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Cardinals 2021 Priority: Leadership, Physicality, Discipline, Playmaking

NFL: Houston Texans at Detroit Lions Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports

During press conferences, podcasts and radio interviews, GM Steve Keim has maintained that the highest priority of the Cardinals’ off-season plan is to add valuable veteran leadership while trying to build a more physical, disciplined football team of playmakers.

Veteran Leadership Added:

  • DE J.J. Watt
  • C Rodney Hudson
  • WR A.J. Green
  • CB Malcolm Butler
  • K Matt Prater

Note: all of these players have been All-Pros and/or Pro Bowl players and are considered team leaders.

Veteran Leadership Retained:

  • DE Chandler Jones
  • OLB/DE Markus Golden
  • OLB/ST Dennis Gardeck
  • LB/ST Ezekiel Turner
  • LB/ST Tanner Vallejo
  • CB/S/ST Charles Washington
  • G Justin Pugh
  • T Kelvin Beachum
  • TE Maxx Williams
  • P Andy Lee

Young Leaders:

  • QB Kyler Murray
  • RB Chase Edmonds
  • T D.J. Humphries
  • DE Zach Allen
  • LB Isaiah Simmons
  • CB Byron Murphy
  • S Budda Baker
  • S Jalen Thompson

Players Who Need to Step Up:

  • QB Chris Streveler
  • RB Eno Benjamin
  • RB Jonathan Ward
  • G Justin Murray
  • G Brian Winters
  • C/G Lamont Gaillard
  • C/G Max Garcia
  • T/G Josh Jones
  • T Marcus Gilbert
  • WR Christian Kirk
  • WR Andy Isabella
  • WR KeeSean Johnson
  • DT Jordan Phillips
  • DT Leki Fotu
  • DT Rashard Lawrence
  • DE Michael Dogbe
  • OLB Devon Kennard
  • OLB Kylie Fitts
  • LB Jordan Hicks
  • LB Evan Weaver
  • CB Robert Alford
  • CB Jace Whittaker
  • S Deionte Thompson

Next Phase:

In my opinion, the Cardinals have adhered to the plan and accomplished it in ways that few would have imagined, particularly with the acquisitions of J.J. Watt to help lead the defense, with Rodney Hudson to help lead the offense and with Matt Prater to help lead the special teams.

The players that the Cardinals have re-signed or tendered are aggressive, spirited and physical. Players who are part of the solutions, not the problems.

What the team needs now is to add one more big, physical defense tackle to the defensive line rotation, like Malcom Butler’s teammate on the Titans, DT DaQuan Jones (6-4, 322).

One key piece to becoming tougher and more physical could very well be the Cardinals coming to fruition on their reported interest in RB James Connor (6-1, 233, 4.6, 25, Pittsburgh, career stats: 532 rushes for 2,302 yds., 4.3 ypc, 22 TDs, 124 catches for 963 yds., 7.8 ave., 4 TDs).

2020 PFF grade comparison:

James Connor: 68.0 (overall), 73.4 (rushing)

Kenyan Drake: 60.9 (overall), 60.0 (rushing)

Cardinals’ RB coach, James Saxon, was Connor’s RB coach in PIT JC’s 1st two seasons. Having a big, tough runner between the tackles would be a plus for the now run heavy offense, particularly in covering 3rd and 1s (which was quite an issue in 2020).

Signing Connors wouldn’t necessarily preclude the Cardinals from drafting a RB this year, especially with Chase Edmonds in a contract year, but it could make it easier for the Cardinals to target a WR, CB or LB in R1.

Additionally, it appears that the Cardinals are very interested in acquiring veteran QB Colt McCoy as their QB2.

After taking care of adding strength at DT, RB and QB2, the Cardinals need to add an infusion of speed, athleticism and playing ability at RB, WR, TE, SAM OLB, MIKE ILB and CB.

When NFL teams can mix pure physicality up front on both sides of the ball with speed and athleticism at the chase, cover and skill positions, that is the modern key to winning games.

One plan that would make a good deal of sense (as we have been predicting) would be to trade down into the 20s to add a 3rd round or 4th round pick and then draft a speedy slot RAC WR (big need), then a CB with the 2nd pick and a LB or TE with the 3rd pick.

  1. Kadarius Toney, Florida —- Elijah Moore, Mississippi —- Rondale Moore, Purdue
  2. Asante Samuel, Florida St. —- Elijah Molden, Washington —-Kelvin Joseph, Kentucky
  3. Pete Werner, LB, Ohio St. —- Hunter Long, TE, Boston College —- Tommy Tremble, TE, Notre Dame —- Patrick Johnson, OLB, Tulane

Or:

  1. Zaven Collins, LB, Tulsa
  2. Asante Samuel, CB, Florida St.
  3. Demetric Felton, slot WR/RB, UCLA

The Cardinals have spent a good deal of time interviewing these three players. Collins can play SAM OLB or MIKE ILB and is one of the best cover LBs to come down the pike in years. Plus he is very physical versus the run and in rushing the passer from different angles.

Or:

  1. Greg Newsome, CB, Northwestern
  2. Elijah Moore, WR, Mississippi
  3. Hunter Long, TE, Boston College

Or:

The trio I am currently fascinated with (in a trade down):

  1. Trevon Meohrig, CB/S, TCU —-imo best cover man and defensive playmaker in draft, can cover anyone from anywhere on the field. Plus, he’s a very good tackler.
  2. Elijah Moore, WR, Mississippi —- wins with quickness and superb RAC ability from the slot.
  3. Pete Werner, LB, Ohio St. —- modern day 3 down LB at 6-2, 243who could play SAM or MIKE, as he did at Ohio St. Is excellent in covering TEs and RBs and has superb closing speed versus the run.

And for mock hungry members, to finish it out:

5. Jaret Patterson, RB, Buffalo. Highly productive at 5-9, 195: 636 carries/3,884 yds/6.1 ave./52 TDs rushing, 20 catches/27 yds.1/13.6 ave./1 TD receiving.

6. Wyatt Hubert, OLB, Kansas St. We could call him “L’il Barbarian” (8.5 sacks in 10 games 2020)

7. Kenny Yeboah, TE, Mississippi (27 catches for 524 yds., 6 TDs at Ole Miss in 2020)

7. Nashon Wright, CB, Oregon St. 6’4” playmaker and JUCO star who in 18 games for the Beavers made 64 tackles, 5 interceptions and broke up 11 passes.

It’s exciting to think of the puzzle pieces the Cardinals can still fit into their cohesive plan.

Leadership —- Physicality —- Discipline —- Playmaking

Those of the 4 major pillars of the plan.

What do you think? Are the Cardinals building a marble fortress or a house of matchsticks?