With training camp a little over two weeks away, Cardinals players are nearly set to return to resume their position battles with many roster spots available for the taking. Every team except the reigning Super Bowl Champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Dallas Cowboys, and the Pittsburgh Steelers will open camp on July 27th.
There are still plenty of questions regarding the Cardinals roster. They are expected to add a veteran tight end at some point this offseason and whether or not that player will be Zach Ertz is anyone’s guess.
Chandler Jones and Jordan Hicks were absent from mandatory minicamp and OTAs. Cardinals have the numbers at wide receiver and cornerback.
Considering the players that are currently on the team, here is my early 53-man roster prediction:
Quarterbacks (2): Kyler Murray, Colt McCoy
The only question here is whether or not the Cardinals will keep three quarterbacks on their roster. Kyler Murray is the franchise quarterback. Colt McCoy figures to be the primary backup as a 10-year veteran. Chris Streveler struggled in Week 17 in his lone game with significant snaps.
I could see Streveler making the final roster in a Taysom Hill-like role but if not, I fully expect the Cardinals to try to stash him on the practice squad. I have Streveler losing to McCoy as the No. 2 as Kliff Kingsbury goes into the season with two quarterbacks. Cardinals released Cole McDonald earlier in the offseason.
Running Backs (4): Chase Edmonds, James Conner, Eno Benjamin, Jonathan Ward
Chase Edmonds will be the No. 1 running back as James Conner serves as the No. 2 in the running back-by-committee approach. Jonathan Ward made the roster last year as a special teams player and had one offensive touch that went for a touchdown. 2020 seventh-round pick Eno Benjamin was inactive all of last season but I think this is the year he gets some reps on the offense.
Run game coordinator and offensive line coach Sean Kugler is very familiar with Khalfani Muhammad in their time in Denver. Tavien Feaster has intriguing size (6’0’’ 221lbs) as a power running back. Other than that, the running back position seems set and stone. Ward claims the fourth spot due to special teams. Benjamin is very similar to Edmonds in size and skills in my opinion.
Wide Receivers (6): DeAndre Hopkins, A.J. Green, Christian Kirk, Rondale Moore, KeeSean Johnson, Andy Isabella
Larry Fitzgerald has yet to announce his plans for the upcoming 2021 season. Will he return to the Cardinals, play for another team, or retire from the NFL? I think we will find out within the next few weeks.
With the Cardinals signing A.J. Green and drafting Rondale Moore in the second round, it seems the Cardinals are phasing out Andy Isabella. The UMass product was a healthy scratch towards the end of the season in favor of Keesean Johnson, who will likely make the roster. Isabella’s roster spot is far from guaranteed and could very well be traded. Andre Baccellia, Rico Gafford, A.J. Richardson, JoJo Ward, Antoine Wesley, and Isaac Whitney are all in the mix for the sixth wide receiver spot. If Fitzgerald returns, that changes everything.
Tight End (2): Maxx Williams, Darrell Daniels
Maxx Williams is the No. 1 tight end. Darrell Daniels filled in for Williams last year and has plenty of special teams experience. The Cardinals could add a veteran tight end later this offseason.
Out of the remaining tight ends on the team, Cary Angeline has the best chance at claiming the third spot as the Cardinals’ top undrafted free agent signing in my opinion. Angeline along with Ian Bunting, Bruno Labelle, Bernhard Seikovits, and veteran Ross Travis will need to standout during the preseason to receive any serious consideration for a roster spot. However, it is difficult to imagine any of them making the final roster.
Offensive Line (9): D.J. Humphries, Justin Pugh, Rodney Hudson, Justin Murray, Kelvin Beachum, Brian Winters, Lamont Gaillard, Josh Jones, Michal Menet
There is a four-way battle at right guard between Brian Winters, Justin Murray, Josh Jones, and Max Garcia. If I had to guess a winner, I would put my money on Murray despite Winters receiving most of the first-team reps in OTAs. Outside of right guard, every other starting position on the offensive line is set.
Brandon Bowen and Koda Martin have tackle and guard versatility. I could see both stashed on the Cardinals practice squad. Shaq Calhoun made seven starts as an undrafted rookie with the Dolphins in 2019. Sean Harlow was a fourth-round selection by the Falcons in 2017 but played in only one game in his career. The Cardinals made an attempt to trade Max Garcia and Josh Miles last year. I have both losing out on a roster spot and seventh-round pick Michal Menet makes the final 53.
Defensive Line (6): J.J. Watt, Jordan Phillips, Zach Allen, Leki Fotu, Rashard Lawrence, Michael Dogbe
J.J. Watt is a significant upgrade to a defensive line that has been lackluster since the departure of Calais Campbell in 2017. Jordan Phillips enters year two with the Cardinals after a dismal and injury-riddled 2020 season having signed a three-year $30 million contract.
Zach Allen, Leki Fotu, and Rashard Lawrence are the youngsters in the Cardinals defensive line rotation. 2019 seventh-round pick Michael Dogbe is one of the more intriguing players on the team with excellent power and athleticism. Good chance he will be move involved in the rotation. Veterans Xavier Williams and David Parry will have a legitimate shot to crack the roster. Don’t forget Corey Peters and his potential return once he is 100% healthy. Cam Murray and Ryan Bee could be practice squad candidates.
Outside Linebacker (4): Chandler Jones, Markus Golden, Devon Kennard, Victor Dimukeje, Dennis Gardeck (PUP)
Despite Chandler Jones’ absence from OTAs and mandatory minicamp, I think him and the Cardinals will find a way to work things out in the end to keep him in Arizona. Markus Golden has been itching to pair up with Jones again when the duo dominated in 2016 with double-digit sacks each.
Dennis Gardeck may or may not start on PUP but his recovery is ahead of schedule. Devon Kennard had a disappointing 2020 season with injuries and being surpassed on the depth chart but he will be looking to bounce back in 2021 as a key rotational pass rusher. The fifth linebacker spot is up for grabs with sixth-round pick Victor Dimukeje as the favorite over Reggie Walker, Kylie Fitts, and Jamell-Garcia Williams. Steve Keim comparing Dimukeje to Markus Golden tells you how highly he thinks of the rookie.
Inside Linebacker (5): Isaiah Simmons, Zaven Collins, Tanner Vallejo, Zeke Turner, Terrance Smith
Whether or not the league will discipline Zaven Collins after his arrest remains to be seen. The Cardinals silence about the situation does not help. I would assume the Cardinals continue to roll with Collins are a Day 1 starter along side second-year linebacker Isaiah Simmons. Considering Jordan Hicks has not shown up for OTAs or mandatory minicamp, I do expect the Cardinals to trade him at some point.
Vallejo will be the top backup but if Hicks gets traded, the Cardinals will be lacking significant experience here. Zeke Turner and Terrance Smith were both impressive on special teams last season. Evan Weavers fails to make the roster again. Jamal Carter played for Vance Joseph back in Denver. Him, Weaver, Smith, and Donald Rutledge are the four players with a shot at claiming the fifth inside linebacker spot.
Cornerback (6): Byron Murphy, Malcolm Butler, Robert Alford, Darqueze Dennard, Marco Wilson, Tay Gowan
Though the Cardinals have been linked to players such as Stephon Gilmore and Xavien Howard, there is a strong possibility this will be the cornerback group heading into the regular season. Byron Murphy will play more on the outside this season instead of his normal role as the primary slot. Malcolm Butler will start.
Robert Alford has yet to play a down for the Cardinals since signing with them in 2019 but he probably knows the defense better than any cornerback on the roster. Darqueze Dennard not only played for Vance Joseph back in Cincinnati but also has inside and outside versatility. Both rookie cornerbacks in Marco Wilson and Tay Gowan should make the roster. Other players such as Jace Whittaker, Lorenzo Burns, Tae Hayes, and Piccaso Nelson will be battling for a spot on the practice squad.
Safety (6): Budda Baker, Jalen Thompson, Deionte Thompson, Shawn Williams, Charles Washington, James Wiggins
With the strong depth at safety and the possibility of Gardeck being placed on PUP to start the season, I think the Cardinals roll with six at this position. Budda Baker is without a doubt one of the best safeties in the NFL. Jalen Thompson missed most of 2020 with injuries but is the favorite to start opposite of Baker again. The last three to four spots available are up for grabs and all the remaining safeties have a legitimate shot at making the roster.
Shawn Williams has significant starting experience (61 career starts), excels on special teams, and is a very durable player. Deionte Thompson filled in nicely for Jalen Thompson last year but lacks the special teams prowess that his safety teammates has. In one of Keim’s media conferences, he kept talking about how Wiggins could be a future starter. More high praise for a rookie, especially one selected in the seventh round. Charles Washington was the Cardinals’ top special teams player last season and I have him edging out Chris Banjo. That is a lot of safeties but special teams will benefit as a result.
Special Teams (3): Matt Prater, Andy Lee, Aaron Brewer
The Cardinals have to consider the future of the punter position if Andy Lee retires after the 2021 season. That is why they signed Notre Dame punter Tyler Newsome, who has put up impressive hang times during training this offseason.
Other than that, Andy Lee will likely be the starting punter this season. Matt Prater is the kicker and Aaron Brewer is the long snapper.
Practice Squad (16): QB Chris Streveler, RB Khalfani Muhammad, WR Andre Baccellia, WR A.J. Richardson, WR JoJo Ward, TE Cary Angeline, TE Bruno Labelle, OL Koda Martin, OT Josh Miles, DT Cam Murray, DT Xavier Williams, OLB Reggie Walker, ILB Evan Weaver, CB Jace Whittaker, S Chris Banjo, P Tyler Newsome, TE Bernhard Seikovits (IPP exempt)