The Arizona Cardinals won 11 games in 2014, and if not for an incredible amount of injuries very well could have had an even more successful season.
Look around, though, and you’ll see varied opinions on how they will fare in 2015. Some view them as a contender, a team that will compete for a Super Bowl if it can have a little luck in the health department. Others believe last year was a bit of a fluke, that they are destined to take a step back.
As training camp nears, we thought it would be a good idea to take a look at the team on a position-by-position basis, grading each group on a five-star scale.
So, how does the team look?
CB: Patrick Peterson, Jerraud Powers, Justin Bethel, Alfonzo Dennard, Darren Woodard, Cariel Brooks, C.J. Roberts, Damond Smith, Jimmy Legree
Grade: 3.5 stars
Arguably the biggest personnel hit the Cardinals took this offseason was at this position, as Pro Bowler Antonio Cromartie left for a big money contract with the New York Jets. No worries, though, as there is still plenty of talent in the group.
In fact, in terms of athletic ability, it might be the most impressive position on the team.
It starts with Patrick Peterson, who had a down season yet made his fourth Pro Bowl (third as a corner) and was voted as the 19th-best player in the league by his peers. It was learned following the 2014 season that the 24-year-old had been suffering from diabetes, which likely contributed to his spotty performance. With his health under control, everyone is expecting a bounce-back season from one of the highest paid corners in the game.
After Peterson, what the Cardinals lack in name recognition they make up for in ability. Take Powers, for instance. Entering his third season with the team, he appears to be one of the most underrated players on the roster. Powers tallied 36 tackles, three interceptions and one sack last season as the third cornerback, and should have no problem moving back to the outside as a starter if that’s what is asked of him.
The wild card in any of the team’s plans for the cornerback position is Bethel, a fourth-year pro who is coming off a pair of Pro Bowl campaigns due to his electrifying performance on special teams. The 6-foot, 200-pound player has all the physical tools to play the position — size, quickness, speed, strength — but has yet to put it all together and become a consistent performer at corner. The 25-year-old has no issue being a special teams star, but would like to make an impact as a cornerback. If it’s ever going to happen, this is probably the year.
If it’s not, there are a handful of players ready to step in and take his place. Following OTAs and mini-camp, it appears Jimmy Legree is the proverbial leader in the clubhouse. Head coach Bruce Arians praised the second-year pro’s performance, and at 6-foot and 187 pounds, the former undrafted free agent out of South Carolina would seem like a solid bet to make his way off of the practice squad and onto the 53-man roster. Another option could be former New England Patriot Alfonzo Dennard, who needs to learn to play the kind of corner the Cardinals want, but has proven himself capable with five interceptions and 90 tackles since entering the league in 2012.
Woodard, Brooks, Roberts and Smith don’t necessarily figure to have big roles with the team, but a good training camp — both as corners and special teams contributors — could lead to them making the roster.