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ESPN: Cardinals’ Carson Palmer ranks among second-tier NFL QBs

FILE - In this Jan. 3, 2016, file photo, Arizona Cardinals quarterback Carson Palmer (3) calls a play against the Seattle Seahawks during the first half of an NFL football game, in Glendale, Ariz. Arizona and Carolina play in the NFC Championship game on Sunday, Jan. 24, in Charlotte, N.C. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

Carson Palmer is arguably the most important player on the Arizona Cardinals roster. It became evident when the quarterback tore his ACL near the end of the 2014 season and the team floundered the rest of the way, eventually losing to Carolina in the Wild Card round.

The following season, Palmer showed what could have been if he didn’t go down with the knee injury. The 36-year-old posted career numbers in total touchdowns (35) and yards (4,671) while leading the Cardinals to a 13-3 record and a spot in the NFC Championship Game.

Although Palmer had the best statistical season of his career, ESPN’s Mike Sando, with help from NFL insiders, put together a pecking order of signal callers, and ranks Palmer in his second tier of quarterbacks, tenth overall.

How could Palmer get more third-tier votes (six) than first -tier votes (two) after leading the NFL in Total QBR and earning one MVP vote for a 13-3 team that ranked second in scoring? Here is how: Palmer’s shaky postseason play strengthened his reputation within the league for shrinking in the big moments, while amplifying fears he is nearing the end physically.

Palmer’s performance in the NFC Championship Game was abysmal, yes. But a big area of concern for the Cardinals throughout the entire year, not just the postseason, was attacking the opposing quarterback. Arizona could not get enough pressure on Cam Newton, thus extending the score and forcing Palmer to throw the ball. Carolina boasted one of the NFL’s elite defenses last season, so it’s not surprising the Panthers were able to disrupt the Cardinals’ offense.

An offensive coordinator who placed Palmer in the third tier coming off ACL surgery last summer placed him in the top tier for 2016, citing Palmer’s ability to produce from the pocket with defenders around him.

“I don’t think the Cardinals have anywhere near the success without him,” a different offensive coordinator said. “This guy makes some unbelievable throws. I think he is a 1. Unfortunately, Bruce Arians’ style of offense is going to catch up to him because putting all those guys out and not protecting, Carson is going to get hit and I just don’t think he is going to make it through the year.”

The Cardinals as a team only surrendered 27 sacks throughout the 2015 season, and added veteran offensive lineman Evan Mathis and drafted Missouri center Evan Boehm. According to one head coach, Palmer has the ability to pick up the blitz better than anyone, so keeping the quarterback protected was an importance for the team.

New England’s Tom Brady, Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers and Pittsburgh’s Ben Roethlisberger were the only three quarterbacks to land in Tier 1. Carolina’s Cam Newton, New Orleans’ Drew Brees, Seattle’s Russell Wilson, Indianapolis’ Andrew Luck, San Diego’s Philip Rivers and Eli Manning of the New York Giants all ranked ahead of Palmer.

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