PFF ranks Cardinals’ D-line unit in top-12 thanks to J.J. Watt addition

Jun 9, 2021, 8:20 AM
Defensive linemen Jordan Phillips #97 and J.J. Watt #99 of the Arizona Cardinals participate in an ...
Defensive linemen Jordan Phillips #97 and J.J. Watt #99 of the Arizona Cardinals participate in an off-season workout at Dignity Health Arizona Cardinals Training Center on June 02, 2021 in Tempe, Arizona. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
(Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

When looking at the Arizona Cardinals defensive front seven, edge rushers are not an issue.

Since 2012, outside linebacker Chandler Jones (97.0) has recorded the most sacks while defensive end J.J. Watt (95.5) ranks second.

But there are question marks surrounding the team’s defensive tackles, and that’s why Pro Football Focus’ Ben Linsey has the Cardinals ranked as the 12th best defensive line unit for 2021.

The questions for Arizona arise on the interior, where Watt should see more time than he has in the past few seasons with Houston. Jordan Phillips did not make the kind of impact the Cardinals hoped for in 2020, earning a 54.4 overall grade before a hamstring injury cut his season short.

Phillips’ lack of production grows cause for concern since Arizona signed him to a controversial three-year, $30 million contract back in the offseason of 2020.

The Cardinals paid him because of his breakout season with the Buffalo Bills in 2019, where he recorded 31 tackles and 9.5 sacks, but that was his most productive season.

So was the 2019 season a fluke?

For the Cardinals, the answer is hopefully, “no.”

Phillips, who appeared in nine games due to a reoccurring hamstring injury, was not the only one whose 2020 season was cut short due to injury.

Arizona’s captain nose tackle Corey Peters saw his season end early after tearing his patellar tendon in Week 10 against the Bills. While currently in rehab, Peters is now a free agent. He told Sports Illustrated’s Mason Kern last week that he would re-sign with the Cardinals if given the opportunity.

Peters recorded 15 tackles and 2.0 sacks in his shortened 2020 season.

“We’re always looking to add talent, we know what Corey’s about,” Kliff Kingsbury said after the team’s OTAs last Wednesday.

“He was tremendous for us on and off the field, one of the great leaders in our locker room so we’ll see how that plays out.”

The Cardinals did address the interior of the line on Monday, signing Xavier Williams to a one-year deal.

It’s a return to the desert for Williams, who entered the league with the Cardinals as an undrafted free agent out of Northern Iowa in 2015. He brings Super Bowl experience after winning a championship with the Kansas City Chiefs in 2019.

The Cardinals also have younger players ready to fill in alongside Phillips, Watt and Williams. Defensive tackles Leki Fotu and Rashard Lawrence impressed the coaching staff with their production last season.

“We’re excited about some of the young talent we have there as well. I felt Rashard did a nice job last year stepping in. Leki really came along way, so we feel we have some good pieces,” Kingsbury said.

Newly picked up defensive tackle David Parry is also in the mix to add depth

He started for the Indianapolis Colts from 2015-16, but has had trouble finding the field ever since. Parry played only one game for the New Orleans Saints in 2017 and three games for the Minnesota Vikings in 2018.

If he makes the Arizona’s roster, he would have a chance to play in a regular season game for the first time in three years.

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PFF ranks Cardinals’ D-line unit in top-12 thanks to J.J. Watt addition