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Early Projections for Arizona Cardinals' Final 53-Man Roster

Shaun ChurchContributor IMay 18, 2014

Early Projections for Arizona Cardinals' Final 53-Man Roster

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    Norm Hall/Getty Images

    When projecting the Arizona Cardinals’ final 53-man roster for September, it is apparent both the present and the future are bright for those in Cardinal Red. Most positions are deep with talent and well stocked to succeed for many years, a direct result of general manager Steve Keim’s quick overhaul of the roster last offseason.

    As of now, just 19 players from the Ken Whisenhunt era still reside on Arizona’s roster—the recently departed Ryan Williams lasted the longest of all Whisenhunt running backs, and only Ryan Lindley remains from the disaster that was the quarterbacks’ room.

    How many rookies could see significant playing time? On a roster as deep and talented as this, you may be surprised at the amount. Let’s dive in.

Roster Breakdown

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    Christian Petersen/Getty Images

    Quarterbacks

    Starter: Carson Palmer

    Backup: Drew Stanton

    Third-String: Logan Thomas*

     

    Running Backs

    Starter: Andre Ellington

    Backup: Jonathan Dwyer

    Rotation: Stepfan Taylor, Zach Bauman*

     

    Wide Receivers

    Starter 1: Larry Fitzgerald

    Starter 2: Michael Floyd

    Slot: Ted Ginn Jr., John Brown*

    Rotation: Jaron Brown, Walt Powell*

     

    Tight Ends

    Starter: Troy Niklas*

    Backup: John Carlson

    Goal-Line/Rotation: Jake Ballard, Rob Housler

     

    Offensive Line

    Tackle: Jared Veldheer (LT), Bradley Sowell (RT), Bobby Massie, Nate Potter

    Guard: Jonathan Cooper (LG), Earl Watford (RG), Anthony Steen*, Paul Fanaika

    Center: Lyle Sendlein (C), Ted Larsen

     

    Defensive Line

    Nose Tackle: Dan Williams (NT), Alameda Ta’amu

    Defensive End: Calais Campbell (5-Tech), Darnell Dockett (3-Tech), Frostee Rucker, Ed Stinson*

     

    Linebackers

    Inside: Daryl Washington (SILB), Kevin Minter (WILB), Larry Foote, Lorenzo Alexander

    Outside: John Abraham (SOLB), Sam Acho (WOLB), Matt Shaughnessy, Alex Okafor, Kareem Martin*

     

    Secondary

    Cornerbacks: Patrick Peterson (CB1), Antonio Cromartie (CB2), Jerraud Powers, Justin Bethel

    Safeties: Deone Bucannon* (SS), Tyrann Mathieu (FS), Rashad Johnson, Tony Jefferson

     

    Special Teams

    Kicker: Jay Feely

    Punter: Dave Zastudil

    Long Snapper: Mike Leach

    *Denotes rookie

    ()Denotes starter

Quarterbacks

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    Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

    Starter: Carson Palmer

    Backup: Drew Stanton

    Third-String: Logan Thomas*

     

    Analysis

    At this point, it’s just a matter of time before Ryan Lindley is out the door. With fourth-round draft pick Logan Thomas confident he’s closer to being ready than most assume—and the fact that Thomas is Bruce Arians’ guy and Lindley is not—the rookie should have no problem outperforming the third-year pro.

    Thomas had this to say of his readiness, according to Darren Urban of AZCardinals.com:

    I think I’m a lot more ready [than] people think. I think people that label me as a project simply off of stats, which I can understand what they see and what they think, but I don’t think I need as much work as people think.

    For now, Carson Palmer and Drew Stanton may not have anything to worry about. But Palmer’s contract is void five days after Super Bowl XLIX, and Stanton is signed through the 2015 season. It’s possible Thomas is ready to assume the starting role as early as 2015, so Stanton may never get a chance to play in a regular-season game.

    Of course, this assumes we are to believe Thomas when he says he’s closer to being ready that most think. Do you believe him?

Running Backs

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    Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

    Starter: Andre Ellington

    Backup: Jonathan Dwyer

    Rotation: Stepfan Taylor, Zach Bauman*

     

    Analysis

    With four running backs on the roster and then two undrafted rookies, it’s possible a UDFA makes the final cut. I’m giving it to local product Zach Bauman because of his size.

    It’s not what you think, but rather is the opposite.

    Tim Cornett—the other undrafted free agent—is 6’0” and 209 pounds, which is too similar to Jonathan Dwyer (5’11”, 229) and Stepfan Taylor (5’9”, 214). Three similarly built running backs behind starter Andre Ellington (5’9”, 199) might not be a good idea.

    A change-of-pace back in Bauman (5’7”, 196) could be a good choice to round out the running backs depth chart. He’s quick and shifty, and he possesses good balance and great footwork in traffic. Think of LaRod Stephens-Howling and you’ll get a good picture of Bauman’s game.

Wide Receivers

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    Christian Petersen/Getty Images

    Starter 1: Larry Fitzgerald

    Starter 2: Michael Floyd

    Slot: Ted Ginn Jr., John Brown*

    Rotation: Jaron Brown, Walt Powell*

     

    Analysis

    The subtraction of underachieving slot receiver Andre Roberts and additions of Ted Ginn and third-round draft pick John Brown greatly improved the speed from the slot. Ginn is coming off of his best season as a pro, hauling in five touchdowns—three of which came from at least 25 yards.

    Brown has been the star of rookie camp. A team source told Kent Somers of AZCentral.com, "John Brown is blowing everyone away. Explosive and sudden. Great hands and a better route runner than we even thought."

    That begs the question: If everyone is that impressed with Brown, how long before he supplants Ginn as the team’s No. 3 option? Arians has “his guy” in the slot now, and it could be just a matter of seeing him in a live NFL game before he takes over top slot receiver duties.

    Keim brought in Ginn to be a relief on special teams and a deep threat on offense. But could Brown be a better option on offense as early as Week 1?

Tight Ends

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    Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

    Starter: Troy Niklas*

    Backup: John Carlson

    Goal-Line/Rotation: Jake Ballard, Rob Housler

     

    Analysis

    Second-round pick Troy Niklas continued a recent trend that began with Anthony Fasano in 2006. Since that 2006 draft, Notre Dame has seen five of its tight ends get drafted in the first two rounds—John Carlson (2008), Kyle Rudolph (2011) and Tyler Eifert (2013) are the other three. No other entire conference has more than the Big 12’s four over that time.

    Niklas may end up being the best of all former Irish tight ends before he hangs up the cleats. He is the least experienced of them and is the best blocker among them, but he’s also the most physically gifted.

    He carries his 6’6”, 270-pound frame very well and should be an immediate threat in Arizona’s offense.

    Rob Housler could be the odd man out if Arians decides he wants to get bigger at the position. Darren Fells is still around, and he’s even bigger than Niklas is (6’7”, 281). Fells is not a big-time receiving threat, but he’s a physical blocker and could sneak onto the roster if Niklas proves early he can be a deep threat—canceling out the need for Housler’s speed.

Offensive Line

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    Jared Veldheer (left) and Bradley Sowell (right) work out at the Cardinals' facility.
    Jared Veldheer (left) and Bradley Sowell (right) work out at the Cardinals' facility.Associated Press

    Tackle: Jared Veldheer (LT), Bradley Sowell (RT), Bobby Massie, Nate Potter

    Guard: Jonathan Cooper (LG), Earl Watford (RG), Anthony Steen*

    Center: Lyle Sendlein (C), Ted Larsen

     

    Analysis

    Last season, Arians carried five tackles into the regular season: Levi Brown and Eric Winston started while Bobby Massie, Bradley Sowell and Nate Potter were depth. He did that because he wasn’t sold on having Brown as his starting left tackle and had just added Winston off of the free-agent market and probably wasn’t sure he would stick, either.

    Winston did, while Brown did not, and neither are still in Arizona.

    With Jared Veldheer solidifying the blind side, there will be a competition at only one tackle spot this offseason. It’s not clear yet who will earn the right tackle job, but Bradley Sowell appears to have the first go at it, according to Urban.

    If Sowell does not look up to snuff, Massie would be the next in line. If that doesn’t work out, a free agent may be called.

    Hopefully good.. We'll see RT @seanvarone:What are the chances that you're coming back to play with the Cards and stay a member of #BirdGang

    — Eric Winston (@ericwinston) May 11, 2014

    Winston, anyone?

Defensive Line

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    Ross D. Franklin/Associated Press

    Nose Tackle: Dan Williams (NT), Alameda Ta’amu

    Defensive End: Calais Campbell (5-Tech), Darnell Dockett (3-Tech), Frostee Rucker, Ed Stinson*

     

    Analysis

    The only change along the defensive line from Arizona's 53-man roster last season is switching out Ronald Talley for rookie fifth-round pick Ed Stinson. In all likelihood, however, this won’t be the correct depth chart—Alameda Ta’amu is recovering from his ACL tear and may not be ready for the season opener.

    We could also put rookie third-round pick Kareem Martin in the depth chart at defensive end because he will move all over the front seven and could end up replacing Calais Campbell down the road. But for now, we’ll leave him at outside linebacker because he’ll play there in base (3-4) sets.

Linebackers

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    Kareem Martin works out at the NFL Scouting Combine.
    Kareem Martin works out at the NFL Scouting Combine.Associated Press

    Inside: Daryl Washington (SILB), Kevin Minter (WILB), Larry Foote, Lorenzo Alexander

    Outside: John Abraham (SOLB), Sam Acho (WOLB), Matt Shaughnessy, Alex Okafor, Kareem Martin*

     

    Analysis

    Again, Martin will play outside linebacker as a rookie in base sets. He probably will be in a rotation at both spots, as well as both defensive end spots at times, so he could end up with significant playing time that way.

    Sam Acho and Alex Okafor return from season-ending injuries, and while Acho should start, Okafor could play a big role in the defense.

    Inside linebacker is a bit murky, however. The depth chart will change if Daryl Washington is suspended by Roger Goodell, which is a possibility. Should that happen, look for Larry Foote to fill Washington’s spot until the Pro Bowler returns. This would be similar to the Jasper Brinkley situation in 2013, where Brinkley started the four games Washington was suspended and was shelved immediately following his return.

Secondary

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    Dean Hare/Associated Press

    Cornerbacks: Patrick Peterson (CB1), Antonio Cromartie (CB2), Jerraud Powers, Justin Bethel

    Safeties: Deone Bucannon* (SS), Tyrann Mathieu (FS), Rashad Johnson, Tony Jefferson

     

    Analysis

    Four cornerbacks and four safeties. There’s a method to this madness, I promise. Last September, Arians kept 10 members of the secondary on the initial roster—four safeties and six corners.

    This season, he has known commodities all over the secondary and a rookie to do what Yeremiah Bell could not do: provide in-the-box help against the run and cover tight ends.

    While Justin Bethel is the fourth corner on this roster, he will essentially be the fifth because Tyrann Mathieu will roam the secondary and play the slot more often than he plays free safety. When that happens, Tony Jefferson and Rashad Johnson will fight for playing time as the team’s free safety.

    No one will touch rookie first-round pick Deone Bucannon’s spot as the starting strong safety; he should be there for the next decade.

Special Teams

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    Elaine Thompson/Associated Press

    Kicker: Jay Feely

    Punter: Dave Zastudil

    Long Snapper: Mike Leach

     

    Analysis

    Nothing changes once again for the specialists. Jay Feely needs to prove he’s still a worthy kicker after finishing the 2013 season on a sour note, but he’s on a one-year prove-it deal and has plenty of motivation to perform.

    Cards camp 2013 was not good to Feely, yet he still won the job after no one could supplant him. A poor showing at camp this season could end differently for the veteran.

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