Cardinals roster preps for wide receiver reset after NFL Draft
Finishing the 2018 season dead last in the NFL and with less than half of the total passing yardage as the league-leader made the Arizona Cardinals’ offseason priorities clear.
They fired first-year head coach Steve Wilks, hired former Texas Tech head coach Kliff Kingsbury away from his brief USC coordinator position and began a rebuild around an offensive mind without a lick of pro coaching experience.
But the 2018 failures weren’t just about a bad veteran quarterback and offensive coordinator each eventually replaced by a rookie. It was due to a lack of talent at the skill positions, too.
The Cardinals, led by general manager Steve Keim, set out to give Kingsbury weapons in the 2019 NFL Draft, selecting three receivers in Andy Isabella, Hakeem Butler and KeeSean Johnson. With that, there will be a battle and a potential purging of last year’s contributors, even though Arizona could retain up to seven receivers.
Here is how the roster looks after the draft and which receivers are locks, which are on the bubble and which appear to be on the outside looking in.
Arizona valued its three receiver draftees highly, leading to a run on the position over the weekend. Fitzgerald’s presence entering his 16th season was also a major factor in going WR-heavy. He’s being paid to produce, but he’s also being paid to impart some wisdom on a young crew. Fitzgerald led Arizona a year ago with 734 yards on 69 catches, six for touchdowns.
As a rookie, Kirk actually had a better catch percentage than Fitzgerald, reeling in 63% of passes thrown his way. Expect him to be utilized in a variety of ways in Kingsbury’s offense. Kirk made 43 catches for 590 yards in 12 games before a foot injury ended his rookie year.
The second-round draft pick who was the main return piece in the Josh Rosen trade with Miami is too good not to succeed. At 5-foot-9, the rookie out of UMass is an obvious slot option, but his 4.31-second 40-yard dash and track background make him a deep option as well. He led NCAA in receiving yards last season.
The Iowa State product and fourth-round pick has a 6-foot-5, 227-pound frame. With it, he has long, smooth strides that can be used downfield for jump-ball situations. He was a yard-after-catch monster in college. He’s got to work on drops and must improve working close to the line of scrimmage, but like Isabella, he’s a tool Arizona currently doesn’t have. Butler averaged 22.0 yards per catch for the Cyclones in 2018.
Cardinals general manager Steve Keim loved the Fresno State standout’s route-running ability, and it’s his versatility that he touts as a strength. Johnson doesn’t have the same explosive physical traits as his fellow 2019 draft classmates, but technique and consistency could win the day in a quick-hit offense. A sixth-round pick, he’s as close to a lock as can be after Keim suggested all three wideouts he drafted this year were ranked in the top-60 of the Cardinals’ big board. Now he simply must prove that correct.
The seventh overall pick in 2015 never lived up to his draft slot with the Chicago Bears. His first two seasons were ruined due to fractures in the same leg. Then after winning a starting job heading into 2017, he broke his shoulder blade, ending the year on the injured list for the third time in three years. The 6-foot-3 wideout who ran a 4.35 before the combine appeared in a career-high nine games last year but made just four catches for 92 yards.
Arizona added White to a one-year deal with a $400,000 signing bonus and nothing more guaranteed, per Spotrac.
Sherfield went undrafted last year but appeared in 13 games for a depth-less receiver group. He made 19 catches on just 28 targets for 210 yards and a score. While separation may be an issue, he flashed solid hands.
A late-season waiver-wire pickup from the Rams who returned mid-year from an ankle injury, Cooper didn’t catch a pass but did appear as a punt return man in two games. He took one of those returns back for 45 yards. The 2017 special teams Pro Bowler also has past experience as a kick return man.
A diminutive 5-foot-9 receiver and return man with sub-4.3 speed, Byrd has 12 catches on 20 targets over his 17-game NFL career that spans 2016-18, all with the Carolina Panthers.
Outside looking in
Arizona’s third-round pick from 2017 has struggled to produce. His first opportunity to play an everyday role came with injuries limiting him to 10 games last season, but even when on the field, Williams made just 17 receptions despite being targeted 46 times. He finished with 171 yards and his catch percentage of 37 was second-worst among players who qualified for the NFL Next Gen Stats charts.
Arizona signed Mitchell to a futures deal after a three-year career in the Canadian Football League. He played collegiately at Northwestern State.
A seventh-round pick by the Packers in 2017, Dupre bounced through three other NFL rosters before joining the Cardinals in 2018. The 6-foot-2 product of LSU has not appeared in an NFL game at receiver.
Tolliver made three catches for 37 yards with the Cardinals late last season. The undrafted free agent signed before the year has size at 6-foot-3 and 210 pounds.
An undrafted rookie out of Boise State, Richardson made 54 receptions for 825 yards and eight scores as a senior.