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Offseason Team Previews

2021 Cardinals Offseason Preview

by Hayden Winks
Updated On: February 25, 2021, 1:17 am ET

My goal with the Offseason Preview series is to get caught up with each team’s 53-man roster, offensive and defensive schemes, team needs, and offseason capital within a 10-minute read. The basics will be at the top -- cap space, draft picks, cut candidates, notable departures -- and the film and analytics takes will be at the bottom. I hope to write these in a way that they’re referenceable throughout not just free agency and the NFL Draft, but also the 2021 season as we look into weekly matchups. The offseason is the time for me to get outside of our fantasy football bubble and learn more about what’s going on at the other positions. You can read the rest of my 2021 Offseason Previews here and can follow me on Twitter (@HaydenWinks).

 


Cardinals 2020 Recap

Cardinals2020

 

It was an interesting path, but the 2020 Cardinals were league average in just about every stat on each side of the ball. The offense was very streaky, ultimately finishing 13th in points scored. Kliff Kingsbury has figured out how to maximize the run game with Kyler Murray (6th in rushing EPA), but the pass game needs work (18th in passing EPA). Not keeping DeAndre Hopkins out wide on the left side for 83% of his routes would be a good place to start. Finding better pass-catchers to fill out their three- and four-receiver sets would also help. Defensively, the Cardinals were aggressive using press man coverage paired with a top-five blitz rate. There will be personnel turnover on that side of the ball this offseason, but the 2021 storyline will be if Kingsbury can figure out how to add a deep element to the offense.

 


Cardinals 2021 Offseason

Notes

 

Cardinals Cap Space

$11.8 million (16th)

Cardinals Draft Picks

1.16, 2.49, 3.80, 5th, 7th, plus compensatory picks

Cardinals Departures

EDGE Haason Reddick, CB Patrick Peterson, RB Kenyan Drake, Slot WR Larry Fitzgerald, RT Kelvin Beachum, CB Dre Kirkpatrick, TE Dan Arnold, RG J.R. Sweezy, DT Angelo Blackson, SS Chris Banjo, EDGE Markus Golden, DT Corey Peters

Cardinals Cut Candidates

CB Robert Alford ($7.5M cap savings), TE Maxx Williams ($3.1M)

 


Cardinals Depth Chart

Position

Base Offense

Notable Backups

Personnel

11

 

% of Passes

49%

 

QB

Kyler Murray

Chris Streveler

WR

DeAndre Hopkins

Andy Isabella

WR

Christian Kirk

KeeSean Johnson

WR (Slot)

???

 

TE

Maxx Williams

 

RB (Early Down)

???

Eno Benjamin

RB (Third Down)

Chase Edmonds

 

LT

D.J. Humphries

 

LG

Justin Pugh

 

C

Mason Cole

Lamont Gaillard

RG

Justin Murray

 

RT

Josh Jones

 

 

Offensive Coordinator: For fantasy purposes, Kliff Kingsbury’s fast-pace offense is great, but the pass game lacked creativity in 2020 despite adding DeAndre Hopkins. The Cardinals were 23rd in percentage of passes traveling 15-plus yards downfield, and Hopkins was trapped near the boundary on four-fifths of his snaps. Kyler Murray’s deep-ball accuracy has been wasted through two years, and the four-receiver set offense hasn’t quieted the “Horizontal Raid” narrative. If the Cardinals want to use 10-personnel like they did last year (27% of passes), they need receiver upgrades. Kingsbury’s success as a play designer has been via the ground where Murray’s zone read abilities have opened up rushing lanes for each running back. That won’t change regardless of who starts at running back. Arizona was sixth in rushing EPA and eighth on short-yardage carries last year.

Passing Offense: It was one of the least creative passing offenses of 2020. Aside from Kyler Murray and DeAndre Hopkins making absurd plays, Kingsbury didn’t do anything to keep defenses guessing. DeAndre Hopkins would run short and intermediate routes on the left side, Christian Kirk would struggle winning downfield on the right side, and the combination of Larry Fitzgerald and 2019 second-round body catcher Andy Isabella did little over the middle. Opposing safeties began creeping up because the Cardinals were bottom-10 in percentage of passes traveling 15-plus yards, a frustrating stat because Murray has terrific deep-ball touch and arm strength. Hopkins either needs to be moved around (83% of his routes were out wide on the left side), or he needs more receiving talent around him. Expect the Cardinals to be in the receiver market again with Kirk in the final year of his contract and Fitzgerald on the brink of retirement. The Cardinals also need a receiving tight end with Dan Arnold heading into free agency.

Rushing Offense: 2015 first-round LT D.J. Humphries had his best PFF grade of his career in 2020, but the rest of the offensive line needs work with RG J.R. Sweezy and RT Kelvin Beachem headed into free agency and 2018 third-round C Mason Cole and LG Justin Pugh maxing out as iffy starters on the interior. Hopefully 2020 third-round RT Josh Jones lives up to his pre-draft hype in his first season as an NFL starter. At running back, the Cardinals will be looking for a between-the-tackles runner to pair with third-down back Chase Edmonds, who is in the last year of his rookie contract. Kenyan Drake was the RB24 per game (13.3 PPR points) in this beautifully-schemed rushing offense despite ranking as 71st out of 74 running backs in PPR points over expected. This offense certainly can produce a fantasy RB1, but that player isn’t currently on the roster. 

 

Position

Base Defense

Notable Backups

Coverage

Cover 1 Man

-

% of Plays

???

-

CB

Robert Alford

 

CB

???

 

CB (Slot)

Byron Murphy

 

SS

Budda Baker

 

FS

Jalen Thompson

Deionte Thompson

LB

Isaiah Simmons

De'Vondre Campbell

LB

Jordan Hicks

 

DT (1T)

Jordan Phillips

Leki Fotu

DT (3T)

Zach Allen

Rashard Lawrence

Edge (5T)

Chandler Jones

 

Edge (7T)

Devon Kennard

 

 

Defensive Coordinator: The Cardinals have one of the most aggressive defenses in the NFL under DC Vance Joseph. They blitzed at the fourth-highest rate (39%) and played a lot of press coverage on the boundary. Their Cover 1 man defense was prone to the big play, something that isn’t likely to go away given the projected personnel turnover they will have this offseason. Unless they can retain some of their free agency departures, Arizona is a candidate to drop outside of the top-12 in points allowed next year. 26-year-old EDGE Haason Reddick (13.0 sacks) is priority No. 1. 

Passing Defense: Because of the high blitz rate and single-high safety usage, Arizona’s corners were asked to win in isolation more than most around the league. That proved to be too big of an ask for 31-year-old free agent Patrick Peterson, who reportedly won’t be re-signed. Potentially joining him is CB Robert Alford. He missed the 2020 season with a torn pectoral and can be cut to open up $7.5 million in savings. That leaves a massive need at outside corner. The same can be said about free safety with starter Chris Banjo unsigned. Slot corner and strong safety are strengths though; 2019 second-round slot CB Byron Murphy is entering his prime, 195-pound SS Budda Baker is one of the most fearless defenders (go watch his highlights), and 2020 first-round weapon Isaiah Simmons can help in those areas, too. Pass rusher could be a strength, too, if former first-round EDGE Haason Reddick is re-signed and 31-year-old OLB Chandler Jones can play more than five games. Arizona was eighth in adjusted sack rate and 15th in passing EPA defense in 2020.

Rushing Defense: Because the Cardinals utilize a lot of single-high safety looks, Arizona was well-manned to stop the run in 2020. They had more defenders in the box in all situations per Anthony Reinhard, and that’s evident when watching them on tape. However, the Cardinals didn’t have the defensive interior to fully hold up on the ground, ultimately ranking 15th in rushing EPA on defense. Journeyman DT Jordan Phillips, 2019 third-rounder Zach Allen, and 2020 fourth-round rotational NT Leki Fotu are below-average starters. The Cardinals are three deep at inside linebacker between 2020 first-rounder Isaiah Simmons, Jordan Hicks, and De’Vondre Campbell, but none are difference makers. Hopefully Simmons takes a leap in year two as a 23-year-old. Overall, it’s an underwhelming front-seven against the run. Their Cover 1 shell featuring SS Budda Baker masks some of the flaws at least. 

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Cardinals Team Needs

1. Outside Corner(s) - If the Cardinals want to continue playing a lot of Cover 1 man defense and blitz at top-five rates, they desperately need to find top-end corners. Veteran CBs Patrick Peterson (free agent) and Robert Alford (cut candidate) are unlikely to return. Arizona will be in the mix for Day 1 and Day 2 corners in the 2021 NFL Draft.

2. Slot Receiver - Larry Fitzgerald can retire at any second, and 2019 second-rounder Andy Isabella has proved to be more of a speedy body catcher than NFL weapon. If Arizona continues experimenting with four-receiver sets, slot receivers will be a priority. 27% of the Cardinals’ 2020 pass attempts came in 10-personnel.

3. Offensive Guard - Veteran LG J.R. Sweezy is a free agent, and the rest of the interior is filled with below-average starters. Hopefully the Cardinals can find an elite 5-foot-4 guard or center, so Kyler Murray can see over the middle in 2021. 

4. Edge Rusher - This can be as simple as re-signing 2020 breakout EDGE Haason Reddick (13.0 sacks). The Cardinals would be set with Reddick, OLB Chandler Jones, and Devon Kennard then. Arizona was eighth in adjusted sack rate in 2020, although their top-five blitz rate inflated those numbers.

5. Running Back - The scheme is elite, but the Cardinals don’t have a between-the-tackles runner on the roster with Kenyan Drake headed into free agency. Chase Edmonds can be an asset in passing situations, but his frame (5’9/210) limits his early-down ceiling. Whoever fills this early-down role will at least have RB2/3 value in fantasy.

 


2021 Fantasy Football Rankings

Consider these my way-too-early 2021 fantasy football ranking ranges ahead of free agency and the 2021 NFL Draft, and here’s where each player ranked in PPR points, expected PPR points, and PPR points over expected last year.

DeAndre Hopkins (WR1) - Laughing at the “receivers on a new team” narrative, Hopkins coasted to fantasy’s per-game WR7 overall (19.0 PPR points) on WR9 fantasy usage. Still only 29 years old, Hopkins WR1 status is firmly here to stay in this fast-paced offense. As for that narrative, Hopkins never fit the mold because that sample always had selection bias issues. (For the most part, only mediocre or bad receivers switch teams.)

Kyler Murray (QB1) - As a 23-year-old second-season pro, Murray finished as the QB5 per game (23.7 fantasy points). 9.8 of those per-game fantasy points came on the ground, a skill that keeps his weekly floor and season-long ceiling at high levels. The Cardinals still need to sure up the offensive line and receiver depth, but Murray is already locked into top-six fantasy discussions. If Kliff Kingsbury can figure out a deep passing element, Murray has QB1 overall potential.

Chase Edmonds (RB3) - Size (5’9/210) prevents Edmonds from being a three-down player, but he was the RB33 (10.9 PPR points) as the Cardinals’ passing-down back last year. With the Cardinals unlikely to make a splash in free agency (15th in cap space) to fill the Kenyan Drake void, Edmonds could see his role slightly expand in 2021 alongside a Day 2 or Day 3 rookie.

Christian Kirk (WR5) - A 24-year-old every-down receiver attached to an ascending quarterback is the type of profile usually worth betting on, but Kirk hasn’t looked like a difference maker through three seasons. Last year, he was 93rd out of 112 receivers in yards per route run while primarily being asked to run wind sprints along the right side of the formation. If not for a few long touchdowns, Kirk wouldn’t have finished as the WR52 per game (10.5 PPR points). 

FA Kenyan Drake (RB3) - Among 74 running back qualifiers, Drake was 71st in my efficient stat PPR Points Over Expected Per Game (-3.1). His bellcow days are likely over after arguably falling apart in his first season with over 200 carries dating back to college. Drake will likely have to sign a “prove it” contract this offseason as a 27-year-old and almost any non-Arizona landing spot would be a downgrade.

Andy Isabella (WR7) - A 2018 second-round bust, Isabella ranked 99th out of 112 receiver qualifiers in yards per route run last year. A Larry Fitzgerald retirement would provide a route into the three-receiver set starting lineup, but nothing about his profile or his game tape suggest he’d be anything more than a low-volume big-play threat.

FA Dan Arnold (TE3) - It came on low volume, but Arnold was the TE9 overall in PPR Points Over Expected Per Game (+1.0) last year among 43 qualifiers on a 9.7 yards per target average. The 26-year-old could re-sign after spending 1.5 years with Kingsbury. Arnold fits the air raid tight end mold as a pure receiving threat.