With the shortened offseason due to COVID-19 and the National Football League reducing roster sizes down to 80 players, the Arizona Cardinals released 13 undrafted free agents as a result.
That leaves the Cardinals with eight remaining undrafted free agents on the team as they will try to make a push for a 53-man roster spot or, more realistically, the practice squad.
Ryan Becker - Tight End, Southern Methodist (6-5 248lbs)
College Stats (49 games): 16 catches, 198 yards, 5 touchdowns
Analysis: Becker was primarily a blocking tight end at Southern Methodist University. This past year, he helped lead the Mustangs to their first 10-win season since 1984.
He will have to battle with Darrell Daniels and Dylan Cantrell for the third tight end spot on the team. With Daniels’ role on special teams and Cantrell having played in Kliff Kingsbury’s offense at Texas Tech, their experience puts them miles ahead of the 22-year-old rookie.
Keep in mind the Cardinals kept only two tight ends at the start of last season.
Steven Gonzalez - Offensive Guard, Penn State (6-4 332lbs)
Analysis: Gonzalez played 42 games at Penn State (30 at left guard, 12 at right guard). He has received many awards throughout his time in college, including multiple All-Big Ten honors (2017-19) and was Pro Football Focus’ highest graded pass-blocking Power 5 guard in 2017.
His pass protection is currently ahead of his run blocking ability, but he is powerful having benched 38 reps at the bench press in college.
Although Lamont Gaillard and Max Garcia are expected to be the primary backup guards, Gonzalez is versatile and talented enough to make a push for one of their spots in training camp. Koda Martin, Joshua Miles, and Brett Toth are also backup offensive linemen battling for a roster spot.
Zane Lewis - Cornerback, Air Force (6-1 190lbs)
College Stats (30 games): 94 tackles, two interceptions, 21 passes defensed, 2 touchdowns
Analysis: In terms of athletic ability, he was one of the better prospects that declared for this year’s NFL draft. He ran a 4.45 40-yard dash at his Pro Day, possessing the necessary speed to keep up with anyone. He was the Cardinals top priority free agent addition and he has the two 99-yard interceptions returned for touchdowns going for him.
Lewis will have to compete with Jalen Davis, Kevin Peterson, Duke Thomas, and Jace Whittaker for the fifth cornerback spot. He would have to carve out a role and leave a good impression as a special teams ace. Although he has good speed, he lacks the strength to man up against physical receivers. This makes tackling a big concern with him.
Adam Shuler - Defensive End, Florida (6-4 275lbs)
College Stats (46 games): 139 tackles, 18.5 TFL, 9 sacks, 2 forced fumbles
Analysis: He transferred from West Virginia to Florida and made an immediate impact. He started 23 of 26 games as a graduate transfer for the Gators, making 69 tackles, 9.5 tackles for loss, and 6 sacks.
The Cardinals have a lot of young talent on the defensive line, including Zach Allen, Michael Dogbe, and their most recent draft picks in Leki Fotu and Rashard Lawrence. With the youth they have along with Shuler’s lack of pass rush potential at the moment, his chances of making the team is slim.
Reggie Walker - Outside Linebacker, Kansas State (6-2 250lbs)
College Stats (50 games): 140 tackles, 34 TFL, 18 sacks, 9 forced fumbles
Analysis: His nine forced fumbles is tied for most in Kansas State history and his 18 sacks is tied for 10th most. He was quite impressive as a pass rusher in college posting 6.5 sacks in 2016 and 7.5 sacks in 2018.
Walker has a knack for finding the football and is a high-motor player. He is a good tackler and in my opinion, does a good job disengaging from his blockers to stop the run. Though he could add some more pass rush moves to his game, he is a relentless athletic player that I can see immediately contribute on special teams.
Kylie Fitts impressed last season as a late addition to the team and is the primary competition for Walker. He will be a player worth watching during training camp but like all players here, a practice squad audition might be their best bet.
Jonathan Ward - Running Back, Central Michigan (6-0 202lbs)
College Stats (42 games): 473 carries, 2,544 rushing yards, 28 touchdowns (98 receptions, 909 receiving yards, 4 touchdowns)
Analysis: He eclipsed over 100 rushing yards in seven out of 12 games last season. He is not particularly fast but he does a good job finding the rushing lanes. Ward knows how to find his way into the endzone with 32 career touchdowns at Central Michigan.
He is more quick than fast and definitely shows a lot of patience in his college tape.
I doubt the Cardinals will keep two rookie running backs on the roster, with seventh-round pick Eno Benjamin as the favorite to be the third running back on the depth chart. His main competition is D.J. Foster but the Cardinals could just role with three running backs on the team. His impressive college resume makes him practice squad worthy.
JoJo Ward - Wide Receiver, Hawaii (5-9 175lbs)
College Stats (28 games): 116 receptions, 1,999 receiving yards, 20 touchdowns
Analysis: Ward was a deep threat in college that took the top off of defenses consistently. In college, he clocked a 4.42 40-yard dash. He ran by coverages with ease and was electric in his highlight reel.
The Cardinals wide receiver room looks set starting with DeAndre Hopkins followed by Larry Fitzgerald, Christian Kirk, Andy Isabella, KeeSean Johnson, and core special teams player Trent Sherfield. 2019 fourth-round pick Hakeem Butler injured his hand and struggled in camp last year. However, I believe Butler will make the roster as a redzone threat.
With that said, Ward should no doubt make his way onto an NFL practice squad with a stronger chance to make a 53-man roster next year.
Jace Whittaker - Cornerback, Arizona (5-11 185lbs)
College Stats (49 games): 159 tackles, 6.5 TFL, 1 sack, 7 Interceptions, 34 passes defensed, 1 touchdown
Analysis: The Cardinals like versatility and Whittaker certainly has it. He played both cornerback and safety at the University of Arizona. He plays with great energy and for a player that will likely need to start off on special teams, his solid tackling ability makes his chances at a final roster spot a little better. But again, he will have a lot of competition at the cornerback position.
The practice squad is the undrafted rookies’ best chance to remain on the team. Every player on this list has the talent to play in the NFL and it is very unfortunate for the undrafted rookies this season to have less time than normal to showcase their skills. Players with NFL experience have an even bigger edge this season, which is why we saw the Cardinals re-sign 13 of their own free agents.
Best of luck to all the undrafted rookies out there as the 2020 NFL season is scheduled to start on September 10th.