Another week, another batch of 10 players on this year’s Redbirds 50. Once we get through this week’s group—mostly defensive starters, including a trio of new acquisitions—we’ll be ready for the top 10. Let’s start the #11-20 group with a couple new additions who put up good surface stats last season but don’t rate as well by advanced metrics.
#20: ILB De’Vondre Campbell (Last year: N/A)
2019 Stats: 16 games (15 starts), 129 tackles, 2 sacks, 2 INTs, 1 FR (with Atlanta)
Projected 2020 Role: Starting ILB
2020 Outlook: Campbell is a really tough player to rank. His surface stats above look good, but under the hood, he had a very underwhelming 50.1 PFF grade last year (and another grade in the 50s in 2018) for a below-average Falcons defense. Did the Cardinals get a good stats/bad team guy, or did Campbell just need a change of scenery? We should get our answer this season—although he might not help us much beyond this season, as he signed what amounts to a 1-year deal. Either way, Campbell is still young (just 26) and talented—you can’t put up numbers like that by accident. Walter recently outlined some reasons for optimism, and no matter what he’ll be an upgrade over Haason Reddick.
#19: DE Jordan Phillips (Last year: N/A)
2019 Stats: 16 games (9 starts), 31 tackles, 9.5 sacks, 1 FF (with Buffalo)
Projected 2020 Role: Starting DE
2020 Outlook: This ranking could look either way too low or way too high next year. If Phillips can repeat his 2019 breakout and become a double-digit sack guy, he’ll be a top-10 player next year. But if he reverts to his previous production—his previous career high was 2 sacks and he’s not even 2 years removed from being waived by the Dolphins in the middle of the season—he’ll be languishing in the late-30s at best. As things stand now, the former 2nd-round pick showed enough promise last year to warrant a top-20 spot, but chances are good that last season was an outlier. But if he can help improve the run defense and add 5-6 sacks, Phillips can hold onto this ranking. I think most people would be fine with that outcome.
#18: CB Byron Murphy (Last year: #19)
2019 Stats: 16 games (16 starts), 78 tackles, 1 INT, 10 passes defended
Projected 2020 Role: Slot CB
2020 Outlook: Murphy, pressed into duty as a starting outside corner last season after the Patrick Peterson suspension and Robert Alford injury, didn’t exactly impress as a rookie (48.8 PFF grade). But he played almost every snap on defense, which bodes well for his development, and he should be able to play more in the slot in 2020—the team’s original plan for him—with both Peterson and Alford back in the lineup. Cornerback is as tough a position as any for a rookie in the NFL, and Murphy still has a bright future. Let’s hope he’s challenging for a top-10 spot next year.
#17: S Jalen Thompson (Last year: N/A)
2019 Stats: 15 games (9 starts), 57 tackles, 1 INT, 1 FR, 3 passes defended
Projected 2020 Role: Starting S
2020 Outlook: Unlike Murphy, Thompson actually did impress somewhat as a rookie (64.4 PFF grade), showing range and playmaking ability in the defensive backfield. He’ll be part of one of the NFL’s best young safety groups in the league with Budda Baker, the other Thompson (Deionte), and #8 overall pick Isaiah Simmons. The only potential complication to Jalen’s second season is playing time. How many snaps will Simmons play at safety? Regardless, given how often defenses play sub packages to counter all the 3+ WR sets offenses are running these days, there should still be plenty of snaps for last season’s best defensive rookie.
#16: P Andy Lee (Last year: #10)
2019 Stats: 15 games, 61 punts, 47.8 average, 21 inside the 20
Projected 2020 Role: Punter
2020 Outlook: Although the stalwart Lee wasn’t quite up to the Pro Bowl–caliber level he was at in 2018 (he really might have been the team MVP) and he was bit by the injury bug last year, he was still a very good punter. (Even if he was let down a bit by his coverage unit.) He’ll be just 38 when the season starts—practically still a young buck for a punter—but he is a free agent after the season. Backup Ryan Winslow has showed a lively leg in limited appearances, so it’s worth pondering how much longer Lee will be in a Cardinals uniform.
#15: OG J.R. Sweezy (Last year: #27)
2019 Stats: 16 games (16 starts)
Projected 2020 Role: Starting RG
2020 Outlook: Sweezy has never and will never be an elite offensive lineman, but last year he gave us 16 games of solid guard play, contributing to a better-than-expected rushing attack and holding up well enough in pass protection. That’s more than enough to earn a top-20 ranking. Although he’s nearing the downslope of his career at 31 years old, there’s no reason he shouldn’t be able to repeat the same performance in 2020. That said, like Lee, his contract is up after the season, so there’s a chance he won’t be on next year’s edition of the Redbirds 50—although our guard depth is very limited. Sweezy’s contract status will be a minor storyline worth monitoring this season.
#14: OLB Devon Kennard (Last year: N/A)
2019 Stats: 16 games (15 starts), 58 tackles, 7 sacks, 1 FF, 2 FR, 1 TD (with Detroit)
Projected 2020 Role: Starting OLB
2020 Outlook: Fellow linebacker addition Campbell seems to have gotten the, ahem, lion’s share of press so far, but hometown hero Kennard is probably the better player. He has racked up 7 sacks in each of the last two seasons, and had a very strong 69.1 PFF grade in 2019. He figures to slide neatly into the defense opposite Chandler Jones as a 3-4 OLB, where he’ll have fewer coverage fewer coverage responsibilities than he had as a 4-3 OLB in Detroit. He’ll give the pass rush a much-needed boost and should be a solid contributor on what looks to be an improved unit.
#13: WR Christian Kirk (Last year: #11)
2019 Stats: 13 games (13 starts), 68 receptions for 709 yards, 3 TDs
Projected 2020 Role: Starting WR
2020 Outlook: Kirk’s value took a bit of a hit with the DeAndre Hopkins trade—he’s probably the team’s WR3 now—but I think his football situation actually improved. He won’t see as tough of coverage with opposing defenses now having to tilt their coverage toward Hopkins, and he won’t be under as much pressure to produce. If he can stay healthy (he has yet to play a full 16-game season in his short career) and take advantage of the favorable ecosystem he’ll be in, Kirk is lined up to have a career year. But that bar is frustratingly low—last year’s uninspiring numbers were all career highs. If Kirk can’t significantly improve on those numbers in 2020, he might drop out of the top 20 overall. But if he does what he all hope he can do—become a 1,000-yard WR—he could crack the top 10.
#12: DT Corey Peters (Last year: #9)
2019 Stats: 16 games (16 starts), 38 tackles, 2.5 sacks
Projected 2020 Role: Starting RT
2020 Outlook: It’s hard to gauge Corey Peters’s 2019 season. He played all 16 games, but our run defense was atrocious. While Peters probably deserves at least a little blame, it’s probably more accurate to lay the blame at the feet of Vance Joseph and the injuries and inconsistency that plagued much of the rest of the front seven around him. Consider, for example, that five other players started on the defensive line next to him last year. The defensive line has been retooled, but Peters is still the centerpiece of the run defense, even at 32. He’s been about as steady as the come in Cardinals uniform—although the 2020 season might be his last in the desert, as his contract is up after this year, like several other players on this list.
#11: OG Justin Pugh (Last year: #22)
2019 Stats: 16 games (16 starts)
Projected 2020 Role: Starting LG
2020 Outlook: Pugh really showed his value for the Cardinals last season. Not only did he give us above-average guard play (66.8 PFF grade), but he also filled in for two games at RT when Justin Murray missed some time in the middle of the season. He also showed great leadership, becoming one of the more vocal Cardinals players in the locker room and with the press. With 3 years left on his deal and at only 30 when the season starts, Pugh should be a mainstay on the O-line for the near future—just as long as he can put his injury issues behind him.
With that, we’ve made it to the top 10 of this year’s Redbirds 50! That means that, yes, for the second season in a row, our first round pick cracks the top 10. Where will he slot? How about Kyler? Nuk Hopkins? Give us your best guesses in the comments!