ARIZONA CARDINALS

PFF: Arizona Cardinals have the 14th-best roster in NFL

Jun 27, 2017, 9:53 AM | Updated: 8:26 pm
Arizona Cardinals' Tyrann Mathieu (32) and Patrick Peterson (21) watch drills during an NFL footbal...

Arizona Cardinals' Tyrann Mathieu (32) and Patrick Peterson (21) watch drills during an NFL football minicamp, Tuesday, June 6, 2017, at the Cardinals' training facility in Tempe, Ariz. (AP Photo/Matt York)

(AP Photo/Matt York)

Opinions of the Arizona Cardinals as they prepare for the 2017 season are mixed.

On one hand, they posted a 7-8-1 record in 2016 before losing key players like Calais Campbell, Tony Jefferson, Marcus Cooper, D.J. Swearinger and Kevin Minter in free agency.

On the other hand, they were arguably a few special teams gaffes from reaching double-digit wins for the fourth straight season, and for all their struggles, the Cardinals did finish in the top 10 for both total offense and defense while leading the league in sacks.

They were an average team with some good qualities, and at least internally there is a belief that the Cardinals will bounce back in 2017 and make another postseason run.

It’s possible, and not long after ProFootballFocus actually predicted the Cardinals would win 10 games along with the NFC West, they — in a piece for ESPN Insider — ranked Arizona as having the 14th-best roster in the entire NFL and eighth-best in the NFC and second-best in the NFC West, behind the 11th-ranked Seattle Seahawks.

Biggest strength: Patrick Peterson continues to excel, despite tracking opposing teams’ best wide receivers all over the field most weeks. He was the least targeted corner in the NFL last season, getting thrown at once every 8.5 snaps in coverage.

Biggest weakness: The Cardinals’ tight end position is particularly worrisome, as Jermaine Gresham remains the entrenched starter. Gresham gained only 1.16 yards per route run in 2016, which ranked 32nd among TEs.

By the numbers: With Calais Campbell leaving for the Jaguars in free agency, Arizona has no interior defensive lineman on its roster who had more than 10 total pressures in 2016. Campbell had 56 by himself.

The Cardinals are considerably lower in the rankings than they were this time last season, when they were listed as having the league’s eighth-best roster.

PFF says the Cardinals have eight players — QB Carson Palmer, RB David Johnson, WR Larry Fitzgerald, C A.Q. Shipley, RT Jared Veldheer, LB Chandler Jones, LB Markus Golden and Peterson — in the “Good/High Quality” range, with no one on the roster being “elite” and Gresham, TE Troy Niklas, RG Evan Boehm and DLs Rodney Gunter and Robert Nkemdiche ranking as “poor.”

Overall, they say the team’s best starter is Peterson, with the worst being Gresham.

The Cardinals obviously feel different about Gresham than PFF does, as they inked the veteran to a four-year, $28 million contract, with $16.5 million in guarantees this past offseason. The 28-year-old caught 37 passes for 391 yards and two touchdowns last season, but was lauded for his blocking, passion and leadership.

Looking at the rest of the knocks the site gives the Cardinals, many of the players they are down on are in their second or third seasons, and therefore could be in line for increased production. Gunter, Nkemdiche and Boehm, specifically, are likely to see larger roles than than they ever have, and with more seasoning could be ready to take over for the more proven players they are replacing.

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PFF: Arizona Cardinals have the 14th-best roster in NFL