Breaking Down Arizona Cardinals' Roster After the 2014 NFL Draft
Last week, we looked at the depth chart and projected who would start, back up and be left out. This week, we revisit the depth chart, updating it to include draft picks. It won’t be much different, but a couple of key positions were upgraded over the weekend.
Let’s take a look.
*Asterisk denotes rookie
Starter: Carson Palmer
Backup: Drew Stanton
With fourth-round pick Logan Thomas on the roster, some thought he might challenge for the No. 2 quarterback role behind Palmer. That’s not the case. He will battle Ryan Lindley for the No. 3 role, which does not bode well for Lindley.
He comes from the previous coaching regime, and it’s pretty obvious head coach Bruce Arians is “enamored” with Thomas, according to Kent Somers of AZCentral.com.
Starter: Andre Ellington
Backup: Jonathan Dwyer
The Cardinals released oft-injured former second-round pick Ryan Williams on Monday on the heels of signing two undrafted free-agent running backs, according to Darren Urban of AZCardinals.com.
Ellington will start, but he won’t get a vast majority of snaps. Arians will keep him under wraps enough not to burn him out or get him injured. Expect his carries to increase and his snaps as a receiver split out wide to drop. The team will still use him on screens and occasionally as a receiver, but Arizona added a free-agent receiver and drafted two more.
It’s possible Jonathan Dwyer won't make the roster, but that will depend on how camp and preseason go. He will battle with Stepfan Taylor for the backup spot.
WR1: Larry Fitzgerald
WR2: Michael Floyd
I mentioned it in last week’s piece, and it’s worth repeating: Larry Fitzgerald may be on his way out of Arizona before long. Like it or not, Michael Floyd is trending upward, while Fitz is on the downswing of his career.
Don’t be surprised if at some point in the near future, Floyd becomes the No. 1 on the roster. Even though they may still get about the same number of targets and amount of playing time, that’s a big deal.
Starter: Ted Ginn Jr.
Backup: John Brown*
Third-round pick John Brown is as close a match to Indianapolis Colts slot receiver T.Y. Hilton as you could possibly imagine. Brown and Hilton are connected by Arians. That could mean big things are in store for Brown early, as Hilton enjoyed a successful rookie campaign in 2012.
That season, his only under Arians, Hilton had 50 receptions for 861 yards and seven touchdowns.
Will Brown enjoy that same success in 2014? That’s doubtful, given the talent on offense. But down the road, even in 2015, he could become a dominant slot receiver. He will be a player to watch when camp opens in June.
Starter: Troy Niklas*
Backup: John Carlson
Rookie Troy Niklas could end up as the starting tight end about as quickly as it takes the 6’7”, 270-pound brick wall to put on shoulder pads. He is a very good blocker with through-the-roof upside as a receiver, especially in the red zone early.
Arizona signed John Carlson to a two-year, $4.65 million contract this offseason, and, if healthy, he is a solid receiving tight end. He may never start full time in a Cardinals uniform because of Niklas, but he is a good red-zone option as well because of his imposing size (6’5”, 248 lbs).
The days of waiting for Rob Housler to show up and be a receiving threat in the offense may not officially be over, but his days could be numbered. With the release of Williams on Monday, that leaves just three members of the 2011 draft class still with the team—the others being Sam Acho and Patrick Peterson.
Starter: Jared Veldheer
Backup: Nate Potter
Nothing changes here. With Jared Veldheer on the roster, no one but him will see a start at left tackle unless the big guy is suspended or (God forbid) injured.
Starter: Jonathan Cooper
Backup: Paul Fanaika
The only change here is a direct reflection of the change at right guard, which will be touched upon two slides from now. Paul Fanaika—last year’s starting right guard—will back up last year’s first-round pick, Jonathan Cooper.
Cooper is expected to be a franchise player and will be around for a long time if healthy.
Starter: Lyle Sendlein
Backup: Ted Larsen
Also nothing changes at center. Lyle Sendlein, the leader of the offensive line, is still around. His backup, newly signed Ted Larsen, is versatile but is a better center than he is a guard.
It would be wise to find a suitable backup for Sendlein in the near future, but for now, the veteran is still going strong—he’s not great, but he’s solid.
Starter: Earl Watford
Backup: Anthony Steen*
Former Alabama guard Anthony Steen went undrafted this past week, and the Cardinals officially scooped him up Monday, according to another Urban report.
Steen is a solid prospect, according to Derek Stephens of CBSSports.com: "Steen hasn’t been as hyped or publicly lauded as many of his Alabama teammates, but on tape there’s no denying he’s one of the team’s better NFL prospects for 2014."
Despite lacking the elite size/athleticism combination that we’re growing accustomed to seeing come out of Tuscaloosa, Alabama, his technical consistency, toughness and instincts are exactly what NFL teams look for in the ideal guard prospect.
Starter: Bobby Massie
Backup: Bradley Sowell
Nothing changed at right tackle over the weekend, so Bobby Massie and Bradley Sowell are it for now. That’s good for them, but we’ll see what happens when camp begins.
If these two don’t get it done within a week or two into camp, free agents may be getting calls.
5-Tech Defensive End
Starter: Calais Campbell
Backup: Kareem Martin*
Rookie defensive end/outside linebacker Kareem Martin could be a great pass-rusher. He has everything needed to be that, but for now, he has things to learn. He is better against the run, but he flashes the ability to be a dominating force as an edge-rusher.
He will move around in the front seven as a rookie, which includes spelling Calais Campbell at times.
Starter: Dan Williams
Backup: Alameda Ta’amu
Splitting snaps nearly 50-50 in 2013, both Dan Williams and Alameda Ta’amu were good against the run. They are not pass-rushers, but they helped the Cardinals finish No. 1 in run defense by two-gapping and taking up space.
Williams is on the final year of his rookie deal, but it’s not a guarantee he will be re-signed. He hasn’t exactly lit up the football world after being the 26th overall selection in 2010. It will be interesting to see what happens with this situation over the next nine months.
3-Tech Defensive End
Starter: Darnell Dockett
Backup: Frostee Rucker
Fifth-round pick Ed Stinson likely will make the roster, but we haven’t seen him in action yet—he, like Martin, is a run-stopper, but he’s not a pass-rusher at all.
Frostee Rucker signed a two-year contract to remain with the team after stepping up in 2013 on a part-time, do-everything role along the defensive line. He will back up Darnell Dockett and do a solid job.
Starters: John Abraham, Sam Acho
Backups: Matt Shaughnessy, Kareem Martin
The aforementioned Martin is more polished as a pass-rusher than Alex Okafor, and he’s better against the run. For that reason, Martin is given the initial backup role to Matt Shaughnessy.
Okafor, Shaughnessy and Sam Acho are returning from injury, of course, so their progress will be watched at camp. If healthy, Acho is a solid pass-rusher. He's not "elite" or even great, but he is capable of double-digit sacks in a season.
Starters: Daryl Washington, Larry Foote
Backups: Kevin Minter, Lorenzo Alexander
It’s been beaten into the ground by now, but Daryl Washington could still face discipline from the NFL. That may have something to do with the signing of veteran Larry Foote, which could tell you something about what the team knows.
Last year, the Cardinals signed free agent Jasper Brinkley when Washington was suspended for four games.
Could he be on his way to another suspension?
Starters: Patrick Peterson, Antonio Cromartie
Backups: Jerraud Powers, Justin Bethel
Nothing changes in the cornerbacks corner, but one name to watch is undrafted free agent Todd Washington. He’s a solid small-school player who missed time at the end of the season with a toe injury.
Gil Brandt of NFL.com reported 21 NFL teams attended the Southeast Louisiana pro day to watch him work out. That’s a lot for a small-school cornerback with an injured toe.
Starters: Deone Bucannon* (SS), Tyrann Mathieu (FS)
Backups: Rashad Johnson, Tony Jefferson
First-round pick Deone Bucannon will compete for the starting strong safety spot, but let’s be honest: He’s the best safety on the roster. Tyrann Mathieu could argue he’s the best, but given that he will play so much in the slot, he’s more of a cornerback than a safety.
It will be interesting to see what happens with Rashad Johnson, the presumed starting strong safety before the draft. Bucannon is an immediate upgrade as an in-the-box safety, but Johnson isn’t exactly a terrible player. He’s a leader and has shown toughness throughout his time in Arizona.
Kicker: Jay Feely
Punter: Dave Zastudil
Punt Returner: Ted Ginn Jr.
Kick Returner: Walt Powell*
Notice anything different from the past three seasons? Yes, that's right. Patrick Peterson is off punt-return duties. It's time for him to focus on playing defense and stop worrying so much about special teams and offense.
Ginn Jr. allows Peterson to do that.
Walt Powell is one to watch on special teams when camp kicks off. He returned kicks at Murray State and is electric with the ball in his hands. He will make the roster as a gunner and kick returner.