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Cardinals poised to improve defensively with a revamped front seven

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The Cardinals’ defensive front is bigger and faster than it was last season

NCAA Football: College Football Playoff Semifinal-Ohio State vs Clemson Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

The overall performance of the Arizona Cardinals defense in the 2019 season was disappointing.

They allowed an average of 27.6 points (28th), 281.9 passing yards (31st), and 120.1 rushing yards (24th), which all added up to them allowing the most yards in the NFL.

General Manager Steve Keim prioritized the defense in free agency and the draft to ensure the underwhelming performances of last season is a thing of the past.

In free agency, the Cardinals lost two starters in DT Rodney Gunter (Jaguars) and ILB Joe Walker (49ers). They also lost a couple depth players in DT Zach Kerr (Panthers) and OLB Cassius Marsh (Jaguars).

Keim replaced the departed players with a haul of significant upgrades:

FREE AGENCY

DT Jordan Phillips (6-6 341lbs) - Replaced Gunter

Phillips is coming off his best season statistically, setting a career-high in tackles (31) and sacks (9.5) with the Bills. The Cardinals defensive line had a combined seven sacks in 2019 and have not had a defensive lineman as big as him since Calais Campbell.

ILB De’Vondre Campbell (6-3 232lbs) - Replaced Walker

Campbell played well enough on a Falcons defense that struggled as a whole. He is also coming off a career year, setting a career-high in tackles (129), interceptions (2), and forced fumbles (3).

OLB Devon Kennard (6-3 256lbs) - Replaced Marsh

The Cardinals not only bring an Arizona native back to his home state, they also got a productive pass rusher that posted back-to-back seasons with seven sacks. He also has experience dropping into coverage, which is an added bonus. They have been in need of a pass rusher opposite Chandler Jones since the departure of Markus Golden last season.

DT Trevon Coley (6-1 310lbs) - Replaced Kerr

Coley was a two-year starter for the Browns in the 2017-18 seasons. Although his spot on the roster is not guaranteed, he brings significant NFL experience at only 25 years old. A quality depth player for cheap.

NFL DRAFT

LB Isaiah Simmons (6-4 238lbs)

The do-it-all defender was excellent in all categories, covering everyone, stopping the run, and rushing the passer. He has sideline-to-sideline speed, clocking a 4.39 40 at the NFL Combine. He has phenomenal versatility, with his ability to play any linebacker position, slot cornerback, and either safety positions.

NT Leki Fotu (6-5 330lbs)

One of the best run-stuffing defensive lineman in the draft ends up falling to the Cardinals in the fourth round. Keim compared him to Buccaneers’ NT Vita Vea and if Fotu can have that kind of impact, he will be talked about for a very long time. He will play a key part in the defensive line rotation.

DT Rashard Lawrence (6-2 308lbs)

Cardinals not only get a player with pass rush upside, they are also getting a former team captain from the National Champion LSU Tigers. He is a high-effort, high-motor player that could battle for a starting job this season.

LB Evan Weaver (6-2 237lbs)

Weaver led college football with 181 tackles in 2019. The tackling machine was a team captain at Cal and has that fiery mentality that will take him far in the NFL. The fact that the Cardinals were able to get him in the sixth round is still shocking to me.

Take all of these players and put them in a list along with Budda Baker, Jordan Hicks, Chandler Jones, Byron Murphy, Patrick Peterson and the other defensive talents on the roster.

The Cardinals defense is stacked with talent and depth. They are a little bit bigger and much more fast up front. Defensive coordinator Vance Joseph has a lot more talent to work with and there is no room for failure at this point.

There is plenty to look forward to in the upcoming 2020 NFL season.