RB Ryan Williams has made the 53-man roster. How does the group of running backs grade out?
With the Arizona Cardinals’ roster now at its initial 53-man limit, we can officially start critiquing and grading every player and position. After an offseason that seemed to take forever due to the immense turnover within the organization, players left on the roster can exhale knowing they have jobs for the time being.
Some notable names left out this season are defensive lineman David Carter (surprising to most), safety Jonathon Amaya (surprising to some) and offensive guard Chilo Rachal (surprising to no one).
While the roster should still be considered in flux due to the possibility the team scours the waiver wire for better depth at a number of positions, the core of the roster is set—there might be no one added, or there might be upward of three or four players added (my guess).
Here is the first edition of positional grades as we enter the 2013 season.
|No. 1||Carson Palmer|
|No. 2||Drew Stanton|
|No. 3||Ryan Lindley|
With Ryan Lindley on the roster, the grade will go down a bit. It is possible that Lindley will be around only until inside linebacker Daryl Washington returns from suspension, as someone will have to go once he counts toward the 53-man roster again.
Carson Palmer is a big upgrade to the position over the quarterbacks of the past three seasons, and now is when we finally will see just how much better he can run the offense. He was good enough during preseason games, but those contests don’t count.
Drew Stanton is probably one of the best backup quarterbacks in the league. He can run head coach Bruce Arians’ offense in a pinch with little drop-off from Palmer.
Position Grade: C+
|No. 1||Rashard Mendenhall|
|No. 2||Ryan Williams|
|No. 3||Stepfan Taylor|
|No. 4||Alfonso Smith|
|No. 5||Andre Ellington|
A healthy Ryan Williams is arguably more talented than anyone on the roster, but until Thursday, it was not known how he would perform when given a heavy load.
Williams carried nine times for 25 yards and a touchdown in Denver, including one run on which he lost six yards trying to do too much.
Rashard Mendenhall is the starter and has looked at times like his old self from before he tore his ACL at the end of the 2011 season.
Rookies Stepfan Taylor and Andre Ellington add their own uniqueness to the roster, while veteran Alfonso Smith made this roster by being the most consistently impressive back throughout camp and the preseason.
Position Grade: B
|No. 1||Larry Fitzgerald|
|No. 2||Michael Floyd|
|No. 3||Andre Roberts|
|No. 4||Jaron Brown|
The top three were locks to make the team, but Jaron Brown had to bust his hind parts to be part of the September roster.
Brown stood out all offseason, and the undrafted rookie tallied 11 receptions for 145 yards (13.2 yards per catch) and two touchdowns during the preseason. His last touchdown was a thing of beauty, a 55-yard strike against the Broncos from Lindley Thursday night.
Receiver could be among the positions in a state of unrest as of now while general manager Steve Keim combs the waiver wire for a gem.
Position Grade: B-
|No. 1||Rob Housler|
|No. 2||Kory Sperry|
|No. 3||Jim Dray|
|No. 4||D.C. Jefferson|
Veteran Jeff King has been placed on the injured reserve/designated to return list after knee surgery, according to Kent Somers of AZCentral.com.
This group of tight ends probably will not remain as it is right now; a few solid options are out there on the waiver wire after cuts, and with the way head coach Bruce Arians likes using tight ends, everyone after Rob Housler on the depth chart has to worry him.
As it is, Housler could miss time with a sprained ankle, though that is speculation at this point—nothing has been ruled out.
Position Grade: D
|LT 2||Nate Potter|
|RT 2||Bobby Massie|
|OT 5||Bradley Sowell|
Right tackle suddenly is a position of strength for the Cardinals. Bobby Massie improved dramatically midway through his rookie season, but he is the backup this year with Eric Winston stepping in and playing well.
The left tackles are another story entirely.
Levi Brown was decent against everyone but the San Diego Chargers' 33-year-old pass-rusher Dwight Freeney. Brown was bullied the entire first half against Freeney, allowing a sack and three quarterback hurries to the veteran, according to ProFootballFocus (subscription required). Then there is Nate Potter, who allowed four sacks to backups and struggled at both pass blocking and run blocking.
Position Grade: C-
|No. 3||Earl Watford|
The big blow this offseason was the loss of No. 7 overall pick Jonathan Cooper to a broken leg. He has been placed on the season-ending IR list, so Daryn Colledge will shift back over to the left side to take his place.
Though Arians appears happy with Paul Fanaika’s preseason performance, one has to wonder if he and the Cardinals’ brass will jump at the opportunity to improve the right guard spot if given the opportunity.
Enter Jake Scott, who was released by the Detroit Lions over the weekend. He is a player who is consistently rated among the best guards in the league but who, for some reason, cannot stick with a team (similar to Winston). Any link to Arizona is pure speculation at this point, but the Cardinals must sign Scott immediately to a one-year deal to improve the interior depth.
Position Grade: C+
|No. 1||Lyle Sendlein|
|No. 2||Mike Gibson|
With Lyle Sendlein healthy once again, the offensive line has its signal-caller back. Sendlein was among the highest-rated centers this preseason after not allowing a single quarterback pressure, per PFF.
One has to believe the reason Mike Gibson made the cut over a guy like veteran Chilo Rachal (other than Gibson playing well and Rachal struggling) is that Gibson is versatile. He can play both center and guard, and he likely will serve as an emergency backup guard as well as Sendlein’s backup.
Position Grade: B
This is a strong point of the defense. Calais Campbell is the star of the defensive line, and he should have a big season rushing the passer working more with the 1-gap scheme coordinator Todd Bowles brought with him.
Darnell Dockett has struggled since Ray Horton took over the reins of the defense, and he has yet to shake that—Dockett was invisible all preseason.
The depth at defensive end is solid this season, as Ronald Talley played his way into a backup role, and veteran Frostee Rucker provides experience and attitude to the line.
Position Grade: B+
|No. 1||Dan Williams|
|No. 2||Alameda Ta'amu|
Dan Williams was it at nose tackle for less than 24 hours. Former Pittsburgh Steelers big man Alameda Ta'amu was added along with Sowell according to Urban's report. Though Rucker is versatile enough to play across from center in a pinch and could serve as Williams’ backup, he could split the backup role with Ta'amu.
Williams is as solid a nose tackle as there is in the NFL, and his play against the run is better than most. He is not much of a pass-rusher, but the Cardinals don’t need him to get to the quarterback. His main job is to create lanes for linebackers to get to the quarterback.
Ta'amu's addition drops the grade a full letter.
Position Grade: C
Newcomer John Abraham leads all active players with 122 career sacks. He still has it, as he notched 10 sacks a year ago—his final season with the Atlanta Falcons. He may not start every game, but he hopefully will provide enough of a pass rush to improve the defense from a year ago.
Sam Acho could be feeling heat from behind him this season if he cannot get better. He excels as a cover linebacker, but his pass rushing leaves something to be desired. Rookie Alex Okafor is a candidate to replace him in the lineup should he struggle at getting to opposing quarterbacks.
Free-agent additions Lorenzo Alexander and Matt Shaughnessy are especially adept at stopping the run, and they could be used primarily in running situations when offenses use heavy personnel.
Position Grade: C
|No. 1||Karlos Dansby|
|No. 2||Jasper Brinkley|
|No. 3||Kevin Minter|
|No. 4||Kenny Demens|
With Daryl Washington on the suspended list for all of September, Karlos Dansby and the combination of Jasper Brinkley and rookie Kevin Minter will have to make do in the middle. Though all had their struggles this preseason, they should be able to hold down the fort until Washington returns.
Minter should start next to Dansby, but it likely will be Brinkley because of his experience—the veteran is entering his fifth NFL season. Washington will drastically improve the overall grade of this unit upon his return.
Position Grade: C
|No. 1||Patrick Peterson|
|No. 2||Jerraud Powers|
|No. 3||Antoine Cason|
|No. 4||Javier Arenas|
|No. 5||Justin Bethel|
|No. 6||Jamell Fleming|
|No. 7||Bryan McCann|
Behind Patrick Peterson at cornerback lies a jumble of mediocrity. Both Jerraud Powers and Antoine Cason struggled this preseason. Nobody won the No. 2 spot; Powers simply was the lesser of the two evils, according to the depth chart.
Behind them is Javier Arenas, who did play well at times during the preseason. He may not get much playing time, however, with rookie Tyrann Mathieu earning slot work.
It is curious that seven corners are on the current roster, especially with Mathieu taking snaps at the position. The back end of the chart drops the grade some.
Position Grade: C
|FS 2||Tyrann Mathieu|
|SS 2||Tony Jefferson|
This unit is not as good this season as they were last. Rashad Johnson is worthy of starting and could be an important piece of the defense, but 35-year-old Yeremiah Bell starting alongside Johnson is questionable.
Bell struggled all preseason in run defense, an area in which strong safeties are supposed to excel.
Rookies Mathieu and Tony Jefferson possess great ball skills and know how to rush the passer. Both showed they can do so this preseason and both could end up starting for the team at some point—yes, even Jefferson, the undrafted free agent.
Position Grade: C-
The special teams combination of Jay Feely, Dave Zastudil and Mike Leach have a combined 39 years of NFL playing experience. They might be one of the oldest trios of kicking mates in the league, but they also are one of the best.
Despite nearly losing his job this preseason (until Dan Carpenter blew it, that is), Feely finished the fake games strong by hitting on a 52-yard field goal in Denver that would have been good from at least 60—thin air could have played a role, but it was accurate nonetheless.
Coming off a season in which he punted a franchise single-season record 112 times, Zastudil had a great preseason, averaging 48.4 yards per punt and downing nine of 17 kicks inside the opposition’s 20-yard line (his 48 inside the 20 last season are an NFL single-season record).
Though Peterson did not score on a punt return in 2012, he is still extremely dangerous and could take one back at any given time. He could split duties with Mathieu this year, but that would likely only be when Arians intends to use him on offense on the subsequent possession.
Position Grade: A-