Seeing Stars: Grading the Arizona Cardinals’ OL situation

Jul 20, 2015, 10:00 AM | Updated: 10:01 am

The Arizona Cardinals won 11 games in 2014, and if not for an incredible amount of injuries very well could have had an even more successful season.

Look around, though, and you’ll see varied opinions on how they will fare in 2015. Some view them as a contender, a team that will compete for a Super Bowl if it can have a little luck in the health department. Others believe last year was a bit of a fluke, that they are destined to take a step back.

As training camp nears, we thought it would be a good idea to take a look at the team on a position-by-position basis, grading each group on a five-star scale.

So, how does the team look?

OL: Jared Veldheer, Mike Iupati, A.Q. Shipley, Jonathan Cooper, Bobby Massie, D.J. Humphries, Earl Watford, Ted Larsen, Bradley Sowell, Antoine McClain, Cameron Bradfield, Rob Crisp, John Fullington

Grade: 3.75 stars

When was the last time you felt good about the team’s offensive line entering a season? If your answer is “never”, you’re probably not alone. But times, they are a changin’.

We’ll start things off at left tackle, where Jared Veldheer exceeded expectations after signing a five-year, $37.5 million contract last offseason before producing a season ProFootballFocus rated as the ninth-best among all left tackles. According to them, Veldheer allowed just one QB sack and four QB hits last season while grading out positively as both a pass and run blocker. Shoring up that position allowed the Cardinals to focus their attention elsewhere, which brings us to the man who will be lining up to Veldheer’s right, Mike Iupati.

The team’s big free agent signing of 2015, the former Pro Bowler form the San Francisco 49ers comes to the Cardinals with a reputation for being one of the game’s best run blockers, though a bit shaky in pass protection. ProFootballFocus rated him as the 14th-best guard in the NFL last season, though sixth-best among left guards. If he can be the run blocker the team is expecting as well as the pass protector he says he is, then the left side of Arizona’s offensive line will be one of the most dominant in the NFL.

Of course, while the left side of the offensive line looks dominant, everything to the right of Iupati is, well, a bit questionable. Not necessarily bad, but questionable.

At center, the team will likely turn to either Ted Larsen or A.Q. Shipley. A free agent pickup from Indianapolis, Shipley is the favorite to earn the job with Larsen moving into more of a swing-lineman role, which may be what he’s best suited for. Last season, with the Colts, Shipley graded out as the 13th-best center by ProFootballFocus, with positive grades for both run and pass blocking. In fact, in seven games at center, he allowed just three QB hits and zero sacks.

Next to Shipley, assuming he earns the job, will be Jonathan Cooper. The team’s first round pick — seventh overall — in 2013, Cooper has battled injuries and inconsistency his entire professional career. Now healthy and on the right side instead of the left, the former North Carolina Tar Heel is confident he will start to be the player the team thought it was drafting.

Where things are likely to be very interesting is at right tackle, where the incumbent, Bobby Massie, will look to hold off this season’s first-round pick, D.J. Humphries. Massie, who will be 26 when the season begins, was adequate as the team’s right tackle last season, credited by ProFootballFocus with nine sacks allowed last season, along with eight QB hits and 28 QB hurries. However, the team spent its first 2015 selection on Humphries for a reason, and surely wouldn’t be upset if the rookie played his way into the lineup.

Though there are some question marks along the line, the good news is the position group itself might be the deepest in the team’s history. Earl Watford was the talk of mini-camp after proving he could play at either of the guard or tackle spots, while Larsen, Humphries and Bradley Sowell — the starter at left tackle in 2013 — should all be capable of filling in if needed, assuming of course none of them start.

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