ESPN: Cardinals’ offensive weapons rank among bottom half of NFL
The Arizona Cardinals by no means have the best offense in the NFL on paper, and ESPN’s Bill Barnwell made that apparent when he ranked each team’s offensive arsenal.
Barnwell evaluated each team’s skill-position talent, omitting the potential impact from quarterbacks, the offensive line and the scheme in his rankings.
He did, however, touch on the Cardinals injury-riddled 2017 campaign, which included quarterback Carson Palmer and Pro-Bowl running back David Johnson.
Amid the morass of quarterback injuries that was the 2017 season, one of the most disappointing absences had to be David Johnson, who was arguably the best running back in football in 2016 and then went down for the 2017 season after 17 touches with a fractured wrist.
The star back should be 100 percent for 2018, but that wrist injury gets piled on his list of ailments that includes a sprained MCL, dislocated finger and a strained hamstring.
Returning from injury, Johnson is arguably the best player on Arizona’s roster.
In 2016, he rushed for 1,239 yards and 16 touchdowns in just his second season for the Cardinals. He also caught 80 passes for 879 yards and eight touchdowns.
But his 2017 campaign took a dramatic turn in the Cardinals’ Week 1 contest with the Detroit Lions, as Johnson went down with a fractured wrist. The injury required surgery, leaving him sidelined for the duration of the season.
The Cardinals still managed to finish 8-8 on the year, due in part to their defense, which allowed the sixth-fewest yards in the league last season.
Now healthy, Johnson will look to re-establish himself as one of the best backs in the NFL. And with the addition of a fullback to the offense, the 26-year-old will have the advantage of an extra blocker out in front.
All-Pro wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald led the way for the offense in Johnson’s absence last season, hauling in 109 passes for 1,156 yards and six touchdowns.
But despite the heroics from Fitzgerald as he enters his 14th season and with Johnson returning healthy, Arizona still lacks offensive firepower.
Even with a healthy Johnson, though, Arizona’s receiving corps has virtually nobody in his prime. Larry Fitzgerald’s late-career turn into Wes Welker has been remarkable, but there’s precious little behind him.
Fellow veteran Jermaine Gresham tore an Achilles last year, and while Ricky Seals-Jones flashed potential, it was over 12 catches. One member of the Cardinals’ young wideout trio — J.J. Nelson, 2017 third-rounder Chad Williams and rookie second-rounder Christian Kirk — has to develop into someone who can consistently threaten safeties.
Aside from Fitzgerald, J.J. Nelson is the only returner from the Cardinals’ main core group of wideouts from last season.
Second behind Fitzgerald in targets, Nelson hauled in 29 passes for 508 yards and two touchdowns.
Tight end Ricky Seals-Jones showed promise during his rookie season, catching 12 passes for 201 yards and three touchdowns.
Second-year wideout Chad Williams has shown flashes of potential in mini-camp, but his lack of production in his rookie season (three receptions, 31 yards) makes him unproven at the NFL level.
Drafted in the second-round of the 2018 NFL Draft, Scottsdale native Christian Kirk showed his skill level throughout his three seasons at Texas A&M. But whether or not it will transfer on the field for the Cardinals remains to be seen.
The Cardinals will rely on veteran wideouts Greg Little and Brice Butler to produce alongside Fitzgerald.
However, despite impressing the coaching staff in mini-camp, Little hasn’t stepped foot on an NFL field since 2014 when he played for the Cincinnati Bengals — where he hauled in just six receptions for 69 yards.
Butler was used primarily as a deep ball threat in Dallas, as the sixth-year receiver was often overshadowed by Dez Bryant.
He did, however, manage to haul in 15 receptions (24 targets) for a career-best 317 yards and three touchdowns in 2017.
The talent is there for the Cardinals, but it remains to be seen who will step up into an expanded role next season.