The folks at Pro Football Focus have just released their updated offensive line rankings for 2021, and as you can imagine the Arizona Cardinals are moving up.
After entering 2020 ranked 21st in the league, the redbirds have vaulted themselves all the way up to number 11.
Below is the excerpt from PFF:
Arizona’s offensive line during head coach Kliff Kingsbury’s two seasons has a distinct trend of excelling on pass plays but faltering in the run game. The unit has two top-10 rankings in PFF pass-blocking grade but two bottom-10 rankings in run-blocking grade.
Despite the low run-blocking grade, the Cardinals’ line has excelled at creating yards before contact, generating the third-highest EPA per play on runs last season (0.07) in large part due to quarterback Kyler Murray’s rushing ability.
Left tackle D.J. Humphries enjoyed a breakout 2020 season, ranking fifth among tackles in overall grade (88.3) to go with the No. 3 run-blocking grade (90.8). He’s become a run-game weapon, both at the point of attack and out in space, and he had the highest percentage of positively graded run blocks among tackles last season. Right tackle Kelvin Beachum re-signed as a free agent after ranking 27th in pass-blocking grade last season. He epitomizes the quality, league-average tackle.
Left guard Justin Pugh and right guard Justin Murray profiled similarly last season, as they both ranked among the top 16 guards in pass-blocking grade. However, Pugh ranked just 38th with a 62.7 run-blocking grade, and Murray’s 45.6 mark was the sixth-worst in the league.
At center, the Cardinals look much improved after adding Rodney Hudson, perhaps the league’s best pass-protecting pivot man. He’s coming off the lowest pass-blocking grade of his career (70.0), but he preceded that with three straight 90.0-plus grades. He allowed just 11 pressures from 2017 to 2019 before allowing 14 last season. Hudson still has plenty to offer, even as he heads into Year 11.
Max Garcia, Lamont Gaillard, Brian Winters and second-year tackle Josh Jones, who has starting potential down the road, all provide solid depth for the Cardinals, too.
Despite the rise in overall rankings, the Cardinals still trail divisional rivals Rams (8) and Niners (9) respectively. The team can likely take solace in that both LA and San Francisco are heavily relying on older players upfront (Trent Williams, Alex Mack, Andrew Whitworth).
Arizona, meanwhile, has invested premium picks on the likes of D.J. Humphries and Josh Jones, with the latter figuring to have a more prominent role this season
New arrival Rodney Hudson, while recently turning 32, represents the most established center the team has had in nearly two decades. The former second round pick is still at the top of his game, entering 2021 as PFF’s highest rated center.
Kelvin Beachum, meanwhile, remains grossly underrated having only allowed three sacks a year ago. Beachum made the switch to right tackle for Arizona after playing the large majority of his career on the left side. He finished with a PFF grade approaching 70 and recently signed a two year extension to remain with the club through 2022.
Arizona’s biggest challenge upfront will be manufacturing quality guard play, especially after Justin Pugh regressed slightly in 2020. Justin Murray, a former undrafted free agent, took over for the now departed JR Sweezy late last year at right guard. He’ll fight for playing time with veteran Brian Winters and the aforementioned Josh Jones.
After years of turmoil, the 2021 Cardinal offensive line figures to be their most talented unit entering a season since their arrival in Arizona back in 1988. The high end talent (Humphries, Hudson) is complimented well by youth (Jones) and depth (Murray). They are also well coached by veteran Sean Kugler, who was recently promoted to the role of “Run Game Coordinator”.
Combine all of that with the escapeability and elusiveness of one Kyler Murray, and Arizona’s issues upfront appear to finally be a thing of the past.