When I hear some Cardinals’ fans lament the lack of talent on the Cardinals’ current roster, it sticks in my craw.
The Cardinals do not have a talent problem.
The Cardinals—until this year—-have had a talent development problem.
On offense—-all of the following players, if they play to their full potential and physical abilities, are capable of earning 2019 Pro Bowl invitations:
RB David Johnson, WR Larry Fitzgerald, WR Christian Kirk, TE Charles Clay, T D.J. Humphries, G Justin Pugh, G J.R. Sweezy, T Marcus Gilbert
DT Corey Peters, DE Chandler Jones, DE Terrell Suggs, MILB Jordan Hicks, WILB Haason Reddick, CB Patrick Peterson* (ineligible due to 6 game suspension), CB Robert Alford* (on IR), S D.J. Swearinger, S Budda Baker
On special teams:
P Andy Lee, ST Zeke Turner, ST Dennis Gardeck, PR Pharoh Cooper
For the Cardinals, talent is not the issue—-
The issue is getting the culture right in order to maximize and develop the talent, especially in light of the Cardinals now having their 3rd head coach and coaching staff in 3 years.
Anytime a team has this much turnover on the coaching staffs—-it affects the personnel in a myriad of ways—-not just in learning new systems and philosophies, but especially in trying to endear themselves to a new set of coaches who did not originally draft or sign them.
We have already seen the Cardinals 2016 Draft class virtually disappear. This is how Jess Root (then at ROTB) described the class:
Round 1, 29th overall: DT Robert Nkemdiche, Ole Miss
He was considered a top five talent in the draft. He is potentially a star. He had an off-the-field incident and his tape runs hot and cold. Should be an impact player this season and at least be part of the defensive line rotation.
Round 3, 92nd overall: CB Brandon Williams, Texas A&M
He is long and fast. He is raw, having played only one season at cornerback. He was a team captain on defense in that one season. Bruce Arians calls him one of the best special teams players in the country. He probably is a year from competing for playing time in the defensive rotation, but should be a special teams contributor immediately.
Round 4, 128th overall: C Evan Boehm, Missouri
Four year starter, team captain and never missed a game. Will compete for the starting center job.
Round 5, 167th overall: S Marqui Christian, Midwestern State
The first small school selection for the Cardinals. Big hitter and versatile. Has speed. Stood out at NFLPA game. Adrian Wilson’s “jaw dropped” watching him. Another guy who should be a special teamer in 2016.
Round 5, 170th overall: G Cole Toner, Harvard
He is very versatile. He can play right tackle, guard, maybe left tackle and can play center “in a pinch.” Stood out to team during the week of the Senior Bowl.
Round 6, 205th overall: CB Harlan Miller, SE Louisiana
Another small schooler. Stood out at the Senior Bowl, earning defensive player of the week. Returned punts and played all special teams units except kickoff return at some point in college. Another player expected to be a special teams contributor.
- Note—-none of what Jess Root described about the draft picks was wrong at the time.
However, by now, Cardinals’ fans know all too painfully what transpired:
Nkemdiche, from the get-go, was not a hit with BA and his staff. Was oft-injured, slow to develop and at last, poorly motivated. Was deemed by BA as “immature” and misunderstanding “of what to means to be a pro.”
Williams was drafted because of his physical talents, but he was thrown into the fire way too early, was poorly developed and flamed out.
Boehm was oddly never given a legitimate opportunity to play his natural position of center, was inserted at guard by Harold Goodwin and then yanked quickly, was then unceremoniously waived by the Wilks staff and, because on an injury to Ryan Kelly wound up as the starting center for the Colts during their AFC South Championship and playoff run. Go freaking figure.
Christian—-who was Adrian Wilson’s pet pick—-was inexcusably waived his rookie season in order to keep 2 punters on the roster, was claimed by the Rams and has made the Rams roster the past three years as a backup safety and STs contributor.
Toner was tried as a swing tackle and guard—-was moved around a lot—-and was waived in his 2nd year from a team that badly needed OL reinforcements.
Miller was switched from CB to FS and had a nice interception in his first game, but inevitably played too deep in order to try to compensate for his lack of speed and inexperience at safety. He was also waived in year 2.
Sure—some of the blame belongs on the players—-but hey when whole draft classes flame out quickly—-it speaks more to the coaches’ culpability than the players’,
During this year’s training camp, no group has had it tougher than the Cardinals 2017 Draft class—-for they are furiously trying to adjust to their third new coaching staff in three years.
Here is what CBS Sports’ Rob Rang had to say about the Cardinals’ 2017 Draft:
Rob Rang, CBSSports.com
Draft Grade: B+
“With longtime defensive standout Calais Campbell heading to Jacksonville on a massive deal, general manager Steve Keim needed a difference-maker in the 2017 draft. Instead he found two, nabbing one of the more dynamic front-seven defenders in Temple’s Haason Reddick and arguably the most versatile defensive back in the draft in Washington’s Budda Baker a round later.
The Cardinals have shown a willingness to gamble on small-school prospects since Keim took over, and they made Grambling State standout Chad Williams (another Senior Bowl star) the first non-combine invitee selected in the 2017 draft, making him the 98th overall pick. Athletic and highly competitive, he could be the complement and eventual replacement to Larry Fitzgerald the club had hoped former first-round pick Michael Floyd would become. Though they will be overshadowed by their flashier classmates, the Cardinals also solidified their offensive line with battle-tested veterans Dorian Johnson and Will Holden.”
Reddick excelled on the edge at Temple and his Combine numbers were akin to Von Miller’s. From day one, BA and James Bettcher played Reddick at WILB, a position brand new to him and understandably Reddick was overwhelmed. Steve Wilks stuck with Reddick as an interior linebacker, thus Reddick now has two years of experience heading into his 3rd. I still believe Reddick is best suited to play the on the edge, but he is a gifted athlete who could find his niche as a blitzing 34WILB.
Baker made the Pro Bowl as a rookie for his outstanding play on STs. Just as was the case with Patrick Peterson, Baker’s role on STs in his 2nd year was diminished. Baker is a versatile defender in the Tyrann Mathieu mode (sans the good hands) who is disruptive near the box on fast, well-timed blitzes and on scrappy man-to-man and zone coverages. However, after what was a sub par injury-plagued sophomore season for Baker, Vance Joseph has decided to start Baker at FS. Baker says that’s where he belongs, but the tape and measurables suggest otherwise. Like Mathieu, Baker struggles in deep space and he lacks the range and size to be a steady “over the top” centerfielder. Strangely, the Cardinals have a seasoned and highly intimidating FS in D.J. Swearinger, but Joseph has moved him to SS.
To properly develop talent, as Cardinals’ fans have seen over and over, the coaches have to put the players in their most natural positions. So often, the Cardinals’ young players, because of position switches, are overwhelmed the point of losing valuable confidence.
Chad Williams was highly thought of after his strong showing at the Senior Bowl—-Rang even thought that Williams could be an eventual replacement for Fitz at Fitz’s WR position—-which seems laughable now—-but again here was young draftee who was criticized so heavily by BA and his staff that at best, BA said, “Williams might be able to contribute by Thanksgiving.”
How one transitions emotionally into the NFL is often critical to the player’s development and confidence level.
Dorian Johnson, an All-American guard at Pittsburgh, drew immediate disdain from the coaches to the point where he was relegated permanently to the second practice field and a spot on the 3rd team OL. He was cut as a 4th round rookie.
Will Holden, because of OL injuries started 5 games as a rookie, but the coaches were convinced he wasn’t cut out to be an NFL tackle and had a better chance to be a backup guard. He was waived by Wilks and his staff—-only to be re-acquired late in the season—-and he wound up playing in 4 games and starting 2. The new staff came in and cut him before training camp.
Both Dorian Johnson and Will Holden were seasoned college players who graded well in two of the top major conferences, the ACC and the SEC. The fact that Cardinals so quickly quit on both of them (in addition to quitting so quickly on Beohm and Toner) does not speak well of their ability to develop young talent.
All of the past explained and accounted for, the Cardinals with Kliff Kingsbury and his staff appear to be doing what the previous two staff were unable to—-they are investing great time and effort into developing the young talent. The fact that Kingsbury and his staff asked the rookies to stay an extra two weeks following the team’s mandatory mini-camp is a testament to the team’s new focus and full-fledged commitment to player development.
With regard to the Cardinals’ 2018 Draft class—-some key contributors remain:
In essence the Cardinals acquired two good, young playmakers in their Josh Rosen trade: WR Andy Isabella and SS/slot CB Jalen Thompson.
Christian Kirk is now in a system that is designed to get him the ball in space where he can be a RAC phenom.
Mason Cole remains a viable option as the starting center, but is also making progress in his development as a guard.
Chase Edmonds, because of his pass catching ability out of the backfield and his prowess in pass protection is a valuable RB2.
Korey Cunningham has struggled thus far as the 2nd team RT, but his best play last year came at LT, the position he played in college (giving up 0 sacks as a senior) and from an athletic standpoint, he seems like a good fit in the K-Raid.
Plus, the coaches are getting good progress from a few of last year’s UCFAs such as LBs Dennis Gardeck and Zeke Turner, WR Trent Sherfield, CB Deatrich Nichols and S Jonathan Owens
As of this moment, it looks like every one of the cardinals’ 11 2019 Draft picks have a very good chance to make the 53 man roster:
QB Kyler Murray—-dynamic new leader of an offense that he is tailor made to run..
CB Byron Murphy—-most talented young CB on the roster since Patrick Peterson.
WR Andy Isabella—-brings electric speed to an offense that thrives on it.
DE Zach Allen—-like Murphy, has a good chance to start as a rookie and has already enamored himself to the coaches.
WR Kareem Butler—-raw, but explosive talent whom the coaches have the luxury of being patient with.
FS Deionte Thompson—-a natural and instinctive FS who should be an asset as a Cover 2 FS in sub packages.
WR KeeSean Johnson—-has already emerged as WR3 thanks to precise route running and good hands.
G/C Lamont Gaillard—-has already been getting 1st team reps at G and C thanks to his combative demeanor and versatility.
T Joshua Miles—-has progressed so quickly that he was getting 1st team reps this week at LT.
DE Michael Dogbe—-showed positive flashes versus the Raiders and has a prime opportunity to make the defensive line rotation now that Nkemdiche and Philon are gone.
TE Caleb Wilson—-nice game ending TD catch versus Raiders from a player who is drawing praise from the coaches for his receiving skills.
NT Miles Brown—-good game versus Raiders as an inside plugger with good strength.
CB Nate Brooks—-holding his own on the second team defense.
S Tyler Sigler—-the coaches seem to love this kid who has a nose for the ball.
QB Drew Anderson—-intriguing young prospect due to arm strength and mobility.
RB Donte Strickland—-good fit in K-Raid due to all-purpose ability.
RB Wes Hills—-a true banger at RB whom the team currently lacks.
T William Sweet—-earned high PFF grade versus Raiders.
What the Cardinals need to do is hold on to as many of the young talents on the current roster and let the coaches continue to invest their time in developing them.
Talent, like a fine wine, becomes all the more savory when it is properly prepared and aged.