Projecting Arizona Cardinals' 2-Deep Depth Chart Pre-2014 NFL Draft
Much of the NFL talk these days involves draft prospects and into which rosters they fit best. But it is time to discuss the Arizona Cardinals’ pre-2014 NFL draft depth chart, because it will be easier to show post-draft changes with this piece out there.
Plus, it’s always fun to look at the depth chart during the offseason—it helps pass the time before real football activities get going. You’re welcome.
The Cardinals are in a good spot this offseason, having filled a massive need with the even massiver (BREAKING: that’s not a word) left tackle in Jared Veldheer. His five-year deal puts him in a Cardinals uniform through the 2018 season, barring a trade or release down the road. This season will be the first in a long while that Arizona doesn’t “need” to address the blind side in the draft; we all know they neglected it for years, anyway, despite the hole.
Antonio Cromartie will step in and be the No. 2 cornerback opposite Patrick Peterson for 2014. Beyond that is anyone’s guess, but it’s probably safe to assume he won’t be around in 2015. That leaves a need that could be filled between May 8 and 10, but we’ll get to that at a later date.
Here’s the predraft two-deep depth chart for the Cardinals.
Starter: Carson Palmer
Backup: Drew Stanton
Quarterback is one of the safest positions on the roster this offseason. The quarterback class, while solid at the top and toward the bottom, doesn’t “wow” head coach Bruce Arians, according to Craig Morgan of Fox Sports.
I don’t know how many of them have a ‘wow’ factor, but there are some really, really good ones, guys that are going to play in the league for a long time. I don’t see an Andrew Luck, a Ben Roethlisberger or Peyton Manning, but I do see some guys that are very capable of playing.
While Drew Stanton hasn’t thrown a pass in a regular-season game in nearly four years, Arians has expressed complete confidence in him should Carson Palmer go down with an injury. Does that mean general manager Steve Keim won’t draft a quarterback this offseason? No. But if he does, it likely won’t be on Day 1.
Starter: Andre Ellington
Backup: Jonathan Dwyer
Andre Ellington proved to be among the steals of the 2013 draft, as he became the first rookie running back to lead the NFL in yards-per-carry average since Ickey Woods in 1988.
Keim added Jonathan Dwyer early in the offseason. While he’s a former Arians running back similar to Rashard Mendenhall, who retired after a subpar 2013 season in Arizona, Dwyer should provide a solid, complementary change of pace for Ellington.
Adding a running back in the draft is possible—especially if someone like former Ohio State back Carlos Hyde falls to the third round.
Wide Receiver 1
Eventually, Michael Floyd will be Arizona’s No. 1 option at wide receiver. But that may not be until Larry Fitzgerald either is released, traded or decides to retire. “May,” because some would argue Floyd was better than Fitzgerald in 2013, and their career paths are such that Floyd will only get better and Fitzgerald is on the decline.
It’s entirely possible Floyd overtakes Fitz while the latter is still around.
Wide Receiver 2
Starter: Michael Floyd
Backup: Ted Ginn
For what it’s worth, Ted Ginn would never be the No. 2 if Floyd moves to the No. 1 target and Fitz is still on the roster and uninjured. Ginn likely will do most of his work from the slot in Arians’ offense.
According to Pro Football Focus (subscription required), he spent only 12.9 percent of his time on the field running routes from the slot in 2013 with the Carolina Panthers as he established himself as a weekly starter. Sure, he will work on the outside with the Cardinals depending on the package; after all, Fitzgerald did run nearly half his routes from the slot last season, according to PFF.
Starter: John Carlson
Backup: Jake Ballard
Rob Housler’s tenure as the underachieving all-talent tight end on the roster is about up. The Cardinals are trending upward, and Housler is going in the opposite direction. They don’t have time for Housler’s mediocre play.
The John Carlson signing went largely unnoticed because of the Veldheer and Cromartie signings, but it could be among the best this offseason if the veteran tight end is healthy. He could end up starting the Week 1 Monday night showdown with the San Diego Chargers.
Signed late last season, Jake Ballard provided solid blocking throughout, as well as notching the key catch on the game-winning drive in Seattle—a third-down reception that kept the drive alive.
Drafting a tight end early is a possibility, but the class is saturated with talent, and one could be had later. If he’s gotten his life together, former Oregon tight end Colt Lyerla could replace Housler.
Starter: Jared Veldheer
Backup: Bradley Sowell
Bradley Sowell was forced into starting action just four games into his first season with the Cardinals after Keim traded the much-maligned Levi Brown for a pound of ground beef and some stale hamburger buns. Sowell did not do well in that time, leading to the Veldheer signing that vastly improved an offensive line that also gets 2013 No. 7 overall pick Jonathan Cooper back.
Veldheer is a better run-blocker than a pass-blocker, but the mammoth blindside blocker is no slouch in protecting the quarterback. He will serve as the anchor of a revamped line that could put the Cardinals over the top in 2014.
Starter: Jonathan Cooper
Backup: Christian Johnson
The future is finally here for the offensive line. Veldheer and Cooper could eventually be one of the best tackle/guard tandems in the league, as both are great in the run game and should provide enough pass protection to keep Palmer—and all subsequent Palmer replacements—upright more often than not.
Cooper could be a future All-Pro if he returns to form after breaking his leg last preseason. That remains to be seen, as Cooper has not played a down of real NFL football, and there’s a distinct possibility his leg never gets back to full health.
Starter: Lyle Sendlein
Backup: Ted Larsen
Old faithful has been around for a while now, and he’s not getting any younger. Lyle Sendlein has started all but five games since becoming Arizona’s starting center for the 2008 season. He missed the final five games of the 2012 season after suffering a torn MCL during Week 12.
The Cardinals signed Ted Larsen to serve as Sendlein’s backup, but speculation suggests he could be a replacement down the road. If Day 3 of the draft rolls around and one of the draft’s top centers is still available, don’t be surprised if Keim pulls the trigger.
Starter: Earl Watford
Backup: Paul Fanaika
Of the offensive positions, right guard is one of the biggest question marks remaining. Paul Fanaika started all 16 games at the position last season, but he struggled mightily all year and could only be in the conversation as long as it takes Keim to draft competition for Earl Watford.
Offensive coordinator Harold Goodwin likes Watford’s athleticism, but he questions the second-year guard’s mental readiness, according to Kyle Odegard of AZCardinals.com.
From a physical aspect, he’s probably one of the better guys we’ve got, just as a total athlete from top to bottom. We’ve got these evaluation sheets for kids coming out now, and he is always going to read out pretty well. I don’t worry about the physical tools on him at all. In pass protection he’s solid. If he gets his hands on guys, he’s solid.
It’s all mental for Earl. He’s coming along. He’s just got to pick it up some. He’s got to. It’s the NFL. It stands for Not For Long. For Earl, (this season) is big.
Starter: Bobby Massie
Backup: Nate Potter
The other big question mark this offseason is the position next to right guard. After Bobby Massie impressed the former regime down the back stretch of his 2012 rookie season, Arians replaced him late in 2013 camp with veteran Eric Winston. Massie did not start a game during the season and played only a handful of offensive snaps.
Winston’s one-year deal is up, leaving Massie and Nate Potter to battle it out for right tackle supremacy. They leave much to be desired for some pundits.
The draft could change the outlook of right tackle for the Cardinals. A guy like Cameron Fleming could be a solid pick.
5-Tech Defensive End
Starter: Calais Campbell
Backup: Adrian Tracy
Calais Campbell quietly had a career-high nine sacks last season. He has ranked among the top 10 3-4 defensive ends every season since 2009 and has been in the top five for four of those years, according to PFF.
He was also an integral part of the NFL’s best run defense a year ago, and at just 27 years old (he won’t be 28 until the week before the 2014 season kicks off), he has many years of greatness left in him, barring injury.
Adrian Tracy could be a camp body, and the Cardinals should look to add depth at the position on draft weekend. Someone like Oregon State’s Scott Crichton would do well in Todd Bowles’ 3-4 as a part-time player.
Starter: Dan Williams
Backup: Alameda Ta’amu
Two of the better run defenders in the league last season, neither Dan Williams nor Alameda Ta’amu were given their due because they virtually split snaps 50-50. They were a big part of that top-ranked run defense, but we could see more of Williams early this season while Ta’amu continues his ACL recovery.
Neither is adept at pass rushing, but that’s not what they do in Bowles’ scheme. They are space-eaters who free up the linebackers and fill running lanes with the best of them.
3-Tech Defensive End
Starter: Darnell Dockett
Backup: Frostee Rucker
Darnell Dockett is owed $8.75 million this season and $9.8 million in 2015, according to Spotrac. His run in Arizona could be coming to an end soon if he doesn’t take a pay cut. But while he’s here, he still is a force along the defensive line.
Less so as a productive defensive end and more so as a leader in the huddle and the locker room, Dockett is a necessity in the Cardinals defense. He appears to be taking over the locker room at just the right time; the unit is a couple pieces from “completion” and in need of a vocal leader. Dockett is that leader.
As for Frostee Rucker, he’s a solid backup who contributed at all three defensive line positions for the Cardinals in 2013. Keim and Co. re-signed Rucker to a two-year, $2.145 million deal that will keep the defensive end here through the 2015 season.
Starters: John Abraham, Sam Acho
Backups: Matt Shaughnessy, Alex Okafor
Thirteen-year veteran John Abraham notched 11.5 sacks in his first season with the Cardinals after originally being a part-time player backing up Sam Acho. Once Acho went down with a broken leg, Abraham stepped in and went on a tear.
Alex Okafor has potential to be a productive pass-rusher, but he will have to develop further while sitting behind Abraham and Acho.
Starters: Daryl Washington, Lorenzo Alexander
Backups: Kevin Minter, Kenny Demens
Last offseason, the inside linebacker spots were among the deepest on the roster. This offseason, all is not well. Daryl Washington finally resolved his legal matter and will face a year of probation, but he could face further discipline from NFL commissioner Roger Goodell. Should that happen, the Cardinals will be in a huge bind.
Second-year linebacker Kevin Minter has the confidence of Keim, but that doesn’t mean anything until he proves it on the field. He played only special teams as a rookie last year, but he has all the talent to be the powerful leader he was at LSU.
Lorenzo Alexander is among the many linebackers that ended their season on the injured reserve list, and he can move inside until Minter takes the spot from him.
Starters: Patrick Peterson, Antonio Cromartie
Backups: Jerraud Powers, Justin Bethel
Unlike inside linebacker, cornerback is as deep as it is talented. Patrick Peterson and Antonio Cromartie will rival all good cornerback tandems in 2014 for best in the league. Add in Jerraud Powers, who should be better from the slot; Justin Bethel, who could (finally) be ready to contribute on defense; and the unmentioned Tyrann Mathieu, whom PFF rated as the third-best cornerback last season.
Mathieu is recovering from a torn ACL and LCL and may not be ready for the start of the season. With the depth at the position, they’ll miss his outstanding instincts while not being hamstrung by the hole left.
Starters: Rashad Johnson (SS), Tony Jefferson (FS)
Backups: Tyrann Mathieu, Orhian Johnson
It’s possible that the Cardinals add a safety in the draft…depending on what they want from strong safety, that is. Rashad Johnson has been a solid starter and proved his toughness after playing shortly following a severed finger incident during the Week 3 loss at New Orleans.
He will start at strong safety, but again, if the Cardinals want a true in-the-box, big-hitting strong safety, they may look to the draft to find one. A guy like former Washington State SS Deone Bucannon could be an option at No. 20.
Mathieu is technically the starting free safety, but until he’s healthy and cleared to play, Tony Jefferson will continue to fill in for him.