CARDINALS CORNER

Cardinals questions post-NFL Draft: Who takes the reins as CB1?

May 30, 2024, 4:08 PM | Updated: May 31, 2024, 12:38 pm

The Arizona Cardinals replenished their roster and upgraded multiple positions with the addition of 12 NFL Draft picks and batch of free agents this offseason.

With arguably the biggest pieces of Arizona’s offseason now behind it, the attention turns to the depth chart and how the Cardinals’ roster will shake out.

While there’s still plenty of time before the pads come on, there’s no shortage of question marks surrounding Arizona ahead of Year 2 under head coach Jonathan Gannon and general manager Monti Ossenfort.

After taking a look at the offensive line, wide receiver, running back, pass rusher and quarterbacking in short-yardage situations, it’s onto cornerback.

Who takes the reins as Arizona’s CB1?

This isn’t the same Cardinals cornerbacks room thanks to a busy offseason from Ossenfort.

On top of adding veteran Sean Murphy-Bunting, Arizona doubled down for a second time during the NFL Draft with a trio of rookies in Max Melton (second round), Elijah Jones (third round) and Jaden Davis (seventh round). They now join a returning group of second-year pros in Kei’Trel Clark, Starling Thomas V and Garrett Williams, all of whom started at least six games in 2023.

Translation: There’s a whole lot of competition within Arizona’s secondary.

Given Murphy-Bunting’s resume and past experience, he’s a prime candidate to not only start, but command the CB1 role.

Easily one of Arizona’s top free-agent additions this offseason, Murphy-Bunting brings with him 50 starts across 67 games played from 2019-23. He primarily played along the outside the past three seasons for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2021-22) and Tennessee Titans (2023). He also split time in the slot early on in his career, showing his versatility to play outside or in.

He’s coming off one of the most productive years of his career, too, behind 57 tackles, two interceptions, eight passes defensed and two forced fumbles across 14 starts.

Murphy-Bunting has also played — and won — at the game’s pinnacle, racking up six tackles and a pass defensed in Tampa Bay’s Super Bowl LV victory over Kansas City.

Even if Murphy-Bunting doesn’t have a stranglehold on CB1, he’s still tracking to be an impactful piece for Arizona’s defense.

As for the two batches of young cornerbacks, Melton and Williams bring a lot of intrigue to the table.

Thanks to the former’s second-round price tag, his work at Rutgers under defensive-mind Greg Schiano and how much of a target the corner was in Ossenfort’s eyes, Melton was quick to enter the CB1 conversation this offseason.

Putting together arguably his most complete season playing primarily outside in his final year at Rutgers, Melton racked up 32 tackles, four for loss, three interceptions, six passes defensed and one forced fumble in 12 games.

The work and effort he put in hasn’t been lost at the NFL level, either, with those outside the Cardinals organization making note of Melton’s potential.

“Melton carries good size and did a nice job staying with some of the better receiving options from the Big Ten,” NFL.com’s Lance Zierlein said of Melton pre-draft. “He’s adequate from press and has the burst to make up ground when he gets behind early.

“The ball skills can flip the field, and he’s very aggressive in collapsing the catch point. He’s capable in run support but needs to work on his angles of pursuit. His versatility, traits, instincts and ball skills could make him an eventual starter and an early CB3/4.”

As for Williams, his football IQ and versatility continue to keep him in the mix after finding himself in the starting lineup following successful rehab from a torn ACL.

Despite the second-year corner getting a ton of run as Arizona’s starting nickel last year, his intelligence and college resume alone leave the door open for a potential move to the outside.

Before taking over as an NFL nickel, Williams spent the majority of his time roaming the outside at Syracuse.

And now with a full offseason focused solely on football — not rehab or being a rookie — both Williams and the Cardinals are expecting a big jump from the cornerback.

“(Focusing on) football off the field is just so much better being healthy and just being able to function at a regular pace,” Williams told Arizona Sports’ Wolf & Luke last week. “Being able to be in the building, be in meetings, lift with the guys, run with the guys, I feel like that’s really important when you’re trying to become a leader amongst your group and also somebody your teammates can rely on.

“I want them to be able to see me on a day-to-day basis to see how I work, see how committed I am. That way when it’s time to play, they know I’m ready to roll.”

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