Today I would like to make the case for the Cardinals to re-sign WR Pharoh Cooper and LB Joe Walker.
Special Team Assets:
For one, Cooper and Walker are two of the Cardinals best STs players. Walker had the 4th best STs grade on the team in 2019 at 70.4. He recorded 5 tackles and 1 assist and was consistently bolting downfield in a hurry to make plays on the ball.
Cooper graded out as one of the best punt returners in the NFL in 2019 at 75.3—-and if you didn't know this already—-he was a 1st team All Pro and NFC Pro Bowl punt returner with the Rams in 2017.
Flying With the Coop:
After a strong pre-season, Cooper was cut, due to the Cardinals’ young depth at the WR position. He was claimed by the Bengals and a couple of weeks after the Bengals cut him (Week 3) the Cardinals re-signed him—-and from the moment he returned, he was a man on a mission.
While Cooper isn’t a burner (4.61 speed at his pro day), he has the short area ability to get out of the blocks with a burst. He’s not easy to press because he’s tough and physical, particularly in the slot where his ability to chuck the press and gain a quick step or two in separation allows him to make good, clean, clutch catches, like the one he made on 4th and short in the win versus the Seahawks where he found a crease up the seam and then had to twist his body around to catch the ball squarely in the triangle of his hands.
Pharoh Cooper has good, strong hands.
While his numbers on the season in 13 games weren’t eye popping (25/243/9/7/1), several of his catches extended drives—-and as the Cardinals became more committed in the running game, Cooper became quite an asset as a blocker—-his 89.0 run blocking grade was tops on the team.
Down the stretch, Cooper had arguably his three best games, earning grades of 69.7 (CLE), 77.6 (SEA) and 68.7 (LAR). In the win versus the Seahawks he recorded an astounding 93.8 run blocking grade—-again, highest on the team.
Cooper’s lone receiving TD came in the Cardinals’ near upset of the 49ers in Palo Alto on a hitch pass that he caught, pivoted off his plant foot, followed his blocks and hammered his way into the end zone.
As the season progressed Cooper appeared to gain Kyler Murray’s and the coaches’ confidence by virtue of his toughness, trustworthy hands and run blocking tenacity.
I tweeted Bob McManaman of the Arizona Republic whether he thinks the Cardinals will re-sign Pharoh Cooper and he tweeted back:
Cooper came through with some clutch catches and a couple good punt returns. Coaches seemed to like him. What do you think, B-Mac? The Cards re-sign him? Or no?
I think they’ll bring him back - for now.
What I inferred from B-Mac’s response is that it would likely be a one year deal.
My guess is that the deal would be in the range of $1.6M + performance incentives that could push the deal over $2M.
The Case for Joe Walker:
As for Joe Walker, back in the pre-season I predicted that at some point Joe Walker might see some time this year in the defense, because of his ties to his old LB coach in Philly, Bill Davis.
When the Cardinals started Walker late in the season, he gave the defense a boost.
While Walker’s final PFF grade was a below average 45.7 because of earlier struggles, there were some encouraging signs from Walker once he got his chance to play more regularly.
What stood out were Walker’s two games versus the 49ers:
@ ARI vs. SF: overall grade—-72.1 (84.0 run defense, 65.9 pass coverage)
@ SF vs. ARI: overall grade: 71.3 (70.6 run defense, 66.2 pass coverage).
To have two good games like that versus the 49ers vaunted running game is noteworthy.
As a run defender, Walker made instinctive breaks on the ball and flashed his 4.56 speed. In pass defense, he struggled a little early on, got the bogus PI call in the Bucs game where he was stride for stride with the receiver and the receiver wrapped his arms around Walker and made the contact, but then he started to settle down and trust in his athleticism.
What Walker proved at the very least, is that he can be a respectable plug-in starter at WILB. The Cardinals also have an intriguing young WILB in Tanner Vallejo, who scored a stellar 94.1 grade in the Cardinals’ win over the Browns, before suffering a season-ending rib injury.
The Cardinals will be looking for an upgrade and full-time starter at WILB, but having good STs players like Walker and Vallejo, both of whom can be capable starters when and if needed, is good for the roster depth.
Getting back to Pharoh Cooper, he reveals what the “King Tut” play might look like for the Cardinals in this interview with Lias Matthews (Hint: Cooper was a high school Q.B. who led his team, Havelock H.S. (NC) to a state championship). What’s also interesting about this interview are Cooper’s remarks about playing for Sean McVay and Kliff Kingsbury.
Cooper and Walker: athletic, disciplined and trustworthy role players. Two to hold on to, in my opinion.