The 2017 Cardinals finished the 2017 season a disappointing 8-8. Injuries across the O line, to RB David Johnson, and inevitably starting QB Carson Palmer led to a 3rd place finish in the NFCW as well as being out of the playoff picture. HC Bruce Arians retired at season’s end, and GM Steve Keim decided to clean house with the remnants of the former coaching staff. He hired Steve Wilks, the Carolina Panthers DC as new HC. Wilks brings with him a complete change in systems on both defense and offense. He declared during his press conference to team owner Michael Bidwill and Steve Keim that they hired the right person. Out of the gate confidence is good on paper, but will it translate to initial success?
Notable FA additions:
QB Sam Bradford
QB Mike Glennon
G/T Justin Pugh
T Andre Smith
New OC Mike McCoy is going to have an interesting time with this group. Smith has never quite lived up to his talent level, but should be a decent starter at RT. Pugh battled injuries in New York – and as I mentioned with the 49ers signing of Weston Richburg – he’s another guy that a team with O line problems didn’t have an issue letting go. Pugh has been a serviceable starter when healthy. Speaking of health, it’s tough to imagine Sam Bradford playing 16 games behind the O line the Cardinals will be fielding. The Vikings had a top ranked O line last year and Bradford hurt his knee in practice, paving the way for Case Keenum to start. Mike Glennon is a career backup that has never shown to be anything more. WR depth is probably something I would have looked to free agency to stabilize. Regardless, not a FA class to really write home about but the former QB stable did need to be purged, and purged it was.
Cardinals 2018 Draft Class:
Round 1, Pick 10 Josh Rosen, QB, UCLA
Round 2, Pick 15 Christian Kirk, WR, Texas A&M
Round 3, Pick 33 Mason Cole, C, Michigan
Round 4, Pick 34 Chase Edmonds, RB, Fordham
Round 6, Pick 8 Christian Campbell, CB, Penn State
Round 7, Pick 36 Korey Cunningham, OL, Cincinnati
The Cardinals traded up with Oakland to the #10 spot to select free falling QB Josh Rosen. Rosen was seen as the most NFL ready QB in the draft by pundits, and the pick was lauded almost unanimously. The reasons for Rosen’s fall was personality issues, but it’s not like the guy was getting arrested or had serious off the field concerns. He’s not seen as having elite arm talent, but is known for reading a defense well and making on time and accurate throws. It’s likely the coaching staff would prefer him to ride the bench in year 1. WR Christian Kirk is an Arizona native and will likely be a fan favorite as a result. His 4.46 40 time is impressive, but the question is how much can he contribute right away to a depleted WR corps. The rest of the draft class is expected to provide depth throughout the team. Draft pundits rated this draft class as excellent, with major stock being put into the Cards getting Josh Rosen without mortgaging several draft picks to acquire him. On paper the class looks solid to the author, with the overall grade obviously hinging on what kind of player Rosen ends up being.
GM Steve Keim deserves credit for keeping the Cardinals stocked with talent the past decade, but this is clearly now a rebuilding project. It’s going to take time to replenish lost roster depth. Bruce Arians preferred to rely upon veteran players, which led to initial impressive success but also put them into the hole they are in now. The O line in particular is a good example of this practice. Jared Veldheer was a borderline elite LT early in his Cardinals career and it paid off. DJ Humphries has flashed strong talent, but he has also missed considerable time with injuries. Mike Iupati has not been the same player since leaving San Francisco, and is also another player for whom injury concerns loom largely. Justin Pugh is yet another O lineman with a tough injury history. It’s tough to imagine the unit suddenly becoming stable health wise, and will likely require time to re-stock. WR depth is also an issue with it being razor thin behind Fitzgerald. If Christian Kirk cannot contribute immediately and often it’s tough to see passing yards easy to come by. David Johnson returning to the lineup will provide a boost, but if O line injuries pile up he will find it tough to get going despite his immense talent. Also factor in that the entire offense will be starting from the ground up with a new OC in Mike McCoy. On defense, the unit has been ranked in the top 5 the past 3 years, but they also lost 6 starters and are switching from a 3-4 to a 4-3. Chandler Jones and Markus Golden should provide a strong pass rushing tandem, and All-Pro Patrick Peterson is still in his prime. Robert Nkemdiche at DT has yet to play up to his high draft status however. Hason Reddick and Deone Buchanon will really need to play well at LB to offset any weakness from the middle of the defensive line. Budda Baker flashed as a rookie SS, but he is still very early into his NFL career. CB depth behind Peterson could also once again be a problem.
Record Prediction: 6-10
If the offense can find a way to stay healthy on the O line and at QB, they could push .500 in my opinion. This would also hinge on the defense not losing a beat and players like Nkemdiche delivering on his draft status. It’s just tough to justify at this point without seeing it all come together. The defense could be a top 10 unit, especially if Golden returns to form coming off injury. If he doesn’t, the CB depth is not something I can imagine holding up. The biggest drawback by far is the offense though. WR depth, injury concerns along the O line and Sam Bradford’s proven inability to stay healthy even under ideal conditions will hold the team back from contention in 2018.