Emari Demercado makes case for extended role in Cardinals’ loss to Bengals

Oct 9, 2023, 8:01 AM

Emari Demercado scores a TD...

Arizona Cardinals RB Emari Demercado scores the first NFL touchdown of his career in a 34-20 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday, Oct. 8, 2023, in Glendale. (Felisa Cardenas/Arizona Sports)

(Felisa Cardenas/Arizona Sports)

TEMPE — Arizona Cardinals running back Emari Demercado entered the team’s Week 5 matchup against the Cincinnati Bengals with just four carries for three yards.

Stuck behind starter James Conner and backup Keaontay Ingram in the running backs room on top of his primary role as a pass catcher, Demercado had little impact in Arizona’s offense.

His nine touches for 31 scrimmage yards across four games were indicative of that.

But with Conner exiting in the second quarter with a knee injury and Ingram missing his second straight game, Demercado quickly found himself in the driver seat of Arizona’s ground game.

And though replacing Conner is no easy task, the undrafted rookie held his own in an expanded role for more than two quarters of play in the 34-20 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday.

More than doubling his rushing attempts on the season with a team-high 10 in Week 5, the undrafted running back out of TCU averaged 4.5 yards per carry on his way to 45 yards. He also caught one of three targets for 12 yards.

“I actually thought Emari came in and played well,” Cardinals head coach Jonathan Gannon said postgame. “He had a couple of runs in there, but obviously when you lose one of your best players, that hurts. But we’ve got to carry the load for him. I thought Emari did a good job.”

The highlight of Demercado’s afternoon came in the third quarter.

Looking to respond following a deep Joe Burrow touchdown strike to Ja’Marr Chase early into the second half, Arizona turned to the running back to answer back.

Capping off Arizona’s 11-play, 75-yard scoring drive with the first touchdown of his NFL career and three straight carries of at least eight yards, he did just that.

“Definitely a surreal moment,” Demercado said postgame. “Something you work for your whole life and then you finally get there and finally get to experience that.

“It was a great moment, but win as a team, lose as a team. We obviously wanted to get the W.”

Is Emari Demercado due for more work?

Entering play Sunday, the Cardinals running backs room outside of Conner had largely unimpressed.

Now with more on tape given his expanded role in place of Conner, could Demercado find his way up the rushing pecking order?

It’s definitely not out of the question, especially with Ingram dealing with availability issues on top of a rough 1.25-yard average.

And with no other running back — practice squad — recording an offensive touch beyond Ingram, Demercado had clearly gained the trust of his coaches and teammates.

It only grew in Week 5.

“I thought Emari stepped in and did a tremendous job,” Quarterback Joshua Dobbs said Sunday. “I know he has been emphasized in the pass game a little bit more thus far but that was huge to see him come in and step up and for him to get his first touchdown, which I know that was a good feeling for him, but also for him to be really good in protection.

“When you lose James, that is tough. I thought the response by Emari to step in and take on a bigger role and not flinch was really good.”

Cardinals wide receiver Hollywood Brown called Demercado’s play “a good confidence boost for him moving forward.”

Given Conner’s injury and whether or not he’ll need time to heal — Gannon said the RB was “OK” — Ingram’s health status, Corey Clement’s non-offensive presence and practice squad addition Damien Williams’ newness to the system, that extended experience could come in handy against divisional foe Los Angeles Rams in Week 6.

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