Then and now: DeAndre Hopkins a big addition to Cardinals WR room
The Arizona Cardinals believe they’ve plugged holes and built depth. On paper they look improved, though they’ve yet to hit the practice field due to the coronavirus.
They speak about flashes of offensive brilliance last year, the growth of quarterback Kyler Murray and a thinly manned defense’s improvements to end 2019 as reasons to be optimistic about 2020.
But the biggest reason for optimism is the upgraded roster. How different does this 2020 roster really look compared to the one that began the first training camp under head coach Kliff Kingsbury?
By position, here’s a then-and-now comparison of the roster last offseason next to the current 2020 Cardinals team based on our 2019 July preview series leading into 2019 training camp.
Larry Fitzgerald, Christian Kirk
Andy Isabella, Hakeem Butler, Kevin White, Damiere Byrd, KeeSean Johnson, Pharoh Cooper, Trent Sherfield, Chad Williams, A.J. Richardson
Biggest storyline: Who steps up after Firzgerald and Kirk?
X-factor: Kevin White’s final chance
DeAndre Hopkins, Larry Fitzgerald, Christian Kirk
KeeSean Johnson, Andy Isabella, Trent Sherfield, Hakeem Butler
There’s little doubt that DeAndre Hopkins leads all storylines with this group.
He gives second-year pro Kyler Murray an ace receiver to bail him out of bad situations, thus keeping him out of harm’s way. Hopkins immediately improves the third down and red zone capabilities of a team that most of 2019 struggled to score deep in enemy territory.
Most of all, Hopkins bumps two verified very good players in Larry Fitzgerald and Christian Kirk down in the pecking order.
Not only will Hopkins and Fitzgerald team to become the the NFL’s best sets of four hands, but they could take attention away from Kirk, allowing him to break out in his third season after showing signs of improvement last year.
What was the biggest storyline last offseason now becomes the X-factor. Instead of wondering if a soon-to-be bust in Kevin White could make the team, there should be more optimism the Cardinals’ offense will take an even more massive leap forward if one of their young wideouts grabs hold of a wide open opportunity.
At the least, there are options.
Does Isabella bring what none of the three starters cannot, stretching the field horizontally pre-snap and blowing past deep safeties post-snap? Does fellow 2019 draft pick Hakeem Butler, whose size separates him from his teammates, put a tough training camp and injury-canceled rookie season behind him?
KeeSean Johnson had the best season among the the 2019 rookie receivers, and third-year pro Trent Sherfield, also a key special teams contributor, refuses to lose his spot in the locker room.
The position battle between these returning players is as convoluted as a year ago — it’s just about the fourth receiver in the rotation instead of the third. It remains an intriguing battle.