Background: Dec 13, 2021; Glendale, Arizona, USA; Arizona Cardinals wide receivers coach Shawn Jefferson against the Los Angeles Rams at State Farm Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas
While the Cardinals’ win totals have increased each year of Kliff Kingsbury’s and his staff’s tenure with the franchise, the national perception with regard to how well the Cardinals are drafting, utilizing and developing their players has been decreasing with each year.
Case in point:
ESPN: Ranking all 32 NFL teams by their under-25 talent in 2022: The best and worst core young players
- 2020 ranking: 3
- 2021 ranking: 13
- 2022 ranking: 30
Blue-chip players: Jalen Thompson, S
Notable graduated players: Kyler Murray, QB; Marquise Brown, WR; Christian Kirk, WR; Josh Jones, RG; Zach Allen, DE
The Cardinals secured the biggest part of their future when they extended Murray in late July. But Murray is also set to turn 25 a week before the 2022 season kicks off, and that disqualifies him from consideration from these rankings and drops the Cardinals from third in 2020 and 13th last year all the way to 30th this year.
It isn’t fair to say that the team’s most recent two first-round draft picks, Isaiah Simmons and Zaven Collins, are busts. Simmons demonstrates his versatility as a full-time starter with plays in the box, at outside linebacker and at safety. And while Collins was a rotational player as a rookie, he had an encouraging 14.3% broken tackle rate. But both Simmons and Collins play non-premium defensive positions, and the team could suffer from a misallocation of those resources if its pass rush slips without star veteran Chandler Jones, now in Las Vegas.
The Cardinals have made a few other strange choices of late. Second-round receiver Rondale Moore looked like an obvious candidate to inherit departed free agent Kirk’s role in the slot. But the team traded for Brown this offseason, and despite his speed, Brown saw 61% of his targets in 2021 from the slot and was more efficient with a minus-9.3% receiving DVOA there vs. a minus-21.1% DVOA out wide. And second-round rookie tight end Trey McBride is a capable pass-catcher but will have to compete for targets with veteran Zach Ertz after the team signed the latter player to a three-year extension. Moore and McBride might become blue-chip players, in any case. They just won’t have as much runway to prove it as many of their contemporaries.
- Great to see ESPN recognize S Jalen Thompson as a blue chip player.
- Without QB Kyler Murray factored in here (because the new contract disqualifies him), it calls into question the team’s slow and often awkward development of Round 1-4 draftees such as CB Byron Murphy, WR Andy Isabella, C Mason Cole, WR Hakeem Butler, LB/S Isaiah Simmons, DT Leki Fotu, DT Rashard Lawrence,LB Zaven Collins, WR Rondale Moore, CB Marco Wilson.
- Interesting that ESPN describes G Josh Jones as one of their “graduated players” —- despite the fact that Sean Kugler, after the Red/White Practice, conceded that Jones is not a natural fit at guard and that he is a future starter at tackle “here” in Arizona.
- Kugler also stated that he’s 100% confident with Sean Harlow starting games at center, if and when he’s needed. Hopefully Kugler is correct about Sean Harlow, but, with regard to draft pick employment and development at the center position, it bears repeating that the Cardinals have spent two third rounders (Mason Cole, Rodney Hudson), a 4th rounder (Evan Boehm), a 6th rounder (Lamont Gaillard) and a 7th rounder (Michel Menet) in 5 0f the last 6 years prior to 2022 —- and rumor had it that the Cardinals were hoping to pick C Cam Jurgens (Nebraska) in Round 2this year, (which would have made it 6 draft picks used on centers over the past 7 years), but the Eagles beat them to the highly regarded Cornhusker pivotman.
- Thus, the only draft pick of the Cardinals over the past three seasons (2019-2021) to appear on ESPN’s list of graduated players is DE Zach Allen.
- WR Marquise Brown was added via a trade and WR Christian Kirk is now a $19M a year Jaguar.
- The other common theme about the Cardinals’ draft pick and personnel employment that ESPN picked up on is the Cardinals’ tendency to draft players or trade for players at positions that they had already addressed in previous draft picks or trades.
- For example, WR Rondale Moore was upset at how little a role he had in the offense last season, mostly watching Christian Kirk get the majority of meaningful snaps in the slot.
- Then we learn from Kliff Kingsbury recently that in practice last year, Greg Dortch was “torching” the Cardinals’ defense each week on the scout team —- it was shades of hearing Kliff say two years ago that no one could block Dennis Gardeck in practice, but the coaches questioned whether that would translate over into real games.
- So, down the stretch last year when Kyler’s passing percentages were slipping without DeAndre Hopkins in the lineup, the Cardinals had two potential quick, dynamic playmakers in Rondale Moore and Greg Dortch and yet neither one of them were fully integrated into passing game by Kliff Kingsbury, Shawn Jefferson (pictured above) or Kyler Murray (not sure whether Greg Dortch ever really got any significant practice snaps with the 1st team —- same, obviously, with the speedy Andy Isabella).
- Few to no reps in practice is tough an any QB and receiver. Kurt Warner used to get a groove with all of his WRs because he would involve all of them in the reps. When a new WR was added, Warner would stay after practice with him to work on their timing and communication.
- For those of you who insist that players missing OTAs, including the team’s starting QB, is “no big deal” —- it’s more big of a deal than you might think. It’s why some QBs actually click late in the season with their WR4 and WR5, when some of the team’s top WRs are injured, because of the added time spent in OTAs.
- Get this one —- when the Cardinals new MIKE LB Nick Vigil was asked over the weekend about playing the MIKE at 225 pounds, Vigil said something to the effect that MIKE LBs in today’s game don’t need to run downhill to the football as much anymore, so they need to be as light as they can in order to hold up in pass coverage.
- This takes the cake because it only confirms what we have been been worrying about Vance Joseph and Billy Davis about how they ask their MIKE LB to let the plays come to them, rather than ask them go hard to the ball, downhill, sideways or other-wise.
- So, the Cardinals have a physical freak/dynamo who is made to order at the MIKE in Zaven Collins, and yet free agent Nick Vigil at 225 pounds has now taken over the MIKE for Jordan Hicks and Collins has been moved to WILB, Isiah Simmons’ old spot?
- Now there is a question as to whether the coaches have confidence in CB Marco Wilson, whom they started as a rookie (over the likes of Malcolm Butler and Rasul Douglas), for most of the games last season. This comes as discouraging news, seeing as the Cardinals’ CB unit currently appears to have no clear-cut starter at either spot.
- Kliff Kingsbury continues to state that they prefer to play Byron Murphy in the slot and not on the perimeter —- and yet, Isaiah Simmons is commanding a good deal of snaps playing the slot out of his “star” linebacker/safety position.
- Kliff Kingsbury keeps asserting that the team is looking to acquire a veteran CB, or two. However, the Cardinals’ urgency to make the acquisition(s) seems moot, now more than 10 days into training camp.
- In addition to the slow development of the younger players, the big trades the Cardinals’ have been gloating about, save the mid-season trade for TE Zach Ertz, are now very much in question. DeAndre Hopkins —- faces a 6 game suspension for a PED violation; Rodney Hudson —- skipped OTAs and mandatory minicamp while pondering retirement and is now reportedly injured and is being eased back in very slowly; Marquise Brown —- has not practice with the team yet, reportedly because of a hamstring injury and was recently arrested for criminal speeding (going 126 mph in a 65 mph zone).
As mentioned previously, the Cardinals have improved their record in Kliff Kingsbury’s and his staff’s three seasons. Clearly, Kliff and the staff are doing a significant number of things well. But, for today, we are focussing on what the coaches can do to improve.
The success of this year’s team may depend more heavily than ever before on the coaches’ ability to identify and heavily rely on their young talents while garnering significant contributions from the players they have traded for and the veterans they have re-signed to multi-year contracts.
At the Red White Practice, in front of a sold-out number of Cardinals’ fans, Michael Bidwill and Kliff Kingsbury talked about the team’s goal to be playing at home on the day of the Super Bowl.
That’s pretty lofty talk from a team that has been mired in controversy and doubt since their 1-5 skid to ruin what was a magnificent 10-2 start
For a championship season to happen, the coaches and players are going to have to make a united effort where each individual is doing his part to the best of his ability. An effort that goes well beyond the standard practice regimen —- in a metaphorical sense —- like the team’s star QB staying a full hour after practice, on this occasion, to sign as many autographs as he could for the loyal fans who came to cheer on the team.
Do the 2022 Arizona Cardinals have what it takes to make the sacrifices and commitment that a championship run requires?
Alleviating the coaching concerns in an effort to galvanize a full employment and investment from the players would be a great place to start.
I don’t have any clear sense of that kind of a concerted effort just yet, do you?