Background: Aug 21, 2022; Glendale, AZ, United States; Arizona Cardinals wide receiver Jontre Kirklin (31) catches a touchdown pass over Baltimore Ravens safety Ar’Darius Washington (29) at State Farm Stadium.
Each year when the Arizona Cardinals announce their college free agent (CFA) signings, fans seem regularly disappointed in the lack of household names. To quote Dennis Eckersley (when he referred recently to the Pittsburgh Pirates’ lineup): “They are a hodgepodge of nothingness.”
Yet, each year at roster and practice squad picking time, like the Phoenix rising from the ashes, a handful of the Cardinals “no-name” CFAs skillfully manage to put their names into consideration.
One of the most salient examples was two games into the 2018 pre-season when Ron Wolfley was so impressed with CFA OLB Dennis Gardeck from Sioux Falls blowing up kick returns that he conjured up the “Gardeck the Barbarian” moniker.
In 2019, Dennis Gardeck was names a Pro Bowl alternate for special teams.
Gardeck is not the only recent CFA to go from “nobody” to “somebody”. A few undrafted players on the current Cardinals’ roster who come immediately to mind are RB Darrel Williams, RB Jonathan Ward, WR Antoine Wesley, WR Greg Dortch, TE Stephen Anderson, ILB Ezekiel Turner, G/T Koda Martin, DT Jonathan Ledbetter, S Charles Washington, LS Aaron Brewer and K Matt Prater.
When the Cardinals announced their post-draft CFA signings this year, seemingly more than ever, Cardinals’ fans did not find the list the least bit impressive.
Fast forward to this week, the final week before teams have to pare their 80 man rosters down to 53 by Tuesday August 30th, and, lo and behold, the Cardinals have 5 promising CFAs who have been steadily making a name for themselves during the first two pre-season games:
- QB Jarrett Guarantano —- 62.3 PFF
- WR Jontre Kirklin (pictured above) —-73.3 PFF
- DT Manny Jones —-73.9 PFF tackling grade
- ILB Chandler Wooten —- 71.5 PFF
- S Tae Daley —- 64.7 PFF
Samples of What the Cardinals’ Scouts Saw:
“He’s all the physical measurables that you would want,” quarterback guru Jordan Palmer said about Jarrett Guarantano via The Draft Network. “He’s about 6-foot-4, probably runs a low 4.6, he’s really accurate and he’s got a strong arm. I would say he’s got one of the top couple arms in this entire draft class and I understand how strong that statement is. He’s training every day with Carson Strong and Desmond Ridder so I think that’s a really good reference point. He’s one of the biggest secrets of this draft.”
WR Jontre Kirklin (who also played CB and QB at LSU) went from not being invited to the 2022 NFL Combine to exceeding combine numbers at LSU Pro Day.
The WR hit a vertical jump of 42” which tied for the highest at the NFL Combine. He exceeded in his broad jump leaping 11’6”.
“You got to do what it takes to be the best,” Jontre said. “If you want to be the best, you got to be able to go out and lay it on the line. I mean I gave it all.”
Manny Jones played as both a defensive end and a defensive tackle in his four years as a starter for the Rams. He was probably underappreciated throughout his entire tenure — according to Pro Football Focus, he never had an overall grade below 70 in five seasons — but he leaves Fort Collins as one of the most productive defenders in recent program history (13.5 sacks, 33 tackles for loss) and offers the kind of motor that could earn him an undrafted free agent deal.
Chandler Wooten was voted a team caption as a senior and delivered with the best season of his career. He finished second on the team with 95 tackles, had 5.0 tackles for loss, intercepted one pass, and defended four passes.
Tae Daley played his final year in college at Virginia Tech (2021) after spending his first three seasons (2017-19) at Vanderbilt … opted out of the 2020 season due to Covid-19 concerns … appeared in 46 collegiate games and accumulated 181 total tackles (121 solo), 9.5 tackles for loss, four INTs, seven passes defensed, 1.5 sacks and two forced fumbles … as a senior at Virginia Tech in 2021, appeared in all 13 games (10 starts) and ranked fifth on the team with 73 tackles, adding four tackles for loss, a pass defensed and a forced fumble … during his three seasons (2017-19) at Vanderbilt, appeared in 35 games and tallied 108 tackles (74 solo), 5.5 tackles for loss, three INTs, three passes defensed and 1.5 sacks … started nine games at safety as a junior in 2019, collecting 57 tackles (35 solo) with three INTs and a forced fumble … played 13 games (eight starts) and had 45 tackles (35 solo) with 5.5 tackles for loss as a sophomore in 2018 … appeared in 11 games and was one of five true freshman to see action in 2017.
Best Chances of Making the Cardinals’ 53 Man Roster:
ILB Chandler Wooten and S Tae Daley.
There is an outside chance that the Cardinals could keep Jarrett Guarantano over Trace McSorley, if the coaches believe that Jarrett has the brighter future.
Manny Jones and Jontre Kirklin would appear to be practice squad priority signings, should they clear waivers. Heck, perhaps the coaches could have Jontre Kirklin split time between WR and CB.
“A Player’s Final Grade: That’s a Cardinal Grade” Steve Keim
Do yourself a favor and watch the first couple of minutes of “Draft Vision.”
Kudos to VP of College Scouting Quentin Harris and his scouts for finding these undrafted players, each of whom is making a splash at his position. You do one heckuva job. Kudos, men!