The Cardinals may have had trouble performing well as a team at times last season, but there were multiple individual players whose performances were worthy of recognition.
For this reason, only four teams had more players make Pro Football Focus’s annual top 101 list than the Cardinals’ five. The Seattle Seahawks led the league with eight members, while the Green Bay Packers, New York Giants and Dallas Cowboys all contributed six.
That list features running back David Johnson, defensive end Calais Campbell, outside linebacker Chandler Jones, strong safety Tony Jefferson and wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald.
Johnson led the way for the Cards, coming in at No. 23.
David Johnson was the only player in the league to top 2,000 yards from scrimmage this season, adding 879 receiving yards to go along with his 1,243 rushing yards. Johnson caught 80 passes as a receiver this season, and they weren’t mere extensions of the same kinds of passes any other running back catches. Johnson’s versatility in that area is so impressive that the Cardinals would split him out as a receiver and expect him to run legitimate WR routes — and win, which he routinely did. Few players are better at making people miss in space, and Johnson forced six more missed tackles as a receiver than any other back.
The second-year pro was the second-best running back in the league, according to PFF, falling just shy of Ezekiel Elliott of the Dallas Cowboys, who was ranked 22nd.
He also was named the best receiver in the league this season by PFF. The closest running back to Johnson in receiving yards last season was Le’Veon Bell of the Pittsburgh Steelers, who finished with 616.
Campbell directly followed Johnson, capturing the No. 24 ranking.
Calais Campbell’s career has been spent in the shadow of players like J.J. Watt and Aaron Donald as an interior threat, but this season, he took a significant step towards their level with the best year of his career. Campbell’s overall grade of 90.4 represents the first time he has broken the 90.0-barrier in his career, and if anything, he ended the season stronger than he began it, with six sacks in his last five games.
Like Johnson, Campbell ranks second at his position, as the only interior defender who ranks higher is Aaron Donald of the Los Angeles Rams (No. 2 on the list overall).
The veteran defensive end made 53 tackles and collected eight sacks last season, while adding six passes defensed.
Campbell is one of the Cardinals’ many free agents this offseason and re-signing him could be challenging. Only Fitzgerald has been with the team for a longer period of time than Campbell’s nine years.
Joining Campbell on the list is another defensive player who could become a free agent this offseason, as Jones makes it at 62.
Chandler Jones proved to be an excellent pickup for the Arizona Cardinals, and he formed a formidable pass-rushing duo with Markus Golden. Jones totaled 66 QB pressures over the season and ended the year with back-to-back two-sack games. He was a consistent force as a pass-rusher, despite playing 938 snaps, or 87.1 percent of the team’s defensive plays.
Jones was pried away from the New England Patriots last offseason in exchange for a second-round pick and guard Jonathan Cooper. The move payed off, as Jones finished the season with 49 tackles, 11 sacks and four forced fumbles.
He was the 10th-highest ranked edge rusher (3-4 outside linebacker or 4-3 defensive end) on the list.
The pass rusher’s contract is expiring, but head coach Bruce Arians has stated that Jones will be staying in Arizona next season — whether it is under a long-term deal or the franchise tag.
Yet another defensive free agent in Jefferson comes in at No. 84.
The Top 101 list this season has a lot of undrafted success stories in it, and Tony Jefferson is the latest one. The former undrafted free agent was excellent for the Cardinals this season as their strong safety, posting a run-defense grade of 98.0 and notching 35 defensive stops on the season (third among safeties). Jefferson was a rock-solid tackler, missing only five of 98 attempts all year. He didn’t record an interception, but did break up five passes and allowed just 7.1 yards per reception when he was the primary coverage defender.
The 25-year-old broke out this season, becoming one of the team’s unsung heroes and finishing fifth among safeties with 96 tackles on the year.
His tenacious run defense and solid coverage skills helped the Cardinals defense finish second in the league by allowing only 305.2 yards per game and are a big reason he’s the sixth-ranked safety on this list.
The young safety is followed five spots later by one of the eldest wide receivers in the league in Fitzgerald.
Larry Fitzgerald was another receiver to suffer through significant ups and downs from his quarterback, Carson Palmer, but despite that, he continued to excel, notching 107 receptions and topping 1,000 receiving yards. Fitzgerald was also one of the best blocking receivers in the game, putting the team before himself and doing the ugly work when others won’t. Fitzgerald is now more of a possession receiver than in years past, but he is still an excellent one.
Fitzgerald was the only Cardinal to make the list both this season and last season, falling 46 spots from his No. 43 rank for 2015. The 33-year-old was the eighth-highest ranked wide receiver on the list after being the sixth-highest last season.
The ageless wonder proved last year that he still has fuel left in the tank and will be returning to play at least one more season with the team.
One notable absence from the list is cornerback Patrick Peterson, whose omission turned some heads:
Peterson, however, seems to be taking the snub in stride and is using it as motivation:
- Former Cardinals WR Anquan Boldin is retiring, to fight for human rights
- Now it can be said: Arizona Cardinals safety Tyrann Mathieu is back
- Cardinals notes: Brandon Williams shines in loss to Bears
- Arizona Cardinals can’t hold lines in preseason loss to Bears
- Cardinals fall just short of comeback in preseason loss to Bears