Cornerback at the top of offseason priority list for Arizona Cardinals

Jan 20, 2022, 3:34 PM | Updated: Jan 21, 2022, 10:43 am
Arizona Cardinals cornerback Byron Murphy right, intercepts a pass intended for Los Angeles Rams wi...

Arizona Cardinals cornerback Byron Murphy right, intercepts a pass intended for Los Angeles Rams wide receiver DeSean Jackson during the first half in an NFL football game Sunday, Oct. 3, 2021, in Inglewood, Calif. (AP Photo/Ashley Landis)

(AP Photo/Ashley Landis)

Another offseason, another big question mark looming over the Arizona Cardinals’ cornerbacks room.

Yes, cornerback Byron Murphy appeared to take another step forward as the team’s CB1 and rookie Marco Wilson had his moments in his first taste of NFL action in 2021.

But beyond those two names, there’s a whole lot to evaluate from a season filled with injuries, COVID-19 concerns and overall poor play.

In what looked like a solidified cornerbacks room in 2021 was quickly turned on its head when free-agent signing Malcolm Butler suddenly retired ahead of the regular season.

In a glass-half full kind of way, the development thrust Murphy into a more prominent leadership role, which is never a bad thing.

That’s certainly a scenario the Cardinals would like to avoid in 2022, however.

With Butler out of the mix, it was up to Murphy, Wilson and Robert Alford, who had missed the past two seasons due to injury, to carry the brunt of the load.

Unfortunately for Arizona, the injury bug reared its ugly head yet again. Alford was unable to finish the season after suffering a pectoral injury in Week 14’s loss to the Los Angeles Rams. Murphy and Wilson missed at least a game, headlined by the latter’s two-week absence to close out the regular season.

That led to a glaring look at the team’s depth behind the trio of 2021 starters.

A total of seven corners donned Cardinals red at one point or another over the course of the season. And with the ever-changing lineup, consistency was at a premium throughout the end of the season.

Heading into the offseason, there’s plenty to take into account, especially with Alford hitting free agency and other depth pieces like Antonio Hamilton and Kevin Peterson also set to test the market.

Players under contract in 2022:

– Murphy

– Wilson

– Breon Borders (future deal)

– Jace Whittaker (future deal)

– Nate Brooks (future deal)

If you needed a picture on just how thin the cornerbacks room is heading into the offseason, it’s painted above.

Outside of Murphy and Wilson, Whittaker saw just two games played this season, while Borders saw two games in an Arizona uniform filling in for injured Cardinals. Brooks hasn’t recorded a regular season snap since 2020.

There’s obviously worse ways to build the secondary up, however, as Murphy and Wilson figure to lead the cornerbacks charge in 2022.

Murphy got off to a hot start this past season, recording three interceptions, one of which was returned for a touchdown, six passes defensed and 12 tackles over the first four games of the year. He was named NFC Defensive Player of the Week for his efforts in a Week 3 win over the Jacksonville Jaguars.

Over the next 13 games, Murphy’s production saw a steep downturn, with the cornerback posting just one interception and six passes defensed. He allowed 11.1 yards per receptions and an 87.8 passer rating over the course of the entire season.

Per Pro Football Focus, Murphy improved his coverage grade for a third consecutive season but saw his overall defensive grade drop from 64.7 in 2020 to 59.7 in 2021. The corner also saw regressions in run defense (74.7 to 52.6) and tackling (56.5 to 55.1) but had an uptick in terms of pass rushing (47.6 to 55.4).

Despite the negatives, Murphy’s play ultimately helped Arizona in securing a top 10 mark in passing yards allowed with 235 per game, good enough for seventh.

As for Wilson, the cornerback had his flashes along with his rookie moments this year.

Wilson recorded 48 tackles, four passes defensed at two forced fumbles over 14 games played in 2021 as he was quickly inserted into the starting lineup following Butler’s departure.

He play was for the most part middle of the road, per PFF, with Wilson posting a 52.9 grade. He scored a 60 in terms of pass rush, followed by run defense at 54.4 and coverage at 52.1.

Wilson gave up 10.5 yards per reception to go along with a 127.9 passer rating.

The frame of a sturdy cornerbacks room is there with both Murphy and Wilson in the fold. There’s not much there outside of those two, however.

There’s numerous positions to look at this offseason for general manager Steve Keim, but cornerback has to be at the top of the list when looking at immediate need.

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