Arizona Cardinals 2021 Training Camp Preview

The Arizona Cardinals officially kick off their training camp starting July 27th. In the meantime, here’s a preview of each positional group heading into training camp.

Offense: 

Quarterbacks:
  • Kyler Murray, Colt McCoy, Chris Streveler

Former 2019 No. 1 overall pick, Kyler Murray enters his third season as the Cardinals’ starting QB. Last season, Murray improved in practically every statistical category besides interceptions; where he matched his total of 12 from the previous season. He continued to be extremely effective & productive in the run game; increasing his total rushing yards from the previous year by 275, and touchdowns by 7.

It would not be surprising to see Murray’s rush attempts decrease throughout the course of this season. They’d much rather see him continue to develop more as a passer, as they want to ensure that he’s protected long-term. He ultimately could end up becoming a potential MVP-candidate – especially if he leads them to the playoffs.

Behind Murray, they elected to go in a different direction this year. Instead of bringing back Brett Hundley, who has been their backup QB for the past two seasons, they instead have signed veteran Colt McCoy, who should be a valuable mentor for Kyler. Chris Streveler, a dual-threat QB who signed with the team last year from the CFL, will have a chance to impress the coaching staff during training camp and the preseason to attempt to secure a possible No. 3 spot, if not at least practice squad.

Running Backs:
  • Chase Edmonds, James Conner, Jonathan Ward, Eno Benjamin, Khalfani Muhammad, Tavien Feaster

This will be a very important positional battle to watch out for during training camp (especially for fantasy football owners). Will Chase Edmonds or newly-acquired James Conner emerge as the starter?

Although Conner is the more recognizable name, Edmonds, could be the one poised for a potential breakout season and should be considered the favorite to earn the starting job. Edmonds, is entering his 4th NFL season and already has experience playing in the system. Even despite playing behind Kenyan Drake last season, he still managed to have a productive year contributing in the receiving game: 53 REC-402 YDS-4 TD.

In terms of fantasy, in PPR-leagues, Edmonds could be a massive steal in the mid-rounds. Between Week 4-11: Edmonds scored at least 10+ fantasy points in 6 of the 7 games played, despite only averaging 6.06 carries a game. James Conner should definitely have a role. He could possibly steal some red-zone carries from Edmonds, but he’ll need to improve his play from last year, after averaging only 4.2 yards per carry.

Wide Receivers:
  • DeAndre Hopkins, A.J. Green, Christian Kirk, Rondale Moore, KeeSean Johnson, Andy Isabella, Rico Gafford, A.J. Richardson, Antoine Wesley, JoJo Ward, Isaac Whitney, Andre Baccellia

Last year, DeAndre Hopkins first season in Arizona 100% lived up to the hype. Hopkins posted a 115 REC-1407 YDS-6 TD statline; finishing 2nd in the NFL in targets and 3rd in REC & REC YDS. The only negative was that despite catching 115 passes, he only scored 6 touchdowns, but he’ll aim to improve upon that number in their second year together.

On the other side, it remains to be seen who the starter as Larry Fitzgerald is still deciding on retirement, or not. They added former Bengals’ 7x Pro Bowler A.J. Green into the mix. Green managed to stay healthy last year, but unfortunately had a very disappointing year for playing a full season (47-523-2). 

The player who should have the best opportunity of securing the No. 2 spot is Christian Kirk, who is entering his final year of his rookie contract, aiming for a potential breakout season. The amount of targets Kirk received has significantly decreased from 2019, where he saw 108 – down to 68 last season. On the positive note, he scored the same amount of TDs despite the limited role, so maybe he could be utilized for a much bigger role in 2021.

The player to keep an eye on is rookie 2nd-round pick Rondale Moore (Purdue), who has elite playmaking abilities and could earn an immediate spot as their starting slot-receiver. The two receivers with the most to prove are two former 2019 draft picks, Andy Isabella (2nd) and KeeSean Johnson (6th), who they really could benefit from in their 3rd-year in the system.

Tight Ends:
  • Maxx Williams, Darrell Daniels, Ross Travis, Ian Bunting, Cary Angeline, Bruno Labelle, Bernhard Seikovits

This appeared to be a major need headed into this offseason, but they opted not to add any significant in free agency or the draft; despite the departure of Dan Arnold. Tight ends typically are not used much in Kingsbury’s offensive system, so they may try to get away with just Maxx Williams & Darrell Daniels, but neither is really known to provide a vertical threat in their offense, or perhaps they add/acquire someone. A player to watch during training camp is Bruno Labelle, an undrafted free agent from Cincinnati.

Offensive Line:

LT: D.J. Humphries, Joshua Miles, Josh Jones

LG: Justin Pugh, Koda Martin, Sean Harlow

C: Rodney Hudson, Michal Menet, Lamont Gaillard

RG: Justin Murray, Brian Winters, Shaq Calhoun, Max Garcia

RT: Kelvin Beachum, Justin Murray, Branden Bowen

This group quietly actually played very well last year, especially considering how much they improved from the previous year. In 2021, Murray was only pressured on 16.6% of his dropbacks, which was the 2nd-lowest % in the NFL – trailing only the Packers/Rodgers.

OT: They return both starters from last year; D.J. Humphries, who is looking to build upon a solid season last year on the left side, and veteran Kelvin Beachum who signed a 2-year deal in the offseason. They will hope to see improved sgins of progress from last year’s rookie Josh Jones during training camp.

IOL: They made a huge upgrade to the interior of their O-Line with the acquisition of former Raiders 3x Pro Bowl center Rodney Hudson. Hudson will anchor their run game, alongside veteran Justin Pugh at left guard. On the right side, there will most likely be a competition between Justin Murray and veteran Brian Winters.

Defense (3-4):

Defensive Line:
  • LDE: J.J. Watt, Leki Fotu, Michael Dogbe, Jamell Garcia-Williams
  • RDE: Zach Allen, Jordan Phillips, Victor Dimukeje, Shareef Miller, Ryan Bee
  • NT: Rashard Lawrence, Xavier Williams, David Parry, Cam Murray

DE: The Cardinals made one of the biggest splashes of the entire offseason, with the addition of former Texans 5x All-Pro an 3x Def. POY, J.J. Watt. This unit has improved a lot the past two years; with upgrades such as Jordan Phillips in free agency and Leki FotuZach Allen will compete with Phillips for the starting end spot on the opposite side of Watt. The player to keep an eye on is rookie 6th-round pick, Victor Dimukeje (Duke).

NT: Rashard Lawrence, a 2020 4th-round pick saw some time last season, and will now compete for a starting job at nose tackle with veteran Xavier Williams

Linebackers:
  • WLB: Chandler Jones, Dennis Gardeck, Kylie Fitts
  • SLB: Markus Golden, Devon Kennard
  • LILB: Zaven Collins, Jordan Hicks, Tanner Vallejo, Reggie Walker, Donald Rutledge
  • RILB: Isaiah Simmons, Ezekiel Turner, Terrance Smith, Evan Weaver

OLB/EDGE: This group is led by one of the NFL’s top-edge rushers Chandler Jones, who is returning from a season-ending injury. Despite losing Jones after five games, the defense still managed to finish 8th in the NFL in pressure % per dropback (25.9%). The one player who really stepped up and became one of the main reason for success was Hasson Reddick. Reddick had a breakout season in 2020, finishing with 12.5 sacks & 16 QB hits, but ended up signing a multi-year contract in free agency with the Panthers, reuniting with his former college HC Matt Rhule from Temple.

They will now try to replace Reddick’s production, but fortunately they have three players who finished Top-4 on the team in QB hits behind Reddick. The favorite to start is most likely Markus Golden, who finished 2nd on the team with 14 QB hits. The other two candidates are Devon Kennard (9 QB hits), and an underrated player to keep an eye on is Dennis Gardeck, who provided 7 sacks and 10 hits last season.

ILB: Similar to their def-line, they have made it a point of emphasis to heavily invest in this unit over the course of the last year or so. They’ve now added a linebacker in the 1st round in two-straight years, selecting Isaiah Simmons and Zaven Collins, who are both projected to be the starting inside linebackers.

They both will be one of the most important players on their entire team, as they will heavily be relied upon to make a ton of plays. Simmons finished his rookie season with 54 TKLS-2 SKS- 1 INT and played much better as the season progressed; they are anticipating he’ll have a breakout season. It’ll be interesting to see what they decide to with veteran Jordan Hicks, who signed last offseason as a free agent, but ultimately could become a trade candidate for a team looking to add a veteran starting ILB.

Cornerbacks:
  • LCB: Byron Murphy, Darqueze Dennard, Marco Wilson, Picasso Nelson, Tae Hayes
  • RCB: Malcolm Butler, Robert Alford, Tay Gowan, Jace Whittaker, Lorenzo Burns

Upgrading this unit was a crucial need heading into the offseason, especially with 8x Pro Bowler Patrick Peterson no longer on the roster. Peterson signed with the Minnesota Vikings after playing on the Cards for the past decade. This group is led by 2019 2nd-round pick Byron Murphy, who has primarily has played in the nickel, is primed for a much larger role with Peterson’s departure.

They added four notable corners to the mix in the draft and free agency. In free agency, Malcolm Butler & Darqueze Dennard, and in the draft, Marco Wilson (Florida) & Tay Gowan (UCF). Wilson, demonstrated his athleticism at his Pro Day, running a 4.35 40-yd dash, 43.5″ vertical & 11’4″ box jump; he should compete with Butler and veteran Robert Alford for snaps on the outside, and Gowan should also be in the mix.

Safeties:
  • FS: Budda Baker, Deionte Thompson, James Wiggins
  • SS: Jalen Thompson, Shawn Williams, Chris Banjo, Charles Washington, Jamal Carter

This group is led by Budda Baker, who is quietly turning into one of the top safeties in the NFL Through four seasons, Baker has already earned three Pro Bowl selections and has ad a combined 100+ tackles in 3x straight seasons. On the other side of Baker, Jalen Thompson is the most likely starter at strong safety. They also added Shawn Williams who has spent his entire career with the Bengals and drafted James Wiggins (Cincinnati) in the 7th round.

Special Teams:

  • PK: Matt Prater
  • KR: Chase Edmonds, Andy Isabella
  • PR: Andy Isabella, Christian Kirk
  • P: Andy Lee, Tyler Newsome
  • LS: Aaron Brewer

Veteran 3x Pro Bowl K Matt Prater, who holds the NFL-record for the longest successful field goal, joined the team this offseason, he’s been the Lions kicker since 2014. Veteran 3x Pro Bowl P Andy Lee returns as the punter for his 5th-season with the team.

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