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Cardinals’ roster ranked in lower third of NFL, last in NFC West by PFF

Arizona Cardinals players stretch during an organized team activity at the NFL football team's training facility, Tuesday, May 15, 2018, in Tempe, Ariz. (AP Photo/Matt York)

The Arizona Cardinals are far from the favorites in the NFC West, and ESPN’s NFL roster rankings from Pro Football Focus illustrated that point.

The Cardinals’ roster was ranked No. 23 by PFF, based on PFF’s metrics and how they graded players in 2017.

In no surprise, David Johnson was ruled the biggest strength for the Cardinals.

Unfortunately for the Cardinals, the team’s best player spent nearly all of 2017 on injured reserve. Star running back David Johnson suffered a season-ending wrist injury in the opener, averaging 2.2 YPC before he got hurt, which explains his low grade. He was coming off a breakout year in 2016, when he earned an 87.8 grade and led all running backs in forced missed tackles with 71. If healthy, Johnson can take some of the weight off veteran QB Sam Bradford’s shoulders and reclaim his seat among the league’s best running backs.

A look at PFF’s projected starters chart displays whether a team has a poor, below average, average, good/high quality or elite player based on their PFF grades last season.

Johnson, of course, had a poor PFF grade of 34.9 due to his less than three quarters of action on the season where he produced 11 carries for 23 yards.

The Cardinals’ offense has five poorly-rated starters outside of Johnson, with four of those on the offensive line.

That’s where PFF sees the biggest weakness.

Cardinals tackle Andre Smith, previously one of the better players at his position, has fallen off a bit since his prime years (2011-14). The nine-year player out of Alabama has earned sub-60.0 grades in each of the past three seasons and, most recently, allowed 32 total pressures en route to a 92.4 pass-blocking efficiency rating. That tied for 68th among tackles with at least 178 pass-block snaps.

Wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald is the only above average player on the offense with an 85.3 grade. Tackle D.J. Humphries’ 74.9 grade puts him in the average camp and tight end Ricky Seals-Jones’ high production at the end of the season yielded him a 76.3 grade.

Defensively is where Arizona really shines in PFF grades, especially when taking into consideration the players with poor grades.

Pass rusher Markus Golden, who had 12.5 sacks in 2016 before playing just four games in 2017, had a 48.2 grade while linebacker Deone Bucannon had a putrid 37.9 grade despite being one of the signature players on the defense the two seasons prior.

Add bounceback years for Golden and Bucannon to the likes of defensive end Chandler Jones (87.3), defensive tackle Corey Peters (80.6), cornerback Patrick Peterson (79.6), safety Antonie Bethea (86.7) and safety Budda Baker (84.5), and the expectation should be for Arizona to have one of the best defenses in the league. In fact, only one player outside of those two checked in with a PFF grade below 73 and that was outside linebacker and former first-round pick Haason Reddick, who figures to improve greatly in year two at outside linebacker.

Across the division, the Los Angeles Rams were No. 9,  Seattle Seahawks finished 12th, and the San Francisco 49ers were 19th in PFF’s roster rankings.