Background: Arizona Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray (1) throws a pass during a joint training camp practice against the Tennessee Titans at Ascension Saint Thomas Sports Park Wednesday, Aug. 24, 2022, in Nashville, Tenn. Syndication The Tennessean
ESPN’s Mike Clay recently updated his NFL position group rankings.
I thought I would provide you with Clay’s rankings of all 4 NFC West teams at the various position groups. I think this provides some good reference points and a means for discussion.
Here is the link to Clay’s updated rankings:
- ARI —- 10
- LAR —- 5
- SF —- 20
- SEA —- 32
There is a decent chance that this year Kyler Murray could emerge as the top ranked QB in the division, provided he stays healthy and inspired.
- ARI —- 23
- LAR —- 19
- SF —- 26
- SEA —- 27
Obviously, Mike Clay is not very high on Pro Bowl RB James Connor or the Cardinals’ depth at the position. In fact, Clay is not all that high on any of the NFC West’s RB groups. This is likely due to Clay’s subpar rankings of the NFC West offensive lines.
- ARI —- 20
- LAR —- 21
- SF —- 18
- SEA —- 28
I wonder whether the Cardinals’ recent addition of G Cody Ford would improve the group’s ranking. I think it very well could, especially if Justin Pugh needs some time on the IR. I also believe that the emergence of Josh Jones at tackle and Sean Harlow at center this pre-season gives the Cardinals valuable depth.
- ARI —- 4
- LAR —- 9
- SF —-16
- SEA —- 7
Mike Clay may not be very high on the NFC West running games, but he certainly is high on the WR talent in the division (three top 10s). Of course, Clay must be counting DeAndre Hopkins in the mix, despite the 6 gamer suspension. But, the Cardinals #4 ranking here indicates how high Mike Clay is on Hollywood Brown, Rondale Moore and A.J. Green.
- ARI —-6
- LAR —-14
- SF —-3
- SEA —-8
Again, three NFC West teams with top 10 rankings at TE. What a difference a year makes for the Cardinals at TE. Clearly, Mike Clay is very high on the quartet of Maxx Williams, Zach Ertz, Stephen Anderson and Trey McBride. The question is whether the Cardinals can get all four of them healthy so that they can feature the TE more in the running and passing games.
- ARI —-16
- LAR —- 1
- SF —- 7
- SEA —-15
This is one of the key position groups where the Cardinals need to make up some ground in the division. Keeping JJ Watt healthy and productive as the bell cow and tone setter is of paramount importance. Zach Allen, per reports, was highly disruptive versus the Titans in practice this week. And Rashard Lawrence has helped to lead the Cardinals’ DI this pre-season to a run defense that is giving up 2.8 yards per carry. The question is whether the depth the Cardinals have added up front can make the group all the more productive as a whole.
- ARI —- 25
- LAR —- 24
- SF —- 6
- SEA —-31
Markus Golden has not practiced since August 1st. It appears that he is “holding-in” for a pay raise. Dennis Gardeck has looked quick off the edge in the few snaps he’s taken this pre-season. Victor Dimukeje looks much improved as a pass rusher. The best 4th option appears to be Myjai Sanders, while Devon Kennard and Cameron Thomas look stout versus the run. The Cardinals need these unsung players to step up individually and as a group.
- ARI —-17
- LAR —- 5
- SF —- 1
- SEA —-31
Mike Clay picks the Cardinals’ ILB as the “unit to watch.” Here are his reasons:
“Arizona selected an off-ball linebacker in the first round of both the 2020 (Isaiah Simmons at eighth overall) and 2021 (Zaven Collins at 16th overall) drafts. Neither has lived up to lofty pedigree just yet, but 2022 is a potential breakout campaign for the duo. Collins was solid as a rookie, but he was limited to 211 snaps in a situational role behind Simmons and Jordan Hicks.
With Hicks gone, the 23-year-old is positioned for a larger role opposite Simmons, who played 89% of the snaps last season. If Collins makes a big leap, this could quickly emerge as one of the league’s best units.”
The question is —- isn’t the ILB tandem actually going to be Zaven Collins and Nick Vigil? The Cardinals’ coaches are resting Vigil during the pre-season games, so we have yet to see how he fits in Vance Joseph’s defense, particularly in light of his struggles last season withe Vikings:
Nick Vigil 2021 (Vikings):
* 718 snaps
* Overall: 42.1
* Run Defense: 30.8
* Tackling: 65.4
* Pass Rush: 62.9
* Coverage: 53.2
His highest PFF grade in his 6 NFL seasons is 60.6 with the 2020 Chargers in just 312 snaps.
If Vigil struggles, the Cardinals have to hope that Tanner Vallejo, Zeke Turner or CFA surprise Chandler Wooten can pick up the slack.
- ARI —- 32
- LAR —- 13
- SF —- 18
- SEA —-31
Mike Clay understandably tabs the Cardinals’ CB group as the “shakiest” in the NFL. Here are his reasons:
Shakiest: Arizona Cardinals
“The Cardinals are a team looking to make a Super Bowl run, so it was surprising to watch them all but ignore the cornerback position again this past offseason. Byron Murphy Jr. is a serviceable and versatile stater, but he doesn’t have much help. Marco Wilson struggled as an every-down player as a fourth-round rookie last season and remains positioned to start opposite Murphy in 2020. Journeyman Antonio Hamilton is the best option as the nickel corner as the roster stands, with Breon Borders, Jace Whittaker, Josh Jackson and seventh-round rookie Christian Matthew competing for snaps. Borders, Whittaker and Jackson combined to play 99 snaps in 2021.”
Compounding this situation is Antonio Hamilton’s mystery ailment, which Kliff Kingsbury said the team won’t reveal until Week 1 injury reports. Some possible good news is that the Cardinals’ CBs , without Hamilton, played fairly well against the Titans during the joint practice, highlighted by Bryon Murphys’ scrimmage ending back-of-the-endzone interception.
One has to wonder why in the world, with over $17M in available cap space, Steve Keim has yet to sign one or two veteran CBs from a list that includes Joe Haden, Chris Harris Jr., Xavier Rhodes, Janoris Jenkins, Kevin King and Robert Alford.
Or, why Keim has yet to make a trade for a CB.
However, one possible reason might be that Keim has”wink-wink” deals lined up with one or two CBs with the agreement to announce the deal the day after the Cardinals’ cut down to 53 so that they could then take the place of one or two of the Cardinals’ injured players whom the team plans to designate to the IR.
This way, the CBs and the coaches would have two weeks of practice to assimilate into the defense for game one at home versus the Chiefs, and the Cardinals wouldn’t have to risk waiving two players who they might have lost to waiver claims.
- ARI —-11
- LAR —-23
- SF —-22
- SEA —-9
I and some other Cardinals’ fans have been PM-ing Mike Clay with the question of why his ranking of the Cardinals’ safeties has been so low. While I did not hear back from Clay, his rankings for the Cardinals safeties have improved.
However, it’s unclear why Clay ranks the Seahawks’ tandem of Jamal Adams (60.1) and Quandray Diggs (71.2) ahead of Budda Baker (65.0) and Jalen Thompson (68.2). Plus, when one adds Isaiah Simmons to this group (that is if the so-called ‘Star LB” position is akin to Derwin James’ hybrid LB/S role for the Chargers), then one could make a case for the Cardinals’ safety group to be among the top 3 safety groups in the NFL.
Mike Clay does not rank the special teams groups, but here are last years ST group rankings by PFF:
- ARI —- 13
- LAR —- 20
- SF —- 21
- SEA —- 32
Imagine how improved the Cardinals’ special teams ranking would be if they start to get good production out of their kickoff and punt returners. For the first time in ages it appears that Cardinals have a dandy punt returner in Greg Dortch. Plus, Jonathan Ward has looked very good as the kickoff returner.
The key here is getting the most out of Matt Prater and Andy Lee, both of whom struggled at times last season and have struggled at times this year in the pre-season.
- ARI —-16
- LAR — 7
- SF —- 15
- SEA —- 29