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Thursday before Cardinals preseason opener: Initial 53-man roster and practice squad predictions

Arizona Cardinals Training Camp Photo by Norm Hall/Getty Images

We are two weeks into training camp and the Arizona Cardinals are one day away from their preseason opener against the Dallas Cowboys

The Cardinals went on a veteran shopping spree over the last two weeks, adding Corey Peters, Jack Crawford, Darius Kilgo, Margus Hunt, Josh Mauro, and Demetrius Harris.

Rookies such as Zaven Collins and Rondale Moore have impressed during training camp. They will have plenty of opportunities during the preseason to showcase their talents before the regular season arrives.

Here is my pre-training camp 53-man roster prediction.

Below, is my updated roster prediction after the first two weeks of training camp:

Arizona Cardinals Training Camp Photo by Norm Hall/Getty Images

Quarterback (3): Kyler Murray, Colt McCoy, Chris Streveler

Colt McCoy will serve as the primary backup quarterback to Kyler Murray as a 12-year veteran. Considering McCoy has won games in the NFL, he has the significant edge over Chris Streveler to claim the No. 2 quarterback spot.

Streveler will be the third-string quarterback as he learns from Murray and McCoy. He was used as a blocker on the special teams return unit during training camp. In my initial roster prediction, I had Streveler on the practice squad. Based on his usage during training camp on offense and special teams, Streveler will likely secure a spot on the final roster.

Arizona Cardinals Training Camp Photo by Norm Hall/Getty Images

Running Back (4): Chase Edmonds, James Conner, Eno Benjamin, Jonathan Ward

Edmonds and Conner will be the running backs receiving the majority of the carries for the Cardinals this season. Benjamin has been running with the first-team unit during training camp and has impressed.

Jonathan Ward is another running back that has looked good during practices and figures to lock up the fourth spot with his experience playing on special teams last season. Tavien Feaster and the recently-signed Ito Smith are both practice squad candidates. Based on size and ability, it is likely Jonathan Ward vs Tavien Feaster and Eno Benjamin vs Ito Smith. Ward and Benjamin should prevail in their battles.

Arizona Cardinals Training Camp Photo by Norm Hall/Getty Images

Wide Receiver (6): DeAndre Hopkins, A.J. Green, Christian Kirk, Rondale Moore, KeeSean Johnson, Andy Isabella

DeAndre Hopkins and A.J. Green are the starting outside receivers. Christian Kirk and rookie Rondale Moore will see plenty of playing time in the slot. KeeSean Johnson is currently listed as the second-string receiver to Hopkins.

Credit to Tyler Drake @Tdrake4sports on Twitter for the video

Johnson will see a lot of time on special teams as he will try to carve out a role as a gunner to replace Trent Sherfield, who signed with the 49ers. Andy Isabella has landed on COVID protocol twice so he is likely out on Friday. He needs to impress as a receiver and as the first-string kick returner. Andre Baccellia, JoJo Ward, and Greg Dortch are not far behind. As for Larry Fitzgerald, no one really knows what his plans are. He might still be undecided about his NFL future.

NFL: JUL 30 Arizona Cardinals Training Camp Photo by Kevin Abele/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Tight End (2): Maxx Williams, Darrell Daniels

Maxx Williams will likely see an expanded role on the offense as a receiving tight end compared to his prior years playing exclusively as a blocker. Darrell Daniels can play on special teams and was Williams’ injury replacement last season.

Whether or not the Cardinals will have three tight ends on the roster is anyone’s guess. Ross Travis is currently listed as the third-string tight end followed by Ian Bunting, Bernhard Seikovits, and Demetrius Harris. I have the Cardinals keeping only two tight ends.

Arizona Cardinals Training Camp Photo by Norm Hall/Getty Images

Offensive Line (9): D.J. Humphries, Justin Pugh, Rodney Hudson, Justin Murray, Kelvin Beachum, Brian Winters, Josh Jones, Max Garcia, Josh Miles

The offensive line unit seems set for the 2021 season. It is just the matter of whether they will keep nine or 10 offensive lineman on their 53-man roster. Humphries, Pugh, Hudson, and Beachum are locks as starters. Right guard remains a starting position that is up for grabs. Justin Murray is currently listed with the first-string unit and is expected to win that job over Brian Winters.

2020 third-round pick Josh Jones is the backup to Beachum at right tackle but is also in the mix for the starting right guard job. Sean Kugler said 2019 seventh-round pick Josh Miles is their “most improved offensive lineman.” Max Garcia’s NFL experience along with his versatility to play center and either guard positions gives him a huge edge over seventh-round pick Michal Menet. If the Cardinals choose to keep 10 offensive lineman, Menet should be that 10th guy. For now, I think they keep nine.

NFL: JUL 30 Arizona Cardinals Training Camp Photo by Kevin Abele/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Defensive Line (7): J.J. Watt, Jordan Phillips, Rashard Lawrence, Zach Allen, Leki Fotu, Corey Peters, Michael Dogbe

The health of the defensive line is worth monitoring considering the Cardinals went on a free agent shopping spree over the last week. They signed veterans Jack Crawford, Margus Hunt, Darius Kilgo, and Josh Mauro with their starting defensive line sidelined with injuries. They are likely auditioning for the practice squad or for other teams.

It was very interesting to see 2020 fourth-round pick Rashard Lawrence being listed as the starting nose tackle ahead of Corey Peters, who has been the Cardinals’ starter since 2016. Allen, Fotu, and Dogbe are all key rotational defensive lineman.

Arizona Cardinals Training Camp Photo by Norm Hall/Getty Images

Inside Linebacker (5): Zaven Collins, Isaiah Simmons, Jordan Hicks, Tanner Vallejo, Zeke Turner

Unless the Cardinals trade Jordan Hicks, these five players will make the Cardinals’ 53-man roster. Isaiah Simmons and rookie Zaven Collins give the Cardinals a young pair of athletic inside linebackers.

Hicks will be a valuable mentor to the young starting linebackers but he will also continue to have playing time on the defense. Tanner Vallejo was re-signed to a two-year deal as a core special teamer. Zeke Turner was the Cardinals’ best special teams player last season. 2020 sixth-round pick Evan Weaver misses out on the 53-man roster again. If Hicks end up being traded, either Weaver or Terrance Smith will make the roster.

Arizona Cardinals Training Camp Photo by Norm Hall/Getty Images

Outside Linebacker (4): Chandler Jones, Markus Golden, Devon Kennard, Victor Dimukeje, Dennis Gardeck (PUP)

There is not much to say here. Chandler Jones and Markus Golden are the Cardinals’ starting pass rushers at the outside linebacker position. Devon Kennard is hoping to bounce back from a disappointing 2020 season and will be the primary backup outside linebacker.

Steve Keim has given Victor Dimukeje high praise after the draft as he is currently listed as a third stringer. Kylie Fitts, Jamell Garcia-Williams, and Reggie Walker will be competing with Dimukeje for a roster spot. Cardinals’ 2020 breakout player in Dennis Gardeck will likely start the season on PUP (Physically Unable to Perform), meaning there will be a roster spot opening until he returns.

Arizona Cardinals Training Camp Photo by Norm Hall/Getty Images

Cornerback (5): Byron Murphy, Malcolm Butler, Robert Alford, Marco Wilson, Tay Gowan

Byron Murphy and Malcolm Butler are the Cardinals’ outside cornerbacks on the defense. Robert Alford continues to stand out during training camp and hopefully he can stay healthy to finally suit up in a Cardinals’ regular season game.

Credit to @SportsAzFan on Twitter for the video

Darqueze Dennard and fourth-round pick Marco Wilson are similar in their versatility to play both out wide or in the slot. Wilson will make the roster and should have a role on the defense this season. With the Cardinals’ intent to give their younger players more opportunities, I have Dennard being cut. Sixth-round pick Tay Gowan is listed as the fourth-string CB and a good preseason should help him secure a roster spot.

Syndication: Arizona Republic Rob Schumacher/The Republic via Imagn Content Services, LLC

Safeties (5): Budda Baker, Jalen Thompson, Deionte Thompson, Chris Banjo, James Wiggins

Baker and Jalen Thompson are the starters. After them, the battle for the backup safety jobs begin. Deionte Thompson is listed as the backup to Jalen Thompson but special teams has never been his position of strength which makes his stay on the roster far from guaranteed.

Rookie seventh-round pick James Wiggins has been used as a gunner during training camp practices. If the Cardinals cut him, they will risk losing him to waivers before he even makes it to the practice squad. Here, I predict Wiggins taking Charles Washington’s job. Shawn Williams loses to Chris Banjo.

NFL: Arizona Cardinals Minicamp Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Special Teams (3): K Matt Prater, P Andy Lee, LS Aaron Brewer

There are no questions here. Every player above are locks to make the roster and will start at their respective positions.

Punter Tyler Newsome has been used as the kickoff guy during training camp and has been quite impressive with his crazy hang times. He could very well be Andy Lee’s eventual replacement but I think the Cardinals will try to stash him on the practice squad this season.

NFL: JUL 30 Arizona Cardinals Training Camp Photo by Kevin Abele/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Practice Squad Predictions (16): RB Tavien Feaster, RB Ito Smith, WR Andre Baccellia, WR JoJo Ward, WR Antoine Wesley, TE Ross Travis, OL Michal Menet, DT Jack Crawford, DT Cam Murray, ILB Evan Weaver, OLB Reggie Walker, CB Darqueze Dennard, CB Jace Whittaker, S Charles Washington, S Shawn Williams, P Tyler Newsome, TE Bernhard Seikovits (IPP Exempt)