PFF: Four Cardinals among most-improved in their roles

Jan 10, 2017, 5:41 PM | Updated: 7:52 pm
Arizona Cardinals running back David Johnson (31) can't make the catch as Washington Redskins free ...

Arizona Cardinals running back David Johnson (31) can't make the catch as Washington Redskins free safety Will Blackmon (41) defends during the second half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Dec. 4, 2016, in Glendale, Ariz. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

(AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

For the Arizona Cardinals, players old and young took serious steps forward in 2016. Four of them earned mention on Pro Football Focus’ list of the 2016 season’s most-improved players.

PFF said David Johnson’s pass-catching skills out of the backfield and Calais Campbell’s interior rushing skills were the most-improved, respectively. Additionally, outside linebacker Markus Golden (for second-year defensive player) and safety Tony Jefferson (hybrid safety) earned runner-up mention.

First, to Johnson.

Johnson led all backs in receptions (80), yards (879) and broken tackles (27) in one of the most-impressive receiving years from a running back PFF has ever graded. He nearly doubled his output from a season ago in each of those categories. Even with the volume he had, Johnson still somehow ended up fourth in yards per reception (11.0).

And while an increase in volume helped Johnson make the leap after he displayed receiving skills as a rookie a year prior, Campbell’s step forward could have been induced by the added focus of opponents who had to deal with Arizona’s outside rushers like Chandler Jones and Golden.

Campbell has been a top-level interior presence for a while, but he really stepped up his pass rush in 2016, recording three more sacks, five additional pressures and three extra batted passes on fewer pass-rushing snaps than a year ago.

Golden, by the way, was PFF’s runner-up in the category of second-year defensive players. He recorded 12.5 sacks on the year from his outside linebacker position and came in second to Giants safety Landon Collins, who was among the NFL’s best disruptors.

New York’s safety recorded five interceptions, 13 passes defensed and rolled up 125 tackles.

Collins also earned the honor of the most-improved hybrid defender, and Jefferson, who PFF graded as one of the best run-stopping safeties, came in as runner-up.

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