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Cardinals players on the roster bubble: Defense and special teams

Part 2 of a look at bubble players on the Cardinals roster with just one preseason game left. Who makes the cut on defense?

Denver Broncos v Arizona Cardinals
Victor Dimukeje offers value as a backup OLB and potential special teams ace. Will he make the 53-man roster?
Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Well, it’s a good thing I waited a day to post the second half of this column, as Arizona Cardinals GM Monti Ossenfort made not one, not two, but three trades yesterday. The Isaiah Simmons and Josh Jones trades were sudden, but not exactly surprising.

But the trade for Josh Dobbs seemed to come out of nowhere and puts the Cardinals’ QB room in a state of flux with the roster cutdown day less than a week away. The trades also change the overall landscape of the roster. So before we get to the defense/special teams, let me make a few quick addendums to yesterday’s column on the offense.


Locks (0): Colt McCoy, Clayton Tune

PUP (1): Kyler Murray

Bubble (1): Colt McCoy, Clayton Tune, Josh Dobbs, David Blough

There’s a much larger conversation to be had about whether the Dobbs trade has anything to do with Kyler’s health, but for now it certainly seems like Ossenfort and HC Jonathan Gannon weren’t seeing what they wanted to see from the QBs on the current roster. McCoy hasn’t given the offense much in his snaps, and Tune has looked okay for a 5th-round rookie but hasn’t shown himself to be much of a difference-maker for the most part. He and Blough (this trade probably removes him from the roster bubble) have had their moments, but the team clearly wanted to shake things up. There are a number of questions in the wake of this trade: Is there a McCoy trade in the works—or could he be flat-out released? Will the Cardinals try to stash Tune on the practice squad? Is Kyler farther away than we thought? This is a seemingly minor move that could have far-reaching effects.

Prediction (3): McCoy, Tune, Dobbs (with Kyler on the PUP). What happens with the QB room is anyone’s guess. I would think there is another move coming down the pipeline, but if that doesn’t happen, I think the team would go into Week 1 with the current top three healthy QBs.

Tight End

Locks (2): Zach Ertz, Trey McBride

Bubble (4): Geoff Swaim, Noah Togiai, Blake Whiteheart

I think it’ll be a lot tougher to keep four TEs with the addition of Dobbs potentially making it more difficult to keep another offensive player. So I think that Swaim, Togiai, and Whiteheart might be battling for one TE spot instead of two as it looked like before yesterday. Yet another reason to tune in.

Prediction (3): Ertz, McBride, Togiai. I think it’ll come down to Togiai vs. Whiteheart, with Gannon’s familiarity with Togiai potentially the deciding factor. Whiteheart *should* be fine on the practice squad, while Swaim’s veteran salary might make it easier for the team to move on.

Offensive Line

Locks (9): D.J. Humphries, Paris Johnson Jr., Elijah Wilkinson, Will Hernandez, Hjalte Froholdt, Josh Jones, Kelvin Beachum, Dennis Daley, Jon Gaines II, Marquis Hayes

Bubble (3): Jackson Barton, Pat Elflein, Hayden Howerton

With Jones now in Houston, that opens up a spot for another O-lineman. It’ll likely be another tackle, hence Barton (who has played the most O-line snaps of anyone that’s not a lock this preseason) at the top of the list. The veteran Elflein is still a possibility if he’s healthy, as is Howerton, who has played some tackle in the past.

Week 3 Outlook: There will be several guys, led by the top three bubble guys listed above, auditioning for that tenth and final O-line spot. Barton is the favorite, though. Would they have traded Jones if they weren’t confident in another backup tackle already on the roster?

Prediction (10): Humphries, Johnson Jr., Wilkinson, Hernandez, Froholdt, Beachum, Barton, Daley, Gaines II, Hayes. This should be the final O-line group barring anything unexpected happening in the next several days. But Monti Ossenfort is already establishing himself as a mover and shaker, so you never know.

That out of the way, let’s move on to the defense and special teams.


Defensive Line

Locks (5): L.J. Collier, Leki Fotu, Jonathan Ledbetter, Carlos Watkins, Eric Banks

Bubble (4): Dante Stills, Ben Stille, Kevin Strong, Rashard Lawrence

This is maybe the toughest position to call on the entire roster. Other than the three guys listed as starters (Collier, Fotu, and Ledbetter), most of the other guys listed here have played roughly the same amount of snaps thus far in the preseason. But I think Watkins and Banks have proved themselves as backups at DE. So I think it comes down to Stills vs. Stille (appropriately) for another backup DE spot and Strong vs. Lawrence for the backup DT slot. Or maybe the team keeps two backup DTs and two backup DEs? Still a lot to figure out here.

Week 3 Outlook: The bubble guys have one final chance to impress. I think Stills (as a draft pick) and Strong (with his ties to Ossenfort in Tennessee) have a leg up on Stille (waiver claim) and Lawrence (holdover from the old regime), but this may be decided on the field.

Prediction (7): Collier, Fotu, Ledbetter, Watkins, Banks, Stills, Strong. I don’t think the team will take the chance of putting Stills on the practice squad, and Lawrence just hasn’t shown much this preseason, so Strong will bump him from the 53-man.

Outside Linebacker

Locks (5): Zaven Collins, Dennis Gardeck, Cameron Thomas, Myjai Sanders, BJ Ojulari

Bubble (2): Victor Dimukeje, Jessa Luketa

The top five seem incredibly safe: Collins and Gardeck are starters, Thomas and Sanders are promising 2nd-year players, and Ojulari is a 2nd-round pick. This bubble discussion for this position comes down to two things: special teams and whether the team even keeps six OLBs in the first place. Special teams is basically a draw between Dimukeje and Luketa—they’re both strong contributors and potential aces. So has either player shown enough on defense PLUS their special teams contributions to force their way onto the 53-man?

Week 3 Outlook: This is the final chance for Dimukeje and Luketa to claim what might very well be the final spot on the 53-man. Look for them to be flying around on special teams and trying to make that clutch big play on defense. I’m rooting for both of these players, honestly.

Prediction (5): Collins, Gardeck, Thomas, Sanders, Ojulari. The Cardinals are more than set with these five, and I think that 53rd spot will be used on a different position. They’ll be hoping they can stash Dimukeje and Luketa on the practice squad—or they may find a creative way to keep one or both for now.

Inside Linebacker

Locks (5): Kyzir White, Krys Barnes, Josh Woods, Zeke Turner, Owen Pappoe

Bubble (1): Kyle Soelle

I actually think this position is pretty set—Soelle is probably bound for the practice squad. But I wanted to give a shoutout to the former Sun Devil, who has acquitted himself well this preseason. Maybe next year?

Week 3 Outlook: Not much to see here with the top five seemingly set and Soelle unlikely to challenge for the 53-man.

Prediction (5): White, Barnes, Woods, Turner, Pappoe. White, Barnes, and Woods will hold the fort down on defense while Turner and Pappoe figure to be predominantly special teamers.


Locks (4): Marco Wilson, Antonio Hamilton, Kei’Trel Clark, Christian Matthew

NFI (1): Garrett Williams

Bubble (2): Nate Hairston, Kris Boyd

This is another tricky position to figure out. The top four seem set, and neither Hairston nor Boyd have really proved themselves worthy of a spot on the 53-man with their somewhat limited snaps this preseason. Could the team begin the season with just four corners while Williams works his way back from the NFI list? Even minus Isaiah Simmons, Nick Rallis’s unit still has plenty of safety depth to rely on if needed. I think if the team keeps five CBs, it’ll be as the 52nd or 53rd guys on the roster. I’d give the slight edge to Hairston in that case.

Week 3 Outlook: It’s decision time for the Cardinals. Do they keep five CBs? If so, will it be Hairston or Boyd? Can either of those two guys put together a good enough game to sway the team in their direction?

Prediction (4): Wilson, Hamilton, Clark, Matthew (with Williams on the NFI). I don’t know how much a Hairston or a Boyd would really add to the bottom of the roster, especially given that players at other positions (TE, OLB, S) would be more likely to see the field than a fourth corner and could contribute equally on special teams. So I think the team goes with four corners for now with Williams waiting in the wings.


Locks (3): Budda Baker, Jalen Thompson, Andre Chachere

Bubble (2): JuJu Hughes, Jovante Moffatt

Before the Simmons trade, I thought the team would keep four safeties, and I still think they keep four safeties even after the trade. With Simmons out of the picture, I moved Chachere into the “lock” category given that he played the most snaps among safeties last week and contributes on special teams. So the fourth safety should be either Hughes or Moffatt. Both players have had similar usage and performance this preseason, but it’s important to note that Moffatt is listed as a free safety, the same position as the departed Simmons.

Week 3 Outlook: You have to figure that both Hughes and Moffatt will get an extended look against the Vikings as the team decides between the two. Make sure to keep an eye on these two on Saturday, as one of them figures to be one of the final players to make the 53-man.

Prediction (4): Baker, Thompson, Chachere, Moffatt. Chachere suddenly finds himself in a key role on the team behind Baker and Thompson. I’m going with Moffatt for the fourth safety spot right now given how the depth chart has shaken out. But don’t count Hughes out.

Total: 25 defensive players

Special Teams

Locks (3): K Matt Prater, P Nolan Cooney, LS Aaron Brewer

Bubble: None

The only drama here was who would win the battle at punter between Cooney and Matt Haack, which was settled with Haack’s recent release.

Week 3 Outlook: Other than injuries, nothing that happens on the field on Saturday will impact the 53-man roster as far as special teams are concerned.

Total: 25 offensive players + 25 defensive players + 3 special teams players = 53 players

Final Thoughts

Man, this exercise got a lot more complicated with yesterday’s trades. But the Cardinals are doing what good NFL teams do: constantly churning the bottom of the roster to find the best 53 football players they can find. And unlike in recent years past, it seems like the team might actually have more good football players than they have room for on the roster, especially on defense.

That said, teams always find creative ways (with injury designations, trades, etc.) to keep players on the 53-man this time of year. So don’t be surprised if Ossenfort has another trick or two (or three) up his sleeve to keep any players he really likes at the end of the roster. So there may be hope yet for some of the bubble players we’ve been talking about.

What are your thoughts, RotBers? Agree or disagree with the above? Do you have any bold predictions for the 53-man? Who do you think is the final player on the regular season roster? Vote in the poll below and discuss in the comments.


Who will be the 53rd player on the Cardinals’ 53-man roster?

This poll is closed

  • 27%
    QB Clayton Tune
    (41 votes)
  • 12%
    TE Blake Whiteheart
    (18 votes)
  • 10%
    OLB Victor Dimukeje
    (16 votes)
  • 25%
    OLB Jesse Luketa
    (37 votes)
  • 2%
    CB Nate Hairston
    (3 votes)
  • 2%
    CB Kris Boyd
    (3 votes)
  • 8%
    S JuJu Hughes
    (12 votes)
  • 8%
    S Javonte Moffatt
    (13 votes)
  • 2%
    Other (explain in comments)
    (4 votes)
147 votes total Vote Now