Predicting Team Awards for the Arizona Cardinals' 2013-14 Season
A profusion of change highlighted the Arizona Cardinals’ 2013 offseason, and with that change comes hope that the new regime can introduce a winning mind-set to a locker room in need of strong leadership.
Let’s dust off the team awards and predict which players will earn them based on offseason work, preseason action and “potential” production this season.
A few newcomers to the team’s roster have made positive impacts on the preseason playing field, and even more have made watching training camp a delight. Quarterbacks Carson Palmer and Drew Stanton have solidified the most important position on the field, while rookies Jonathan Cooper, Kevin Minter and Tyrann Mathieu have impressed virtually everyone who’s laid eyes on the team this offseason.
Will any of these players win team season awards come January?
It’s a safe bet at least one will, but let’s go over the entire list of players predicted to walk away with an award.
Note: All training camp information used here was obtained firsthand by the writer.
Most Valuable Player: Carson Palmer, QB
Having a capable quarterback should improve Arizona’s offense. Already this offseason, Palmer has shown signs that he is an enormous upgrade at the position compared to the seven players who started games the past three seasons.
There are still kinks to be worked out with him and his new teammates running head coach Bruce Arians’ offense. But that will come with time and repetition.
The starting offense looked in midseason form during their first preseason game in Green Bay, but Palmer and Co. struggled out of the gate with mental errors and miscommunication in the preseason home opener against the Dallas Cowboys.
When they get going, the offense could be a difficult train to stop. So far, Palmer’s deep throws have accounted for 19 percent of his total attempts through two preseason games. If he continues that pace into the season, he should be right at about 100 such passes by the conclusion of the 2013 campaign.
Rookie of the Year: Tyrann Mathieu, DB
If the season were to start Sunday, Tyrann Mathieu may be the starting free safety for Todd Bowles’ defense. That is partly because of the injury to Rashad Johnson, but he also has earned a shot at early playing time because of his knack for big plays.
The third-round rookie has been the talk of training camp so far, making plays daily and doing things rookies are not supposed to know how to do.
Like last week, when he peeled off Larry Fitzgerald during practice to knock away a pass intended for tight end Rob Housler. That kind of field and ball awareness cannot be taught. As a player, either you have that or you don’t.
Mathieu should produce plenty this season, and it will lead to team rookie of the year honors.
Most Improved Player: Michael Floyd, WR
Everything about the offseason screams that second-year wide receiver Michael Floyd will be among the players mentioned for most improved in 2013.
He appears ready to break out as a sophomore pro, and his quarterback will help him do that.
The connection between Palmer and Floyd was noticed right away. During OTAs, the two hooked up on as many passes—or more—than any other receiver, Fitzgerald included.
That has continued into training camp. Floyd makes a play down the field daily, it seems, with Palmer and Stanton targeting him regularly.
He has little to show for it through two preseason games, having caught just two passes for 20 yards. But production should come when games count. Preseason action is merely a primer for the real thing and, as mentioned earlier, the offense is a work in progress.
After a difficult rookie season in which he caught 45 passes for 562 yards (12.5 yards per catch) and two touchdowns, he could easily double his receptions and yards while tripling his touchdowns in Year 2.
Biggest Surprise: Justin Bethel, CB
It’s debatable whether Justin Bethel is faster or more athletic than fellow cornerback Patrick Peterson (can we get them to race, please?), but one thing is for sure: No one is better on special teams than Bethel.
He is Arians’ No. 1 gunner, and he will make the team on that fact alone.
But watch for the second-year defensive back to surprise everyone by earning more and more playing time on defense this season. As a rookie, Bethel played just 13 snaps on defense—five at cornerback and eight at strong safety, according to ProFootballFocus (subscription required). He was targeted in coverage just once, but he allowed a 37-yard touchdown during Week 12 to receiver Chris Givens of the St. Louis Rams.
He has looked strong in coverage throughout camp, and his added bulk (he has to be up 10 pounds over last year) no doubt has something to do with that. He has been physical in bumping receivers off the line, and he is regularly matched up with Peterson when he throws on the offensive penny and lines up out wide.
That’s no mistake. Arians could be preparing Bethel for big coverage opportunities in the future by pairing him up with arguably the most versatile player in the NFL.
Biggest Disappointment: Ryan Williams, RB
There is a real chance Ryan Williams won’t even make the 53-man roster. If that were to happen, he would be given this award forthright and forever. Nagging knee pain is something many NFL players deal with daily, but to miss as much time as he has during training camp—when 50 players are gunning for his roster spot—shows no drive and no will to play football.
Call me crazy, but it appears as though Williams is giving up on his lifelong dream by sitting out as long as he has. How can Arians keep him on the roster if he won’t even fight for his job?
After admitting he was running scared last year upon returning from a near career-ending knee injury, he said the shoulder injury he suffered in St. Louis was a blessing because it allowed him to focus on “getting my knee right,” according to Scott Bordow of AZCentral.com.
He’s still scared.
Early on in training camp, he took a big hit from undrafted rookie linebacker Kenny Demens during blocking drills. The collision put Williams on his backside.
He left practice shortly thereafter and hasn’t touched the field since.
Offensive Player of the Year: Larry Fitzgerald, WR
After averaging 91 receptions, 1,262 yards and nine touchdowns per season from 2005 to 2011, Fitzgerald finally succumbed to the filth at quarterback last year. He had his least-productive season since his rookie year, and though he did not show it, he had to be dejected.
But Fitz should return to dominance with Palmer throwing passes his way. The two have had somewhat of a shaky start, and they have gotten together multiple times after practice reps to talk things through and get it right.
Fitzgerald continues to learn about football after nine seasons in the league. Arians has him playing three different receiver positions, and with that has come some issues. Fitz is a bit of a perfectionist, however, and he will get it down before the season starts.
Defensive Player of the Year: Patrick Peterson, CB
He’s the best cornerback on the team. That can arguably be extended to the NFC West, the NFC and even the NFL. We know Cardinals general manager Steve Keim would place him closer to the best in the league. The following is from an interview with Robert Klemko of TheMMQB.com:
Every player that you draft, there’s a maturation process. Sometimes guys have to grow up. When Patrick [Peterson] walked through the door he was ready to play. He was already a pro, from a skill-set standpoint and from an attitude and maturity standpoint. From an ability standpoint, I’ve never seen anything like him. He’s the closest thing in the league to a Bo Jackson, a Deion Sanders. […] His value to our team is really unparalleled.
Needless to say, Keim sees a star in Peterson. And for good reason. From defense to special teams to offense, he can do anything asked of him at a moment’s notice.
With Daryl Washington suspended the first month of the season, Peterson must be the best player on the field every time he steps out there. Karlos Dansby and the other inside linebackers will do what they can, but athletically and from a football standpoint, Washington is the best player on the defense.
Peterson will have to be the leader with his play and with his voice. He is more than capable of handling that.