ARIZONA CARDINALS

CBS Sports’ Prisco: ‘Young players taking the next step’ will be key to Arizona Cardinals’ improvement

May 22, 2015, 2:48 PM | Updated: 2:48 pm

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LISTEN: Pete Prisco, Senior NFL Columnist for CBSSports.com

When looking at the Arizona Cardinals, the most recognizable names on the team are veterans like Larry Fitzgerald, Carson Palmer and Calais Campbell. Even Patrick Peterson is about to enter his fifth season.

But when it comes to improving on the team’s 11-5 season and playoff berth of a year ago, CBS Sports’ Pete Prisco said some younger players will be key in the Cardinals’ push to reach the next plateau.

While speaking with Arizona Sports 98.7 FM‘s Bickley and Marotta on Friday, Prisco specifically cited three Cardinals players to look for in 2015.

“The Honey Badger [Tyrann Mathieu] was a shell of himself for most of last season [after coming back from a knee injury]. He’s a damn good football player when he’s on the field,” the senior NFL columnist said. “Troy Niklas — another guy, young guy — got to play.

“(On) draft night, some of the guys said to me, they go, ‘You’ve got to go take a look at Rodney Gunter.’ And I said, ‘Alright,’ because you know he’s from a small school, and I went and looked at him. And, oh my God, that kid has a chance to be a beast. Keep an eye on him — big, strong, physical, nasty, tough and he throws dudes around. I mean, granted, he played at a lower level but, boy, he’s a tough kid.”

Mathieu, a strong safety about to enter his third year, played in 13 games last season after coming back from an ACL and LCL tear, but his tackles total (37) was down significantly from his rookie year (68), when he also made 13 appearances.

Niklas, a tight end, played in just seven games in his rookie season due to ankle injuries. The former second-round pick only caught three passes, but he’ll have more of an opportunity for playing time with John Carlson now retired.

Gunter is a 6-foot-5 defensive lineman whom the Cardinals took in the fourth round of the 2015 NFL Draft. He posted seven sacks and 13 tackles for loss last season as a senior at Delaware State.

Prisco gave several other reasons why he thinks Arizona will improve on last year’s strong campaign.

“They’re better than they were a year ago, provided Carson Palmer’s standing up, and it looks like he’s made great progress” he said. “I mean look at that team. Yeah, why wouldn’t they be better? They should be better on the offensive line. Did they overpay for the guard [Mike Iupati]? Probably, but he’s tougher; he’s more physical. I think the draft pick [tackle D.J. Humphries] should be a good player. He’s going to push Bobby Massie. And if Bobby Massie loses his job, maybe he goes to guard. Who knows?

“I think that when you look at it, they’ll be better on the offensive side of the football. And then defensively, it’s still a lot of good, young players on that team. I mean they’re young on that side of the ball. And then there’s always the [Daryl] Washington factor: Can he come back and play?”

The CBS Sports columnist finished that assessment of the team with one bold claim.

“Look, they would have won the division last year if Carson Palmer stayed upright the whole season. I’m convinced of that.”

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CBS Sports’ Prisco: ‘Young players taking the next step’ will be key to Arizona Cardinals’ improvement