Cardinals preview roundtable: Playoff predictions, under-the-radar players

Sep 12, 2020, 6:55 AM

Arizona Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray (1) tosses the ball to a coach as head coach Kliff Kings...

Arizona Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray (1) tosses the ball to a coach as head coach Kliff Kingsbury, left, looks on as the quarterbacks run drills during an NFL football workout Wednesday, Aug. 12, 2020, in Glendale, Ariz. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

(AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

Following a 5-10-1 debut season, expectations have risen dramatically for Kliff Kingsbury’s Arizona Cardinals.

A trade for DeAndre Hopkins set off a chain of upgrades that bring back core pieces while patching holes. On paper, it’s a more talented roster than a year ago.

Quarterback Kyler Murray’s expected ascension could put Arizona under the spotlight in 2020.

We asked our Arizona Sports hosts, reporters and editors a series of six questions to preview the Cardinals’ 2020 campaign. After part one covered Murray and others, here’s part two, including win total predictions and more.

4. Who is one under-the-radar player who will turn heads this season? Why?

John Gambadoro, co-host of Burns & Gambo: I have been saying Arnold all along so I will go with him. I can see 35-plus catches for the talented tight end with great route running and hands. Could be a mismatch the Cardinals take advantage of regularly.

Doug Franz, co-host of Doug & Wolf: Kelvin Beachum. When you pick up a tackle off the street, it means the league doesn’t expect much. Getting him back into a Kugler-run offensive line will do wonders for him, and the Cardinals.

Paul Calvisi, anchor on Doug & Wolf: Rashard Lawrence. Not only does his technique/mechanics go far beyond a typical rookie, but his burst off the ball will also be much more impressive than his college film ever showed due to the fact that he was required to two-gap at LSU. Now, Lawrence can truly attack with abandon. In fact, by all accounts, Lawrence is already much more NFL ready than 49ers first-round pick Javon Kinlaw.

Dave Burns, co-host of Burns & Gambo: Since I don’t think Dan Arnold counts as under-the-radar any more, I’m going to go with Chase Edmonds. I think he’s going to be good enough to claim more touches. And I do think Byron Murphy is going to be vastly improved this year as well.

Vince Marotta, co-host of Bickley & Marotta: I commented on our show this week that for a guy who had 150 tackles last season, there has been very little talk about Jordan Hicks in the preseason. He’s a smart football player and I think he can be the key to what should be an improved defense.

Ron Wolfley, co-host of Doug & Wolf: Maxx Williams. 11 personnel (one back, one tight end, three wide receivers) will be the Cardinals base personnel group in run-down situations (1st & 10, 2nd & 1-6). With all the weapons the Cards have on the field in THAT personnel group, the Cardinals are going to see a lot of six-man boxes on the defensive front with two safeties high. With Williams at tight end, the Cards are just as likely to run the ball as they are to throw the ball. If the box has six defenders and the Cards have six blockers, not to mention the threat of Kyler Murray running the ball, the Cardinals have a BIG advantage. Williams makes that happen because he is an excellent blocker. So the heads that will turn are coaches and coordinators, not fans and fantasy owners.

Kellan Olson, editor and reporter: Put me down for a career-high number in sacks for Devon Kennard. Chandler Jones has been the best pass rusher in the NFL since he got to Arizona, and with Isaiah Simmons and Budda Baker roaming everywhere, that gives Kennard room to thrive.

Luke Lapinski, host of The Rundown with Luke Lapinski and reporter: There aren’t really a lot of under-the-radar players in key roles on this team right now. I’ll say Chase Edmonds. He knows the offense, and successful teams tend to use multiple running backs. Along those lines, Eno Benjamin looked like one of the most NFL-ready backs I’ve ever seen at ASU, so I could even see him impacting a couple games if the other guys have to miss any time.

Tyler Drake, editor and reporter: With all the hype surrounding DeAndre Hopkins and his arrival to the Valley, another WR on the team hasn’t got a lot of talk this season. That’s Christian Kirk. With defenses having to focus on Hopkins and Fitz, Kirk should reap the rewards. That’s a reason why he’s on my fantasy team this year, too. He’ll get his reps.

Kevin Zimmerman, editor and reporter: Second-year safety Jalen Thompson. Defensive coordinator Vance Joseph couldn’t have praised his presence more for Arizona limiting chunk plays and tackling in space at his deep safety position. Now that the 2019 supplemental draft pick knows what he’s doing, he not only will keep limiting mistakes by his teammates but start making game-changing plays himself.

5. Name one player you think might not meet expectations. Why?

Gambadoro: Chandler Jones, who wants to break the sack record. He will have another good year, but at some point, he will decline. And with more pass-rushing talent, his goals of the sack record are probably not realistic.

Franz: Andy Isabella. I think he might be in over his head. I hope I’m wrong.

Calvisi: Haason Reddick. Although he still possesses elite athleticism and feels more comfortable at OLB, will Reddick ever earn the trust of the coaching staff to play meaningful snaps?

Burns: Hate to say it but Isaiah Simmons. I think it will end up being a very good pick, but between the unusual offseason and the positional difficulties of honing him in to one spot, the transition might be a little rough.

Marotta: Isaiah Simmons. I hate to answer this question with his name, and I don’t do it because I lack belief in his abilities. I just think a player of his vast skill set may struggle early to get comfortable in the NFL without the benefit of mini-camps, OTAs and preseason games.

Wolfley: Dre Kirkpatrick. He was out on the street for a reason. Although he’s loaded with talent, has starting experience and Vance Joseph knows him well, the Cardinals signed him to a veteran’s minimum contract. He’s going to see a ton of balls thrown his way opposite of Pat P and he’s still learning the system. For me, he is the biggest question mark on the defensive side of the ball.

Olson: Kenyan Drake was such a breath of fresh air for the offense last year that I think the expectations have been set too high. He’s being treated as if he might have a shot at making the Pro Bowl, and I think he’s closer to a “solid NFL running back” than that.

Lapinski: This one’s tough, because I actually do believe in the guys on this team that are facing the loftiest expectations right now. Maybe Kirk, but it’s not because I think he’ll struggle. There just seems to be this assumption that he’s definitely breaking out this season. It makes sense on some levels, because a guy like Hopkins should make life easier for all the other receivers. But Hopkins is also going to command a lot of targets, and Larry Fitzgerald is still very much in the mix. They need more than three touchdowns from Kirk – and they can’t all come in one game like they did last year – but I think they’re fine if he puts up 700-800 yards again. And I’m not sure that will be enough in some people’s minds.

Drake: Twist my arm and I’ll say Kenyan Drake. Drake came onto the scene midseason and blew up for the Cardinals to the tune of eight touchdowns and 643 yards on 123 carries, averaging 5.2 yards per attempt. That type of production is hard to come by for a full season, however. I think Drake will still get it done and be a vital piece to the team, but not to the level his expectations are set at.

Zimmerman: Isaiah Simmons. The amount I read his name compared to the amount I read De’Vondre Campbell’s name on this here Internet, I think people haven’t realized that the 2020 first-round pick isn’t a starter. I think he’ll be involved in Week 1 against the 49ers, but it might take half a year for him to be fully integrated into game plans. As long as they’re healthy, Campbell and Jordan Hicks start at inside linebacker, and Byron Murphy is too trusted at nickel to be taken off the field.

6. How many games do the Cardinals win and is it good enough to get them in the playoffs?

Gambadoro: No playoffs and eight wins. If everything breaks right they could win nine games and that might be enough to get in. If breaks don’t go their way I see seven wins. So I will stay in the middle of those two numbers and say a good 8-8 season in which we see a much-improved football team destined for a long playoff run starting in 2021

Franz: In a different division, 9-7 = yes. In the NFC West, 7-9 = no.

Calvisi: Nine wins. Good enough to snag the final playoff spot. #Lucky7

Burns: Nine and yes.

Marotta: I think the Cardinals will win eight games this season, and unfortunately, even with the expanded playoff field, it won’t be enough to get them to the party. There’s just too many good teams in the NFC.

Wolfley: I’ll put the number at nine wins and, yes, with the expanded playoff format — where almost half the league gets in — they should make it into the postseason.

Olson: I’m still scared that Vance Joseph sucks at his job, and ditto for Steve Keim. If there’s more than one dud on that defense out of the handful of new starters, that group is in trouble again. I’m going to go with seven, though, because even if the defense sucks again, I think Murray is going to be one of the eight best quarterbacks in football this year. The division is just brutal, and that is not good enough to get them in the playoffs. Like Doug said, this is a nine-win team with a different schedule.

Lapinski: Nine, but that really hinges on them getting off to a good start. After the San Francisco game, they get Washington, Detroit, Carolina and the Jets in the first five weeks. Probably need to go at least 3-2 to begin the season with that schedule. Maybe they can still pull it off going 2-3, but that means making up wins against division rivals later in the year – and explaining how you lost to either the Lions, Jets or a team that doesn’t even have a name. I’d say they have a shot at 10 if they weren’t in the NFC West but, even in this division, I still think they’ll be right there in the seven-to-nine range. And if they hit nine, they’ll get in.

Drake: I’ll be the double-digit guy. I can see the Cardinals securing 10 wins this season. While the NFC West is the NFC West — although I do think Arizona steals one or two — there’s other victories to be had. After a tough game at San Francisco, Arizona could easily rattle off four straight wins to really make some early-season noise. I don’t see them losing a game to the AFC East, and could see the Cardinals fighting for a Wild Card spot in the final game of the season against the Rams.

Zimmerman: Nine wins and the last playoff spot.

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Cardinals preview roundtable: Playoff predictions, under-the-radar players