There’s no other way to slice it — 2015 was the best season in Arizona Cardinals’ history.
Of course, the quest for the franchise’s first Super Bowl win fell short, but no Cardinals team had ever won 13 regular season games and only one other had ever played in a conference championship contest.
The NFL Network is currently in the process of unveiling their made-for-TV list of the top 100 players in the league — a series that will continue until training camps open in July.
Pro Football Focus unveiled their own list, based on player grades, and they didn’t mess around. They released the entire list on their website Thursday morning.
According to PFF, the best individual player in the league last season was Rams defensive tackle Aaron Donald.
Four Arizona Cardinals landed on the list, headed up by defensive back Tyrann Mathieu, who ranked 10th. Quarterback Carson Palmer (15th), cornerback Patrick Peterson (19th) and wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald (43rd) also appeared.
Tyrann Mathieu was robbed of a chance of appearing higher on this list by a torn ACL late in the season, causing him to miss the final two games and the playoffs. At the point he went down, he was enjoying a Defensive-Player-of-the-Year kind of season, and even with the two missed games, he finished on our shortlist for that award. Whether you view him as a safety (where he is listed by Arizona) or a cornerback (where he plays 67.5 percent of his snaps), you have to appreciate the sheer playmaking ability of a DB who has quickly become one of the league’s great matchup weapons on defense. Capable of playing in a variety of different roles and positions, Mathieu just has a nose for making plays, and showed that this season.
Whether it was his injured thumb or just a postseason meltdown, Carson Palmer’s playoff performance drags him out of the top 10 and away from the very highest spots of the Top 101. At the end of the regular season, Palmer had earned PFF’s vote for both MVP and Offensive Player of the Year. In a passing system that saw him have the highest average depth of target (11.3) in the league, Palmer should have been one of the most inaccurate quarterbacks in the league, but actually completed 63.7 percent of his passes and threw just 11 interceptions over the regular season. He was our highest-graded QB over that span, but in two playoff games, he went from bad to worse, ending with the lowest passing grade we have ever given a quarterback in a postseason game to send the Cardinals home.
PFF also pointed out that Palmer led the league in average depth of target — 11.3 yards downfield.
Finally at full health, Patrick Peterson had arguably his best season as a pro for the Cardinals, and shut down a who’s-who of receivers over the course of the year. Peterson wasn’t beaten for more than 56 yards in any one game, and was one of the few players to enjoy success against Pittsburgh WR Antonio Brown, limiting him to just two receptions for 26 yards on six targets when the two met, albeit in one of the games Brown was without Ben Roethlisberger as his quarterback.
A year ago, it looked like we were seeing the end of Larry Fitzgerald’s NFL career, but enter a rejuvenated Carson Palmer, and suddenly the old Fitzgerald was back to his reliable best. The Cardinals wideout dropped just three passes during the regular season, making that just 29 for his entire career (nine seasons, playoffs included). When you consider that Amari Cooper had 18 drops this season alone, it gives you some perspective on just how reliable Fitzgerald’s hands have always been. In the 2015 regular season, he caught 78.4 percent of the balls thrown his way, and was a key cog in a phenomenal Arizona offense.
The Cardinals will have another player who appeared on PFF’s 2015 list next season. Guard Evan Mathis, who ranked 76th, was signed to a free agent contract in March.
The Carolina Panthers, who beat the Cardinals in the NFC Championship Game, had the most players in the top 101 with nine. Linebacker Luke Kuechly, who ranked 3rd overall, was their highest-ranked player.
The Seattle Seahawks and New England Patriots each had seven players represented, while the Super Bowl champion Denver Broncos were next on the list with six.
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