Offensive line seems to be a position group that the Arizona Cardinals are comfortable with for now but with uncertainty looming for the 2023 season.
Starting offensive tackles D.J. Humphries and Kelvin Beachum have a combined 63 regular season starts over the last two seasons and are heading into the final year of their contracts.
Not only that but the Cardinals’ list of 2023 free agents is a lengthy and talented one that includes Byron Murphy, Jalen Thompson, J.J. Watt, Zach Allen, Markus Golden, Maxx Williams, Justin Pugh, and Will Hernandez.
Unfortunately for Arizona, they won’t be able to re-sign every one of their top free agents which is why the development of Josh Jones as an offensive tackle is imperative in reducing one of the Cardinals’ multitude of needs a year from now.
Jones, a 2020 third-round pick out of the University of Houston, had a season of mixed results moving from right tackle to right guard while seeing a few snaps at left tackle a season ago. He was drafted to be the starting right tackle for the future but predominantly played right guard last season while logging 612 snaps at that position.
According to Pro Football Focus, he was the fourth-most penalized (12) offensive guard last season with four sacks allowed that resulted in a 46.7 overall grade. He struggled to contain speedy pass rushers off the edge, was bullied in the interior, and dealt with his share of mental errors that led to a team high in penalties. Even then, his growing pains throughout 2021 should make him better moving forward though he is not built to play in the interior.
“I thought Josh progressed, played a lot more at guard than he had throughout his career there in college,” said Kliff Kingsbury in January. “So he was getting familiar with that, which is good to have some swing capabilities and be able to play guard and tackle.”
Taking a look at Jones’ collegiate career, he made 45 starts at left tackle as a Houston Cougar and his quality play landed him on the 2019 Outland Trophy Watchlist for the top interior lineman in college football.
And the Cardinals are no strangers to offensive linemen that struggle with transitioning to a new position. D.J. Humphries was a career left tackle at the University of Florida and had a very rocky start as Bobby Massie’s replacement as a right tackle in 2016. Cardinals moved Jared Veldheer to right tackle in 2017 that resulted in 31 pressures and three sacks through the first five games of the season. Justin Pugh, who was Arizona’s top free agent signing in 2018, was underwhelming at right guard that year as was Max Garcia at center last season.
The one thing that all of them had in common was their respectable play after moving back to their original positions which begs to question whether Josh Jones should transition back to left tackle as D.J. Humphries’ replacement in 2023.
For what it is worth, he posted a career-high grade of 84.8 against the Chicago Bears through only five snaps at left tackle. Jones was regarded as one of the top left tackles in the 2020 draft for a reason but saw his draft stock drop due to the low level of competition he faced in college and had some blocking issues against better competition during the Senior Bowl.
And there is no question the Cardinals have continued faith in their former draft selection a couple years ago considering Kliff Kingsbury said “[Josh Jones] made strides the first two years and we need him next year to really step up.”
Offensive tackle is very much in play for the Cardinals at pick No. 23 with projected first rounders such Central Michigan’s Bernhard Raimann and Northern Iowa’s Trevor Penning expected to be available at that pick. Washington State’s Abraham Lucas could be an option with the Cardinals’ second-round pick. Tackle prospects that Arizona has visited with includes Texas A&M’s Kenyon Green, UConn’s Ryan Van Demark, and North Dakota’s Matt Waletzko. At this point, though not reported, the Cardinals have probably met with most prospects with the 2022 NFL Draft only 11 days away.
Maybe it is a bit too early to concern ourselves with next year’s issues but this could very well influence Steve Keim’s decisions when making draft selections next week.
Will the Cardinals keep Josh Jones at right guard even with Will Hernandez on board? Will they resume developing the 24-year-old at right tackle? Is he just a swiss-army-knife on the offensive line? Or should Arizona groom him to be Humphries’ replacement in 2023?
Let me know your thoughts below.