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ESPN writer: Cardinals are too low in post-draft power rankings

Arizona Cardinals Corey Peters (98), Rodney Gunter (95), Markus Golden (44) and Chandler Jones react to a play against the Seattle Seahawks in the first half of an NFL football game, Saturday, Dec. 24, 2016, in Seattle. (AP Photo/John Froschauer)

If you took a look at ESPN’s post-draft power rankings in search of the Arizona Cardinals, you scrolled farther down the list than you would have liked.

The rankings, which were voted on by a panel of ESPN experts, were published on Monday and see the Cardinals listed at 18, second among NFC West teams but behind eight different NFC squads.

It’s a far cry from where the Cardinals were around this time a year ago, and according to ESPN writer Mike Clay, it’s significantly lower than they should be now, too.

In an ESPN Insider meant to bust myths of teams ranked too high and too low, Clay wrote that the Cardinals should have been higher than 18th. Significantly higher, in fact, saying he would rank Arizona eighth.

The Cardinals missed the playoffs last season, but they struggled with injuries and actually didn’t play terribly worse than they did when they won 13 games in 2015. In fact, Arizona ranked second in scoring differential (plus-176) in 2015 and seventh (plus-56) last season. Of the top 13 teams in scoring differential last season, only Philadelphia (7-9) had a worse record than Arizona (7-8-1).

Although the defense lost the likes of Calais Campbell, Kevin Minter, D.J. Swearinger and Tony Jefferson in free agency, the Cardinals refurbished the unit with some additions in the offseason (Jarvis Jones, Karlos Dansby, Antoine Bethea) and during April’s draft (Haason Reddick, Budda Baker). Led by Patrick Peterson, Chandler Jones, Tyrann Mathieu and Markus Golden, this remains a quality unit.

The Cardinals are a good bet to return to the wild-card mix in 2017.

An optimistic take, for sure.

The Cardinals were an interesting case in 2016, finishing in the top 10 in both offense and defense yet failing to win even half their games. Injuries played a factor, no doubt, but more than that it was their special teams that proved to be problematic.

Bad snaps and missed kicks cost them, as did occasional mental errors.

With that in mind, had the Cardinals just returned last year’s roster, it would be a moderately easy to sell to assume they would get back on track and make a push for a playoff berth, and perhaps a deep run through the postseason.

But the Cardinals are not returning last year’s roster. Instead, as Clay pointed out, the team’s defense suffered a good many defections, with key players bolting for bigger bucks and roles than were waiting for them in the desert.

The team has gone about trying to replace what it has lost, and if all goes according to plan, veterans such as Jones, Dansby and Bethea will mix well with newcomers Reddick and Baker as the Cardinals get continued quality play from its stars. That could mean there is little-to-no dropoff from the defense, while better health on offense — particularly along the offensive line — would in theory have Arizona once again near the top of the standings.

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