Revamped WRs room among positional presents Cardinals need for 2024 success
Dec 25, 2023, 7:07 AM | Updated: Dec 27, 2023, 12:18 pm
(Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)
Christmas did not come early for the Arizona Cardinals on Sunday, falling 27-16 to the Chicago Bears in the Windy City.
Now, it’s onto the Philadelphia Eagles and the rest of the regular season before the Cardinals turn their attention squarely to 2024.
But in the spirit of holidays — and the fact that there are now only two games left to play this season — let’s take a look at the positional presents the Cardinals should be hoping to unwrap in 2024:
This is arguably the biggest need for the franchise moving forward, especially given the past few weeks of dismal wide receiver production.
In a contract year, Hollywood Brown has largely been hit and miss. His lingering heel issue has clearly impacted his availability and production. His low output on the field coupled with his injury issues could very well be the final nail in the coffin when it comes to the Cardinals opting to move on from the wideout instead of shelling out an extension this offseason.
Up to this point, he has not warranted anything close to No. 1 wide receiver money and it would not be surprising to see general manager Monti Ossenfort spend elsewhere at the position despite Brown’s obvious relationship with quarterback Kyler Murray and overall ability to stretch the field.
It’s not just Brown, though.
Rookie Michael Wilson has flashed his potential but has been forced out of multiple games due to a shoulder issue. Entering the league, injury woes were a concern given his history in college.
Rondale Moore meanwhile has been more effective in the running game, Greg Dortch has been a fill-in at best despite making the most of his reps and Zach Pascal hasn’t had much of a role offensively.
For the Cardinals, change needs to start at the top. One big way to accomplish that is by utilizing their projected top 3 pick in the 2024 NFL Draft on Ohio State wide receiver Marvin Harrison Jr.
The young pass catcher not only brings an NFL pedigree being the son of Hall of Famer Marvin Harrison, he also provides size that simply can’t be coached at 6-foot-3 and 202 pounds.
Harrison has the makeup and build of a true No. 1 option. His back-to-back years of at least 1,200 receiving yards and 14 touchdowns are proof of that.
Bringing on Harrison should free Wilson up more while letting the Stanford product continue his NFL progression, with Moore and a guy like Dortch, who is an exclusive rights free agent in 2024, filling in at the slot.
The best part of this scenario? The Cardinals don’t break the bank, making it possible to shell out more funds at other positions of need.
There could be a debate between defensive line and cornerback when it comes to which defensive position group needs more love this offseason.
But looking at next year’s current lineup, the line is likely going to need more work than the secondary.
Of the 41 players under contract for 2024, Arizona has Dante Stills, Roy Lopez and Naquan Jones as the only trench members still on the roster, per OverTheCap.
Between the trio, they’ve made 10 starts combined, with seven coming from the rookie Stills.
On the other side, the Cardinals currently show four returning corners, all of which have started multiple games for Arizona during their respective tenures.
Getting some solid reinforcements along the defensive line could go a long way in shoring up a run defense that entered Week 16 31st in the NFL in yards allowed per game (139.6) and bottom five in touchdowns given up (17).
If the line is 1a, cornerback is 1b.
After seeing their usage this season, the rookie trio of Garrett Williams, Kei’Trel Clark and Starling Thomas V figure to have a role one way or another for Arizona next season.
Williams has found his home at nickel. Clark and Thomas are still searching for more consistency in the performance and snaps department but have shown enough to make seven and four starts, respectively.
After those three, though, it gets really murky.
Marco Wilson is still under contract and has started 11 games this year but has watched his defensive snaps dwindle to nothing the past three weeks.
It’s clear he’s fallen out of the rotation that includes veteran Antonio Hamilton Sr. and it’s realistic to think his time in the desert could be coming to an end as early as this offseason.
Whether that is the case or not, Arizona is in the market for a lockdown-type cornerback.
Depending on where the Cardinals’ second first-round pick (via the Houston Texans) lands — it’s currently at No. 16 — there’s a good chance Ossenfort addresses both the wide receiver and CB needs in a big way this draft.
There’s also money to spend in free agency if Arizona feels the need to add a more veteran presence to a young room.
Paris Johnson and Will Hernandez have a good thing going and should continue to in 2024.
The other side of the line has at least one question mark in: who the heck is going to start at left guard moving forward?
Opening-day starter Elijah Wilkinson is a free agent next season and has been far from consistent, while Dennis Daley has been a nonfactor for most of the season.
Much like Ossenfort and Co. did this past draft, adding a young offensive lineman to mold is never a bad decision for a run-heavy offense led by a quarterback with a hefty price tag attached to him.
The Cardinals have a number of good outside linebackers. Dennis Gardeck gives you everything you need in a player and a person. BJ Ojulari is still a work in progress but is showing noticeable growth each and every week. Victor Dimukeje is turning heads, while Cameron Thomas and Jesse Luketa also fill a need on the team.
Then there’s Zaven Collins.
Collins began his life on the outside in decent fashion behind 3.5 sacks, three tackles for loss, four QB hits, an interception and a pass defensed through the first seven games of the season.
The last eight haven’t been as productive for Collins, though, with the outside linebacker posting two tackles for loss, two QB hits, a pass defensed and zero sacks.
Collins has been asked to do much more than just applying pressure on the QB, though, dropping into coverage and not staying in one spot too long for defensive coordinator Nick Rallis. The linebacker is still a work in progress at the position but shouldn’t be counted out just yet. Despite his NFL experience up to this point, he’s had the least amount of pass-rushing in the room when it comes down to it.
But adding a consistent threat opposite of a Collins, Gardeck and Ojulari rotation to put an opposing signal caller on his butt could really change the tide for a Cardinals defense in need of a game wrecker near or at the line of scrimmage.