Arizona Cardinals: Position Breakdown, Depth Chart Analysis at Wide Receiver
Last offseason, the Arizona Cardinals receiving corps looked thin after Larry Fitzgerald and second-year wideout Michael Floyd. Andre Roberts was coming off his best season, a 64-catch, 759-yard, five-touchdown performance that had some thinking he could be even better from the slot once Floyd took over on the outside.
That did not happen, as Roberts averaged just 11 yards per reception—9.8 yards from the slot—and ended up with fewer than 500 yards receiving for the first time since his rookie year.
This offseason, Arizona’s receiving corps got better with the additions of free agent Ted Ginn Jr. and rookie third-round pick John Brown. As a No. 3-No. 4 combination, you might not find a faster duo around.
Ginn said in March upon signing with the Cardinals that he can still run a 4.38-second 40-yard dash “without working,” according to Darren Urban of AZCardinals.com. Brown, who flew under most draft experts’ radar, clocked a 4.34-second 40 at the combine—the second-fastest time by a receiver behind New Orleans Saints first-round pick Brandin Cooks.
Here, we'll continue breaking down the Cardinals roster by position. Let’s look at the group of receivers and what each brings to the head coach Bruce Arians’ offense.
Cardinals Trivia: Who are the only two wide receivers in Cardinals history to record at least two 1,000-yard seasons in their first three years?
1a: Larry Fitzgerald
For the first time in his career, Larry Fitzgerald has gone two straight seasons without 1,000 yards receiving. He did manage 80-plus receptions for the seventh time, as well as 10-plus touchdowns for the fifth time, but he is on the verge of becoming Arizona’s No. 2 target.
Early hamstring injuries hampered him most of the 2013 season, so it’s possible we see a new and improved Fitz this season. He should have plenty of opportunities in one-on-one coverage as teams shift their focus to Floyd on the other side and to the speedy threats from the slot, Ginn and Brown.
A healthy Fitzgerald means a speedier one. Couple his health with the addition of strength and conditioning coach Buddy Morris and his crack team of assistants, all of whom specialize in speed development, and we could see a resurgence from Fitzgerald in 2014.
1b: Michael Floyd
As mentioned, Floyd is on the cusp of becoming the No. 1 target for Cardinals quarterback Carson Palmer. He has impressed Palmer so far this offseason, as the quarterback told the Doug & Wolf Show on Arizona Sports 98.7 FM (h/t Vince Marotta of ArizonaSports.com):
I’m so proud of Mike Floyd and so excited to see what he’s going to do this year. He and I trained this whole offseason together since late January and he’s worked really, really hard to get more fluid and a little bit more explosive and more flexible.
He’s worked extremely hard. I think the year that Mike’s going to have is going to shock some people.
Only two people can make Floyd’s third professional season good enough to shock: Floyd, for obvious reasons, and Palmer. Did Palmer tell us without telling us that Floyd is his new favorite target?
The former Notre Dame standout could become the third Cardinals receiver with multiple 1,000-yard seasons in his first three years. By the sound of Palmer’s excitement, that should be no problem.
Slot 1: Ted Ginn Jr.
It has taken a while, but Ginn finally is in an offensive system that will allow him to use his speed to his full advantage. He was allowed to run free a bit in the Carolina Panthers offense last year, as evidenced by his career-high 15.4 yards per catch and five touchdowns.
In Arizona, however, Ginn will be a bubble-screen, out-and-up and go-route type of slot receiver. He’ll run a full route tree, of course, but the short routes and double moves that allow him to use his speed before and after the catch are what will make him so dangerous in Arians’ vertical offense.
His curl-and-go for a touchdown versus Darrelle Revis last season is a perfect example of that.
Most of Ginn’s time on offense will be spent from the slot. But his time on special teams will be spent returning kicks and/or punts. He has six combined returns for touchdown in seven NFL seasons, and though he has not had one since 2011, he is a threat to take it to the house any time he touches the ball.
With Fitz and Floyd presumably getting most of the attention from opposing defenses, there should be plenty of opportunity for Ginn to get behind a secondary or two this season.
Slot 2: John Brown
General manager Steve Keim knew just what he was doing when he traded back in Round 1 to add a pick later in the draft. The result was strong safety Deone Bucannon in the first round and Brown with the additional third-round pick he received from the Saints.
Brown was the star of the show early in rookie camp and OTAs.
He displayed turf-burning speed, video game-like change-of-direction ability and soft hands throughout, but it was the mental aspect of his game that impressed Arians most, according to the team’s official site.
"He’s way ahead of most rookies," Arians said. "And coming from a small school, that’s unusual. [The playbook] doesn’t overwhelm him at all—he learns fast, and he can apply it fast."
His ability to learn the playbook and quickly translate it to the field will help him earn early playing time as the team’s No. 4 receiver. Could he jump Ginn and become Arians’ preferred slot receiver this season? Believe it or not, that could happen.
It may not happen right away, but if Brown shows steady and continued improvement, we could see him start from the slot once or twice before 2014 concludes.
No. 5: Jaron Brown
As an undrafted rookie in 2013, former Clemson standout Jaron Brown earned a spot on the 53-man roster out of camp and played in all 16 games on offense. He had 11 receptions for 140 yards and a touchdown.
Until Keim added Ginn and John Brown, Jaron was No. 3 on the depth chart. He’s a big, physical presence on the field with decent speed who could develop into a solid fourth option.
Will he get that chance in Arizona? As of this year, that doesn’t seem likely without an injury to someone above him. But depending on what happens with Fitzgerald—who is owed $23.6 million in 2015, remember—down the road, it’s not out of the question to think he could make it as a No. 4 with the Cardinals.
No. 6: Walter Powell
Coming in as a sixth-round pick on a team that is suddenly stacked at the receiver position, Walter Powell has a lot of work to do just to make the roster. He will have to earn a spot through special teams, which could be a cinch for him—it’s an area in which he excelled while at Murray State.
He can return kicks and punts as well as play gunner, which is likely where he will earn his money early in his career, a la Justin Bethel.
Powell is not big, standing 5’11” and weighing 189 pounds. He’s not as fast as you’d like a receiver of his stature to be, clocking a 4.54-second 40 at the combine.
If he ever develops into a role player on offense, it won’t be as a starter or a No. 3; he is best suited for a No. 4 or 5 role—a part-time receiver who plays special teams with the best of them.
No. 7: Brittan Golden
Originally an undrafted free-agent signee of the Chicago Bears in 2012, Brittan Golden has since been with the Jacksonville Jaguars’ practice squad and then back with the Bears before joining Arizona’s practice squad last September.
The Cardinals activated him for a Week 6 NFC West matchup with the rival San Francisco 49ers, and the speedster promptly hauled in a 53-yard bomb from Palmer that nearly went for a touchdown. He added a 63-yarder early in the Week 16 upset win at the Seattle Seahawks.
On four receptions, Golden totaled 136 yards, an average of 34.0 yards per catch. He served as Arians’ pure deep threat in a year when the rookie head coach did not have one among his top four targets.
Now that he has two such targets, making the roster becomes a difficult task for Golden. With two draft picks at receiver, he would have to show marked improvement in his game just to have a chance.
Special teams is always an option, but will the Cardinals really keep seven receivers a year after entering the regular season with only five?
No. 8: Dan Buckner
Former University of Arizona receiver Dan Buckner spent some time with Arizona’s practice squad last season before the Tampa Bay Buccaneers signed him to their practice squad. He was in Tampa for six weeks before coming back to the desert for a second stint with the Cardinals.
Buckner spent Weeks 10 through 17 on the practice squad and was not active for a single game, but he signed a futures contract to remain in Arizona shortly after the 2013 season concluded and could merely be a camp body.
Buckner is big, nearly 6’4” and 215 pounds. His pass-catching ability is a minor issue, and he could stand to work on cleaning up his routes. It’s likely that he ends up on the practice squad once again, which means he will have to clear waivers.
A receiver-needy team could pick him up and stash him on the back end of its roster or practice squad to develop him.
Who are the only two wide receivers in Cardinals history to record at least two 1,000-yard seasons in their first three years?
Answer: Anquan Boldin and David Boston
No, Fitz did not accomplish this feat. I’m sure most of you—if not all of you—assumed he and Boldin were the two. It appeared to be a safe assumption. He is, after all, the best offensive player in franchise history.
As a rookie in 2004, Fitz played a prominent role next to Boldin, totaling 58 receptions for 780 yards and eight touchdowns. His second season saw a significant increase, as he led the NFL with 103 receptions for 1,409 yards and 10 scores.
But he missed three games with a hamstring injury and therefore was stopped just short of becoming the third receiver with multiple 1,000-yard seasons in the first three years. He finished 2006 with 69 receptions for 946 yards and six touchdowns.
This season, Floyd has the chance to do what Fitz never did. Given the path of cornerback destruction he appears to be on, that should not be an issue. Should he go absolutely crazy this season, he needs 1,533 yards to surpass Fitz for third in franchise history for receiving yards in a player’s first three years.
Fitz had 3,135 yards from 2004 to 2006. Floyd has 1,603 through two seasons.