in his four-year Cardinals career—tackle and end, starting and backup, 3-4 and 4-3. He’s back again this year—after briefly testing the free agent waters—and he’ll start opposite newcomer Darius Philon as one of the starting 3-4 DEs. After a relatively anonymous start to his career, Gunter set career highs across the board last season, and he’ll look to equal or best those marks on a 1-year contract to try to snag the long-term deal that eluded him in the offseason. A motivated Gunter should help form a strong DE rotation that will hopefully lead to an improved team run defense in 2019.

#15: RT Marcus Gilbert

2018 Stats: 5 games, 5 starts (with Pittsburgh)

Projected 2019 Role: Starting right tackle

2019 Outlook: Our new starting right tackle is probably a better football player than the guy across from him—and directly ahead of him on this list—but Gilbert is six years older and has a correspondingly longer injury history than D.J. Humphries, so Hump gets the slight nod here. But Gilbert has been an above-average RT when healthy and has a reputation as a dependable pass blocker, so he can easily validate this ranking just by staying on the field even with a slight decrease in performance. That’s no sure thing obviously, but the potential to solve one tackle spot is huge. For 2019 at least, as his deal expires after the season.

#14: LT D.J. Humphries

2018 Stats: 9 games, 9 starts

Projected 2019 Role: Starting left tackle

2019 Outlook: In four seasons with the Cardinals, Humphries has ridden the pine for a season, started 13 games between both tackle spots, started 5 games at left tackle, and started 9 games at left tackle. That’s 27 out of a possible 64 games started, with the past two seasons ending with him on IR, which is… not great. So what is he doing ranked at #14 on this list? A lot of that has to do with the overall state of the roster—the #20-16 players before our injury-prone starting tackles are three Day 2 rookies, a journeyman CB, and a serviceable D-lineman. More importantly, Humphries plays a premium position—left tackle. And when Humphries has played, he’s been a perfectly adequate LT. That has value. If he can provide that value for 10 or 12 or 15 games this season, he’ll have earned this ranking.

#13: DE Darius Philon

2018 Stats: 16 games, 13 starts, 33 tackles, 4 sacks, 1 forced fumble (with Los Angeles)

Projected 2019 Role: Starting defensive end

2019 Outlook: No offense to Mr. Philon, but he is a deeply unsexy player. He’s a former 6th round pick who didn’t regularly start until last season (his fourth) and plays the unglamorous position of 3-4 DE. He’s had 4+ sacks each of the past two seasons, sure, but his job has mostly been—and will continue to be—occupying blockers so the linebackers can make plays. But Philon does that job quite well and is still just 25, so he may not have reached his ceiling yet. If that’s the case, this unsexy signing might turn out to be one of Steve Keim’s best. Might we have the new Darnell Dockett on our hands?

#12: OLB Terrell Suggs

2018 Stats: 16 games, 16 starts, 34 tackles, 7 sacks, 1 forced fumble, 1 fumble recovery, 1 TD (with Baltimore)

Projected 2019 Role: Starting OLB

2019 Outlook: At 36 years old, Suggs is obviously not an every-down player anymore, but it’s worth pointing out that he did play a healthy 72% of the defensive snaps for the Ravens last season. And he rated pretty well by advanced metrics, too. Even if that snap count percentage drops down to the 50%-60% range with the Cardinals in 2019, he should still be plenty effective—and perhaps even more so with more rest. Opposing tackles will have their hands full on 3rd down with both Suggs and Chandler Jones rushing off the edge. And not only will T‑Sizzle contribute on the field, but he’ll bring unassailable locker room credentials as well (Super Bowl ring, DPOY, etc.). I’ve seen a lot of “too little, too late” reactions from Cardinals fans about the Suggs signing, but I think Suggs will do what he’s always done: prove the doubters wrong.

#11: WR Christian Kirk

2018 Stats: 12 games, 7 starts, 43 receptions, 590 yards, 3 TDs

Projected 2019 Role: Starting wide receiver

2019 Outlook: Kirk might’ve finished even higher on this list if he had been able to finish out his rookie season. The surface stats above might not blow you away, but those are practically Jerry Rice numbers in the context of the 2018 Arizona Cardinals offense. Okay, not really, but at times it looked like Kirk was playing on another level than the rest of the offense last season. There was just an electricity about him that made it all the more frustrating when the rest of the offense around him was so low voltage. That almost certainly won’t be the case this season. If anything, Kirk will have to worry about the new receivers on the block trying to steal his thunder. I don’t think they’ll be able to. Is a 1,000-yard season perhaps in the making? If so, he’ll easily crack the top 10—if not the top 5—next year.

Final Thoughts

With these 10 players out of the way, that leaves only the top 10 in the Redbirds 50. You know who they are by now by process of elimination. Any predictions on the final order? Give us yours in the comments. If you can guess my order, you’ll win… well, you won’t win anything, but I’ll give you a shoutout in the final write-up. Sound like a deal? So, let’s see those lists!