CARDINALS CORNER

Safety atop Arizona Cardinals’ strongest position groups in 2022

Sep 5, 2022, 7:07 AM

Budda Baker...

Arizona Cardinals S Budda Baker (Tyler Drake/Arizona Sports)

(Tyler Drake/Arizona Sports)

The Arizona Cardinals have playmakers on nearly every level of the football field.

But which position group as a whole reigns supreme when it comes down to it? And which room has more questions than answers?

A closer look into each position group entering the regular season, ranked from strongest to weakest:

1. Safety

Jalen Thompson continues his ascent as one of the top safeties in the league alongside a proven Budda Baker.

Thompson led the team in tackles last season with 121, with he and Baker reeling in three picks apiece to go along with 14 combined passes defensed.

The two form arguably the best safety tandem in the league.

2. Quarterback

Quarterbacks Kyler Murray and Colt McCoy represent one of the sturdiest rooms on the team.

Murray has continued to show improvement, especially from an accuracy standpoint, while McCoy has shown he can operate the offense if called upon.

3. Tight end

You get the best of both worlds when you head over to the tight end room.

Zach Ertz brings the heightened catching ability. Maxx Williams brings the blocking prowess. And rookie Trey McBride brings a mixture of the two.

All bases covered.

4. Wide receiver

The WR spot in the ranking will move up at least two spots midseason once DeAndre Hopkins returns from his six-game PED suspension. But for this exercise, we are focusing on the players who are currently on the 53-man roster.

Hollywood Brown enters his first regular season as a Cardinal but has a long-standing relationship with Murray dating back to Oklahoma. Rondale Moore and A.J. Green round out a strong starting receiving corps.

Greg Dortch and Andy Isabella present strong depth pieces, as well, who will likely see their numbers called more with Antoine Wesley heading to the short-term IR on Thursday.

5. Running back

Arizona’s running back room is filled top to bottom with James Conner, Eno Benjamin, Darrel Williams, Jonathan Ward and Keaontay Ingram on the depth chart.

Conner will get the bulk of the carries. Beyond that, it’ll come down to how good Benjamin and Williams can be.

Benjamin has shot up the depth chart since not playing in his rookie season in 2020. Williams is coming off 1,000 yards from scrimmage last year with the Kansas City Chiefs and is known for this type of change-of-pace role in an offense.

Ward has looked a lot more comfortable in the system, while Ingram has the build of a bruising bell cow.

6. Inside linebacker

Star backer Isaiah Simmons gives this room a boost with his versatility. Nick Vigil is a strong veteran presence who could see starting reps depending on where Zaven Collins is at in his second season and alongside the two youngsters in certain packages.

Collins has the physical attributes to impact games but still seems a step or two behind in his NFL progression.

7. Offensive line

Injury history and age are really the only reasons the Cardinals’ offensive line takes a fall down to No. 7. The team’s starting five are solidified with left tackle D.J. Humphries and center Rodney Hudson leading the way.

But with injuries limiting the availability of a handful of starters this offseason, durability will be something to watch.

Behind the starters are a few young players in tackle Josh Jones and guard Lecitus Smith, who have the potential of being long-term fits moving forward. Recent addition Cody Ford adds depth but comes with his own questions.

8. Special teams

Punter Andy Lee, kicker Matt Prater and long snapper Aaron Brewer are three peas in a pod.

They’re getting up there in age but can still get the job done.

Prater will have a few more eyes on him this season after a few misses this preseason.

9. Outside linebacker

This is another position that could very well shoot up the rankings by midseason. It all depends on what we see out of the pass-rushing spot opposite Markus Golden.

Dennis Gardeck proved in 2020 that he can be effective rushing the quarterback in place of Chandler Jones, but can he replicate that success over a complete season? And can the younger players in Victor Dimukeje, Myjai Sanders and Cameron Thomas pick up the slack when needed?

10. Defensive line

The biggest problem surrounding a promising defensive line has been its health.

J.J. Watt is a force when he’s on the field but saw just seven games in his first season in the desert. Zach Allen has progressed nicely, though he has also dealt with his fair share of injury woes in his short NFL career. A lot depends on whether third-year pros Rashard Lawrence and Leki Fotu can take steps forward.

11. Cornerback

Byron Murphy Jr. is the lone undisputed starter in the CB room as Arizona prepares for Week 1. Outside of the Valley native, there are questions galore.

Originally projected starter Marco Wilson lost his job this camp to Antonio Hamilton, who was mentioned as one of the team’s top standouts by head coach Kliff Kingsbury. Hamilton, however, will miss the first four games of the season after a cooking incident placed him on the reserve/non-football injury list.

Arizona did add depth to the position this past week in Trayvon Mullen (trade) and Javelin Guidry (waiver claim), but until we see them in action, the jury’s still out as to how much the newcomers will impact the room.

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Safety atop Arizona Cardinals’ strongest position groups in 2022