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Barnwell: Cardinals dramatically upgraded weaponry since 2019

Arizona Cardinals running back Kenyan Drake (41) runs against San Francisco 49ers defensive end Nick Bosa (97) and middle linebacker Fred Warner (54) during the second half of an NFL football game in Santa Clara, Calif., Sunday, Nov. 17, 2019. (AP Photo/Josie Lepe)

ESPN’s Bill Barnwell, like many of us, doesn’t really know who qualifies as the Arizona Cardinals’ fifth-best offensive weapon.

He just knows that the first four look pretty good.

In his annual pre-camp ranking of every NFL team’s offensive weapons, the ESPN writer ranked Arizona ninth, a massive leap from their 27th ranking a year ago. Two trades since his 2019 rankings have most everything to do with the more optimistic review of the Cardinals’ offensive skill players.

Last season, they traded for Kenyan Drake, who racked up 814 yards from scrimmage and eight touchdowns after being given a reprieve from the tanking Dolphins. Arizona followed up this offseason by stealing DeAndre Hopkins from the Texans in the David Johnson trade, which might have qualified as further addition by subtraction. With Larry Fitzgerald and Christian Kirk both returning, the Cardinals could easily justify a higher position in the top 10.

Yes, we it turns out adding a unanimous top-five wide receiver in Hopkins changes the games for the Cardinals. But Barnwell hedges against hoping for too much.

He wonders if Fitzgerald might be on the decline, doesn’t know if Drake can keep pace with his fantastic play in eight games with the Cardinals last season and isn’t sure Kirk can be consistent enough.

Drake, he notes, scored six times in eight touches inside the 5-yard line, even though the league-average rate is 45%. Putting up 5.2 yards per carry for an entire season after he did so as a newcomer last year would be impressive, for sure.

As for Kirk, well, at least he was productive with 709 yards receiving on 107 targets. That came in three fewer games than Fitzgerald’s 804 yards and 109 targets over a full regular season. Kirk’s consistency leaves a little bit to be desired, though a serious ankle injury held him back to some degree last year.

Nearly 36% of Kirk’s 709 receiving yards and all three of his touchdowns came in two games. Andy Isabella, a second-round pick last year, had 166 receiving yards across back-to-back games in midseason and just 23 yards otherwise, while fourth-rounder Hakeem Butler was a disappointment in camp before missing the entire season on injured reserve. There’s a lot of mouths to feed in this offense, but it would hit another level if Kirk can push ahead of Fitzgerald.

Barnwell’s exercise is only looking at five players deep and taking into account only their expected impact on the 2020 season (salary value and future years don’t matter). And again, it’s apparent he’s not sure who can be considered No. 5 right now.

If one of Isabella, Butler or another player can force his way into that No. 5 spot, Arizona will be in good shape.

Phillips Law Group

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