ARIZONA CARDINALS

Early returns positive on Cardinals backup RBs Benjamin, Williams

Oct 5, 2022, 12:50 PM | Updated: 2:42 pm
Eno Benjamin #26 of the Arizona Cardinals stiff arms Jeremy Chinn #21 of the Carolina Panthers duri...
Eno Benjamin #26 of the Arizona Cardinals stiff arms Jeremy Chinn #21 of the Carolina Panthers during the first quarter at Bank of America Stadium on October 02, 2022 in Charlotte, North Carolina. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)
(Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

As the evidence slowly collects, the Arizona Cardinals can’t deny the results of their running back room.

James Conner, the known commodity entering the year, remains the trusted starter, physical tone-setter and closer. But after the Cardinals allowed last year’s regular Chase Edmonds to walk, the team has gotten validating play from its two backups, Eno Benjamin and Darrel Williams.

“You saw (Sunday against the Carolina Panthers) we were able to utilize them early in the game and James is a great closer,” head coach Kliff Kingsbury told Arizona Sports’ Wolf & Luke on Monday. “The last drive was a great look at that.

“That team knew we had to run it. That’s a very good defense, defensive line and linebackers. We were able to get a couple first downs and close it out. He’s able to stay fresh and when money’s on the table, I like what we have in the backfield.”

Arizona led 26-16, the final score, with 4:47 left in the game at Carolina before Conner took five straight handoffs. He picked up two first downs before quarterback Kyler Murray kneeled the ball to burn the rest of the clock.

Before that, though, Benjamin and Williams combined for nine carries and 55 yards.

Conner still took 66% of the snaps, but the Cardinals’ trust in the backups appears to be leading to good things.

As far as results through a 2-2 start for the team, the numbers shine bright for Benjamin, the in-house developed player, and Williams, the bargain free-agent signing.

Conner is averaging 3.2 yards per carry, which out of 29 players who have taken at least 40 carries in the NFL sits second-to-last.

Benjamin sits at 5.0 yards per carry (22 carries) to Williams’ 6.5 average (13 carries).

The pop from the backups is showing up in missed tackles and yards after contact. Conner’s 2.27 yards after contact ranks 77th out of players with at least 10 carries, according to Pro Football Focus.

Williams is at 4.15 yards after contact (third), while Benjamin’s is a solid 3.55 (25th).

The backups still have a small sample of snaps, of course.

But in those sample sizes, Benjamin and Williams have combined for four explosive runs (of 10-plus yards) and eight forced missed tackles in 35 carries.

Conner alone has one explosive run and nine forced missed tackles in 45 attempts, according to PFF.

Benjamin has kept pace with Conner in the receiving arena, while Williams’ use in the passing game hasn’t met the expectations that his impressive resume with the Kansas City Chiefs last year indicated.

And all that doesn’t discount the fact that Conner’s pass-protection abilities as a bigger body deserves a mention here.

But there’s growing intrigue about his backups — and how Kingsbury might be more apt to turn to them.

Life Changer Loans

Arizona Cardinals

Lecitus Smith #54 of the Arizona Cardinals at SoFi Stadium on November 13, 2022 in Inglewood, Calif...
Tyler Drake

Cardinals’ Lecitus Smith: People mistake Kyler Murray’s passion for ball

Cardinals OL Lecitus Smith was the latest teammate to come to the defense of QB Kyler Murray following recent criticism from Patrick Peterson.
2 days ago
Arizona Cardinals OLB Myjai Sanders (Tyler Drake/Arizona Sports)...
Tyler Drake

How the Cardinals should attack the final 5 games

With little hope of turning the season around, it's time for the Arizona Cardinals to turn the page and look to the future.
2 days ago
Minnesota Vikings cornerback Patrick Peterson (7) breaks up a pass intended for Arizona Cardinals w...
Kevin Zimmerman

Patrick Peterson says he has no beef with Kyler Murray, adds more criticism of Cardinals QB

Patrick Peterson's attempt at cooling things down after his comments about Kyler Murray on his own podcast included more criticism of the QB.
3 days ago
Quarterback Kyler Murray #1 of the Arizona Cardinals walks off the field following the NFL game at ...
Alex Weiner

Hard Knocks recap: Kyler Murray returns to forefront, Cardinals give back on Thanksgiving

Kyler Murray returned, the Cardinals lost another heartbreaker and several teammates gave back on Thanksgiving in the latest episode.
3 days ago
Paris Johnson Jr. #77 of the Ohio State Buckeyes in action against the Northwestern Wildcats during...
Tyler Drake

Cardinals nab OL Paris Johnson in Brugler’s 1st mock draft for 2023

The Athletic's Dane Brugler graced us with his first mock of the year on Wednesday and has the Cardinals taking OSU's Paris Johnson at No. 7.
4 days ago
GLENDALE, ARIZONA - SEPTEMBER 20: Quarterback Kyler Murray #1 of the Arizona Cardinals is congratul...
Arizona Sports

Kyler Murray calls out Patrick Peterson for condemning comments made on podcast

Cardinals QB Kyler Murray let his frustration with former teammate Patrick Peterson calling him out on a podcast known.
4 days ago
Early returns positive on Cardinals backup RBs Benjamin, Williams