We are already in the middle of June and cornerback remains the most concerning position on the Arizona Cardinals’ roster.
They added Malcolm Butler and Darqueze Dennard in free agency. They drafted Marco Wilson and Tay Gowan. They cut and re-signed Robert Alford.
Despite all of these additions and Byron Murphy elevated to being the No. 1 cornerback on the team, the concerns for the position continues to linger which is why the Cardinals have been linked to Patriots’ star cornerback Stephon Gilmore throughout the offseason. If it is not already known, Gilmore did not participate in the Patriots’ mandatory minicamp as he seeks a contract extension.
The Gilmore connection reached even greater heights after he shared DeAndre Hopkins’ Instagram post about wanting the Red Sea to hype up the South Carolina native.
Though the story was deleted soon after, this is another example of great recruitment tactics by the Cardinals’ All-Pro receiver after successfully recruiting J.J. Watt to Arizona. He also made an attempt to recruit Julio Jones but he ultimately got traded to the Tennessee Titans.
The want for Gilmore, Xavien Howard, J.C. Jackson, and others tells you everything you need to know about the fans’ confidence with the current group of corners. But how about the coaches?
With that said, let’s take a look at the top six cornerbacks on their roster.
#7 Byron Murphy
According to Darren Urban of the official Arizona Cardinals website, defensive coordinator Vance Joseph stated that Byron Murphy is their top cornerback. We will likely see Murphy being used on the outside more frequently compared to last year when he played majority of his snaps (572) in the slot.
Here are two examples of Byron Murphy handling the outside duties quite well and what gives me optimism about his future. There may be questions about Murphy’s long speed but for a guy that ran a 4.55 40 at the Combine, he matched up nicely against the Panthers’ speedy receivers in D.J. Moore (4.42) and Robby Anderson (4.36) in Week 4.
#21 Malcolm Butler
Butler was one of the Cardinals’ top free agent adds this offseason after inking a one-year $6 million deal with the team. He made 100 tackles last season, the most among cornerbacks. He was also the most targeted (116) cornerback in the NFL but came down with a career-high of four interceptions.
The 31-year-old is an upgrade over Patrick Peterson in the tackling and coverage department based on their performances in recent years. Butler is best fit in a press-man role and if Vance Joseph can move away from dialing up too many soft zones, he could be in for another big year.
New #AZCardinals CB Malcolm Butler Week 1 (@ Broncos)— Andy Kwong (@akwong31) March 26, 2021
Excellent tackling by Butler. DEN called quite a few curl routes which resulted in easy yardage. Butler's a man-to-man CB but I see lots of Fangio zones. Got beat on double move at 0:53, not by speed. Overall solid coverage. pic.twitter.com/gC92XQEU3W
#23 Robert Alford
Alford has missed the last two seasons with a season-ending injury since signing a three-year $22 million contract with the Cardinals in 2019. He was supposed to pair up with Patrick Peterson the last two years but injuries halted those plans. He was released but re-signed to a veteran minimum deal with lots to prove.
From Darren Urban’s recent article about Alford:
“He basically told us ‘Hey I want to come back, I owe you guys, so I’ll come back for whatever deal because I owe the organization, I owe the Cardinals and want to prove y’all were right about me.’ “ Head coach Kliff Kingsbury said. “We respect that a ton.”
Alford was the best cornerback during Cardinals training camps the last two years and the hope is for him to showcase the talent in a meaningful game. If he can stay healthy and his performance holds up, Comeback Player of the Year could be on the horizon.
#30 Darqueze Dennard
Dennard was a slot cornerback throughout his time with the Cincinnati Bengals (2014-19) before seeing more snaps at wide corner (278) with the Falcons last year. The addition of Dennard came as no surprise because of his connection with Vance Joseph (DB coach in 2014-15) and he adds to a position of need.
No cornerback on the roster has played more snaps in the slot than Dennard, something that Alford and Butler do not have much of. If Byron Murphy is truly moving to the outside, Dennard will have a big role in nickel defenses. He brings positional versatility with slot and wide corner experience.
#20 Marco Wilson
Wilson is a gifted athlete, clocking a 4.35 40 at his Pro Day along with 26 bench press reps and a 43.5-inch vertical jump. He is coming off his worst season of college football however, allowing three touchdowns and a passer rating of 117.6.
The rookie has the testing numbers to matchup with any wide receiver in the NFL and it is quite possible the overall impact of COVID-19 to the world hindered his play last year. The Cardinals traded up for Wilson in the fourth-round for a reason and he figures to have a role in some defensive packages this year.
“Marco has played both (inside and outside),” said Kliff Kingsbury when he spoke to reporters after rookie minicamp. “Marco, we like either/or, which is exciting. That gives you Byron Murphy, who we feel like can play at a high level inside or outside, and Marco as well.”
#32 Tay Gowan
Gowan falling to the sixth round surprised a lot of people, including myself. The 23-year-old rookie opted out of the 2020 college football season due to COVID but had a stellar 2019 season in his lone year as a starter at Central Florida. In 425 coverage snaps and 50 targets, he allowed only 274 yards, two touchdowns, had two interceptions, and surrendered a passer rating of only 54.9.
He has great size (6’2’’ 185lbs) and good speed (4.49 40). Gowan has a strong chance to surprise a lot of people in the NFL.
Could he be the Tom Brady of cornerbacks?
All I can say is let his play do the talking. If his NFL career is anything like his 2019 year at UCF, Cardinals might have themselves a steal.
Other cornerbacks: Lorenzo Burns, Tae Hayes, Picasso Nelson, Jace Whittaker