The Arizona Cardinals featured four players in the first released portion of ESPN’s panel-based player ranking system, and now the team has added three more.
Carson Palmer has found his spot on the list at No. 37.
Talk about rejuvenated. Palmer had the best season of his career in his mid-30s last year. He threw for a career-high 4,671 yards and 35 touchdowns, while recording the third-highest completion percentage of his career. He also led the Cardinals to a 13-3 record, and won his first playoff game while making to the NFC Championship Game, the furthest point he has ever gone. He was even one of three players who received an MVP vote. — Josh Weinfuss
In 2013, Palmer threw for 4,274 yards and 24 touchdowns in his first season in Arizona, the best of his career at the time. After he went down with an ACL injury in 2014, Palmer came back in 2015 to not only have the best season of his career, but the best season of any Cardinals quarterback in franchise history.
Giving up two late round draft picks to the Oakland Raiders in the 2013 offseason for the then-33-year-old turned out to be arguably one of the biggest trades in Cardinals history.
The team rewarded the quarterback with a one-year contract extension earlier in training camp, ensuring that Palmer finishes his career in the desert.
Coming in tied for 23rd (with Kansas City safety Eric Berry) is defensive back Tyrann Mathieu, who wasn’t ranked in this list last season.
Mathieu was considered by most to be a candidate for the NFL Defensive Player of the Year Award before he suffered a torn ACL — his second in three seasons — in a Week 15 win over the Philadelphia Eagles. The fourth-year pro is back on the field in training camp for Arizona, vowing to play all 16 regular-season games for a team with Super Bowl aspirations.
The “Honey Badger” established himself as one of the best young defensive backs in the league last season, intercepting five passes, including one that he returned for his first NFL touchdown. But Mathieu was more than an interception machine when he was healthy in 2015. He played more than 100 snaps at three different positions, and lined up at five other spots on the Cardinals’ defense. His nose for the ball led to the “Honey Badger” nickname in college at LSU, and it has continued to hold true in the NFL.
Mathieu signed a five-year, $62.5 million contract that made him the highest-paid safety in the league earlier this summer.
The Cardinals’ highest-ranked player, not surprisingly, is cornerback Patrick Peterson, who falls at number 16 on the list, up from last year’s ranking of 49.
Five Pro Bowls. Three All-Pro teams. Defensive captain. Peterson has established himself as a standard in the NFL at cornerback. Yes, he had only two interceptions last season, but that’s because not many passes were thrown his way. Peterson said last season he learned to not let boredom on the field get the better of him, and he has worked to be focused on every play. After controlling his diabetes, Peterson had a stellar season in 2015, and he’s only 26 years old.
Peterson has been a Pro Bowl selection in all five of his NFL seasons and established himself as a true shutdown corner in 2015.
Only two defensive backs — Seattle’s Richard Sherman (14) and Earl Thomas (15) — rank ahead of Peterson on this year’s list.
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