Then and now: Can Cardinals turn to unheralded TEs for more in 2020?
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.
2019 projected starters
Charles Clay, Maxx Williams
Ricky Seals-Jones, Caleb Wilson, Darrell Daniels, Drew Belcher
Biggest storyline: Will the Cardinals use their tight ends under first-year Air Raid coach Kliff Kingsbury?
X-factor: Who earns snaps after Charles Clay?
Dan Arnold, Darrell Daniels, Dylan Cantrell
Last offseason at this point, it wasn’t yet clear if Cardinals first-year coach Kliff Kingsbury would ignore his tight ends. To some extent to start, he did, running out 10 personnel at a wildly high rate compared to his NFL peers.
But the evolution of the offense showed the value of the tight end in today’s NFL. Charles Clay (18 catches, 237 yards) and Maxx Williams (15 catches, 202 yards) didn’t pile up hefty numbers, but they were integral parts of the balanced Arizona offense taking flight with rookie quarterback Kyler Murray.
Williams earned a mid-year contract extension, and in the final third of the year, Murray found newcomer Dan Arnold, signed off waivers, to be one of his favorite red zone targets.
Now that Kingsbury has a grasp of how to use tight ends, it’ll be fascinating to watch him bring more out of the position. Williams, an excellent blocker, was deployed as a receiver after defenses were set up to make mistakes. The team has trust in Arnold and Daniels enough that it appears Clay will walk in free agency.
Dylan Cantrell, a Texas Tech product who is being converted to tight end, could also challenge for a roster spot.
What more can the tight ends bring this year?
Might it include more involvement in the passing game? Arizona tallied the second-fewest targets (56 combined) between its first two tight ends in the NFL last season.
Should you overreact that Kyler Murray quickly became fond of “Big Dan” Arnold at the end of the 2019 season (6 receptions, 10 targets, 102 yards, 2 TDs)?
Does it matter Murray was still looking for the 25-year-old in his offseason Madden games streamed on Twitch?
Was there significance Arnold showed up just after DeAndre Hopkins in Murray’s hype video after the Cardinals worked out in person in Texas?
Maybe it’s just me!
In any case, Kingsbury seemed to trust Arnold and threw him into red zone packages after he’d shown out during practices. The Cardinals appear to be confident that he and the other backups can bring some offensive pop from the position that so drastically helped to change the season for the better without being such a weapon last year.
Expect Arnold to continue to show up in red zone packages. But expect a lot more out of him if the thin 6-foot-6 tight end can hold up if taking on more run- and pass-blocking assignments.