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Cardinals’ 2022 4th Year Wonders?

NFL: Arizona Cardinals at Dallas Cowboys Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

Before we begin to take a close look at the Cardinals’ potential 4th year wonders. I would like to give a shout out to LS Aaron Brewer and P Andy Lee for being the latest Cardinals’ UFAs to re-sign with the team. Both Brewer and Lee have been solid and steady special teams stalwarts and for the sake of continuity their continued contributions to the team’s success warrant a fair share of recognition.

The Cardinals 2018 Draft Class:

  1. QB Josh Rosen —- QB2 in ATL
  2. WR Christian Kirk —- WR1 in JAX
  3. C Mason Cole —- C1 in PIT
  4. RB Chase Edmonds —- RB1 in MIA
  5. CB Christian Campbell —- CB in TB (Bandits)
  6. T Korey Cunningham —- T in NYG

Myth —- Steve Keim and the Cardinals suck at drafting.

Was this a good draft class? Based on talent? Yes.

As rookies, this class had to endure the team’s rapid descent to NFL’s rock bottom and a relatively unprecedented, traumatic one-and-done season for head coach Steve Wilks.

While there is no mistaking Josh Rosen’s talent for throwing the football, many of us Cardinals’ fans were more keenly enamored with Josh Allen and Lamar Jackson. To be frank, many of us were “meh” on Josh Rosen. After Josh Allen was taken by the Bills at pick #7, many of us were now hoping that Lamar Jackson would be on the board at #15.

It turns out that Lamar Jackson would have been on the board at #15, because he eventually was picked by the Ravens at #32.

Imagine then, what the Cardinals could have done had they elected not to trade up to #10. Of course, revisiting NFL drafts is the epitome of “hindsight is 20/20”, but in order to learn from the past, it is helpful to check out what could have been “the road not taken.” Thank you, Robert Frost.

Here we go then:

Take this trade off the board (per Wikipedia);

No. 10: Oakland → Arizona (D). Oakland traded a first-round selection (10th) to Arizona in exchange for Arizona’s first-, third-, and fifth-round selections (15th, 79th, and 152nd).

#15. QB Lamar Jackson, Louisville

#47. WR Christian Kirk, Texas A&M

#79. TE Mark Andrews, Oklahoma

#97 (comp): C Mason Cole, Michigan

Note: the Cardinals’ 2018 4th round pick was traded to the Bears in the 2017 Budda Baker trade. No one is going to question that trade!

#134 (comp): RB Chase Edmonds, Fordham

#152: DT Tim Settle, Virginia Tech

#182: DT Sebastian Joseph-Day, Rutgers (instead of Christian Campbell, as an fyi)

#244 (comp): T Korey Cunningham, Cincinnati

What a haul!

Taking it a step further —-

  • Lamar Jackson would have arrived with his favorite receiver in Mark Andrews.
  • Christian Kirk should have been used in the slot from day one.
  • Mason Cole should never have been replaced in year two by A.Q. Shipley, which stunted Cole’s growth.

The rest is obvious, except for the thought that had the Cardinals waited to see what kind of a bounce-back year RB David Johnson would have, instead of making him the highest paid RB after an injury-lost 3rd year of his rookie contract, then think of the money the Cardinals could have saved, especially if they were high on Chase Edmonds and could pair him in 2019 with an affordable, complimentary RB. But, then again, likely without David Johnson, the trade for WR DeAndre Hopkins would have never come to fruition.

Cardinals 2019 NFL Draft:

#1. QB Kyler Murray, Oklahoma —- QB1 ARI

#33 CB Byron Murphy, Washington —- SCB ARI

#62 WR Andy Isabella, Massachusetts —- WR5 ARI

#65. Zach Allen, Boston College —- 34DE1 ARI

#103 WR Hakeem Butler, Iowa St. —- WR BC Lions

#115 S Deionte Thompson, Alabama —- FS2 ARI

#174 WR KeeSean Johnson, WR, Fresno St. —- WR5 SF

#179 C Lamont Gaillard, C, Georgia —- C2 CIN

#248 T Joshua Miles, Morgan St. —- T2 ARI

#249 DE Michael Dogbe, Temple —- 34DE2 ARI

#254 TE Caleb Wilson, UCLA —- UFA

Round 5 (2019 Supplemental Draft): S Jalen Thompson, Washington St. —- SS1 ARI

Was this a talented draft class? Yes. It could be one of the best draft classes the Cardinals have ever compiled.

In retrospect, as the Cardinals approached this draft, the thinking was that Kliff Kingsbury was going to run an NFL version of his Air Raid, which would manifest a heavy use of 4 WR spreads. Thus, came the need for talent and depth at WR.

The problem was, the three rookie WRs were being indoctrinated into the NFL by a WR overseer in Jerry Sullivan who is an absolute stickler to details —- just ask Larry Fitzgerald. Sullivan is a WR guru. It would have taken WRs who were NFL ready to jump right in and play. Early on it appeared that KeeSean Johnson was the best route runner, but his abilities never quite translated to the field on game days. Andy Isabella was not groomed for the slot, but then again, neither was 2018 2nd round pick, Christian Kirk. The slot was being maintained by future Hall of Famer and Cardinals G-O-A-T WR Larry Fitzgerald.

Then, of course, 2-3 weeks into the season, the offensive coaches lobbied for a heavier employment of 12 personnel and the K-Raid was put on the back burner.

What could be a very encouraging sign for the Cardinals is how well some of their players have played in the 4th year of their rookie contracts. A number of those players signed lucrative long-term contracts: DE Rodney Gunter (3 years, $18M JAX), OLB Haason Reddick (3 years, $45M, PHI), Mason Cole (3 years, $15.75M, PIT), Christian Kirk (4 years, $72M, JAX) and RB Chase Edmonds (2 years, $12.1M, MIA).

That’s how you can tell when a team drafts well —- is in the number of impressive 2nd contracts the players earn.

This year which Cardinals’ 4th year players could have stellar breakthrough seasons?

  • QB Kyler Murray —- the spotlight has never been brighter or hotter on him heading into year 4. The national media attention on Kyler thanks to his agent Erik Burkhardt has created quite a buzz, the repercussions of which have not been especially positive for Kyler or for the Cardinals’ organization. At this point, it’s hard to get a good feeling as to how Burkhardt’s unprecedented and highly urgent social media tactics will impact Kyler and the Cardinals’ season.

As we all know, Kyler Murray is immensely gifted. He has a knack for creating the spectacular. But, after red hot starts, he’s been slowed by injuries the past two seasons and he and the team have struggled to close out wins when they are needed the most.

In order for Kyler to take his game and the team’s to the next level, what he needs to do, imo, is enthusiastically agree to run an offense that features his feet in a more diverse ways. Kyler needs to spend more time studying film. He needs to work harder with each of his receivers to create the kind of chemistry that wins games, especially in crunch time. And, most importantly, Kyler needs to make the kinds of sacrifices that let his teammates know what outstanding leadership requires.

  • CB Byron Murphy —- this is a huge season for Murphy. He burst on the scene like gangbusters last season, but, down the stretch he appeared to lose his discipline and his confidence. The biggest question about his game is whether he is fast and quick-twitch enough to play slot CB versus the likes of Kupp, Woods, Samuel and Lockett. In three years, Byron has yet to show he can cover those types of slot receivers. However, there is no reason why Murphy can’t be rock solid as a CB on the perimeter. Plus, his nose for the ball and range could make him a valuable asset as a deep safety in the nickel, an area where the team could use much improvement.
  • WR Andy Isabella —- he and his agent have been given the permission to work out a trade. Nothing has materialized yet, which, imo, may be a blessing if the Cardinals stick with him. It would be asinine to release Andy, having such little depth at WR right now. The biggest problem for Isabella has been working out a chemistry with Kyler Murray. When the two were last playing regular snaps, Kyler was not hitting Andy off his breaks. Andy’s speed and quickness make him very difficult to cover. But, Kyler has never seemed to embrace Andy or invest heavily in him. Put it this way, if Kyler and Andy were to spend breakfasts and workouts together the way Matthew Stafford did with Cooper Kupp, there is no doubt, imo, that Andy’s production this year could be similar to Christian Kirk’s this past season. Andy is a more explosive WR than Kirk. It’s just that Kyler has always had a friendship with Kirk —- and ironically after chemistry question about Kyler and Fitz at the end of 2020, there have been chemistry questions about Kyler and Kirk after this season. Just ask Kirk’s mom. Plus, we saw the numerous communication issues Kyler had with A.J. Green.
  • 34DE Zach Allen —- Zach Allen has been fast emerging as a playmaker on the defensive line. How about the tipped interception TD he had versus Russell Wilson in Week 18. Being around J.J. Watt this off-season could be the inspiration that takes Zach Allen’s talents to a whole new level. Zach’s versatility is a plus —- he can play both 34DE and 43DE (where he starred opposite Harold Landry at Boston College).
  • S Deionte Thompson —- the Cardinals need deep coverage improvements and maybe, just maybe, Deionte could emerge as the rangy ball-hawking nickel FS the team lacks.
  • S Jalen Thompson —- Jalen had such a good season from start to finish that if he performs this well again, the Cardinals will want to make him one of the highest paid safeties in the NFL. Jalen is exceptionally versatile —- while he’s outstanding in the box, he has the skills to play slot CB or boundary CB. The area he needs to improve is in deep coverage, where he missed breaking up a few big plays last season, like Van Jefferson’s MNF home run at versus the Rams. Playing deep safety is very difficult to master. It could be that Jalen just needs more reps.
  • T Joshua Miles —- the coaches says very positive things about Miles. In the 21 snaps he played this past season he earned a 61.9 overall PFF grade with an impressive 81.3 pass blocking grade. He has proven to be a valuable backup. The question is, how well could he play with extended snaps?
  • 34DE Michael Dogbe —- for a 7th round pick, he has been steadily developing into a sure-tackling, pass rushing threat as rotational player. As such, Dogbe is a prime candidate to to have a breakout season this year.

What are your thoughts about these 4th year Cardinals?