There is no question that the Arizona Cardinals look much improved on paper with the additions they made this offseason, highlighted by the acquisition of wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins from the Houston Texans.
With the expected second-year jump from quarterback Kyler Murray to go along with Hopkins, the return of Kenyan Drake and Larry Fitzgerald, the Cardinals might just have the most dangerous offense in the NFL.
While the running backs and wide receivers are garnering all the attention, the tight end position has become an afterthought for this team.
Let’s be honest, the tight end position has been irrelevant in the passing game in the Cardinals offense for over a decade.
But now, there is a really good chance for this to change.
Dan Arnold, nicknamed “Big Dan”, was a late season addition for the Cardinals last December. He caught four of six targets for 76 yards and a touchdown in the regular season finale against the Los Angeles Rams.
Although it is a bit much to say Arnold will change the relevancy of the Cardinals tight end position based off of one game, just hear me out.
Take a look at the statistics of their top three tight ends in 2019:
- Maxx Williams (16 games): 15 receptions, 19 targets, 202 yards, 1 touchdown
- Charles Clay (15 games): 18 receptions, 24 targets, 237 yards, 1 touchdown
- Dan Arnold (3 games): 6 receptions, 10 targets, 102 yards, 2 touchdowns
No other tight end on their 2019 roster had more than three targets in a single game. Arnold’s three games worth of production with the Cardinals is pretty close to that of Williams and Clay over 15-16 games. Arnold’s 76 yards in week 17 was the second-most by a Cardinals tight end last season.
Maxx Williams (6-foot-4 252lbs) is primarily a blocking tight end that earned a two-year contract extension who received a 79.1 overall grade by Pro Football Focus. Charles Clay remains a free agent and is not expected to return.
The 25-year-old Arnold possesses good athleticism (4.63 40-yard dash, 39.5’’ vertical jump) for the position and instantly became a redzone favorite for Kyler Murray. He brings that athletic ability that the 26-year-old Williams just does not have.
Even with the addition of an All-Pro receiver and the return of 6-foot-4 Hakeem Butler from injury, Arnold should have much more production on the stat sheet this season and has already earned the trust from his quarterbacks and his coaches.
As Arnold became more comfortable with the Cardinals playbook, head coach Kliff Kingsbury got him more involved in the offense. He saw a significant increase in snaps in week 17 (30 snaps, 44 percent) than the previous two week combined (29 snaps). Although Clay was sidelined with an injury in the regular season finale that resulted in the increased snaps, Arnold made good use of the opportunity.
The Cardinals also added former Texas Tech product and converted wide receiver to tight end Dylan Cantrell (6-foot-3 240lbs) to the offense, bringing even more athleticism to the position. He benched 18 reps at the 2018 NFL Combine and clocked a 4.44 40-yard dash, including 41 inches at the vertical jump during his Pro Day.
Cantrell’s familiarity with Kingsbury and his style of play calling should prove beneficial for the Cardinals in this shortened offseason. He has had a less than ideal start to begin his NFL career since being a sixth-round pick by the Chargers in 2018. He has missed the first two seasons of his career due to injuries but has been impressive during both training camps he participated in. If he can stay healthy, he will have a role on the team.
He will have to battle with Darrell Daniels and two undrafted free agent tight ends in Ryan Becker and Parker Houston for a backup spot.
General manager Steve Keim and Kliff Kingsbury are clearly trying to build an ideal air raid offense packed with more size and speed. The Cardinals tight end position is getting younger, more athletic, and looks like it will have a much bigger role in the offensive gameplan in the upcoming 2020 season.