Optimism is high in the desert as the Arizona Cardinals look to build on an encouraging 2019 season. The rookie combination of head coach Kliff Kingsbury and number one draft pick Kyler Murray oversaw an improvement to finish a respectable 5-10-1, and with a year under their belts they are looking to make the next step in an ever competitive NFC West.
The Covid-19 pandemic has disrupted every teams offseason but the Cardinals were still able to pick up some much needed defensive reinforcements in an excellent draft class and complete an unbelievable trade for superstar wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins. Whatever happens this season it’s sure to be an exciting one for the Cardinals. These are my three predictions for 2020…
Arizona Cardinals will make the playoffs
The schedule on paper looks kind….very kind. Winnable home games against the ‘mediocre’ Redskins and the ‘rebuilding’ Dolphins combined with road games against the ‘CMC’ Panthers (sorry, the Carolina Panthers), a ‘TB12-less/tanking for Trevor’ Patriots side and two uninspiring trips to New York. In true Cardinals tradition they will take a pasting somewhere down the line but I would be shocked if any of the aforementioned teams are playoff contenders this season.
In the NFC West, the LA Rams have their number – not since New Year’s Day 2017 have the Cardinals even come close to beating them, which includes two shut outs and two single figure scores! Despite this, the Rams don’t seem to have anyone else’s number and this season will just be as dismal as last.
Seattle and San Francisco are beatable though, as proven by two very close defeats by the 49ers last season and the somewhat remarkable ability to win three of the last four at Century Field against the Seahawks and their 12th man! Don’t be surprised to see the top 3 in the division separated only by a few wins.
Add in the expected second year progression of quarter back Murray, the returning Kenyon Drake (5th in league rushing yards after arriving from the Dolphins) and the trade for Hopkins (more on him soon) and it seems almost certain that last record will be bettered.
The Cardinals could end up being the new 7th seed in the NFC, potentially with an 8-8 record. The usual suspects will be there in the post season and there could even be a situation where three of the NFC’s play off representatives come from the NFC West!
DeAndre Hopkins will lead the NFL in receiving yards
David Boston’s 1598 receiving yards in 2001 was the last time a Cardinal led the league in receiving yards.
19 years have passed since this was achieved, with the future hall of famer Larry Fitzgerald finishing 2nd (2008) and 4th (2005, 2007 and 2011) in these standings, but the addition of wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins in an off season trade with the Houston Texans means that a Cardinal could once again be atop of the receiver charts.
Covering Hopkins is a cornerback’s worst nightmare; dynamic pace combined with physicality and an outrageous ability to make catches whilst being in double coverage has seen him top 1100 receiving yards in every season bar once since his rookie year.
Defensive frailties will likely mean that the Cardinals will be behind in games which will force mobile quarterback Murray to abandon the run and throw it deep. Expect him to look for Hopkins often, and expect Hopkins to come away with the ball each and every time. Of course, Hopkins isn’t Murray’s only receiver; there is Fitzgerald and 3rd year receiver Christian Kirk as more than adequate options but this will play into Hopkins hands. Fitzgerald, entering his 17th season, does his best work in the slot whilst Kirk’s speed will demand presence around him. All of this opens the door for Hopkins; and you wouldn’t bet against him in a one on one match up.
The last time any Cardinal receiver other than Fitzgerald went over 1000 yards was back in 2015 (John Brown), and maybe bettering 2018’s career best 1572 receiving yards is improbable, but when it comes to wide receivers, few will disagree with the fact that DeAndre Hopkins is the best in the NFL.
Isaiah Simmons will be a Defensive Rookie of the Year candidate
The Cardinals selected Simmons, widely seen as the best and most versatile defensive player in the NFL draft, with the 8th overall pick. Simmons told NFL Network in a pre-draft interview that “you only get 53 on a roster. I feel like if you draft me, you get 56”.
Confidence is not something he is low on, nor is his ability to play all at multiple positions. At Clemson the 6’4”, 238lb Simmons was utilised as an edge rusher, linebacker, cornerback and safety, making him a defensive coordinators dream.
The question now is what position does Vance Joseph (Cardinals defensive coordinator) play him? Joseph has already gone on record on saying that Simmons will primarily be a linebacker in the Cardinals 3-4 scheme, but the versatility that made him such an outstanding college player will surely have to be utilised in a more imaginative way. Not since Tyrann Mathieu have the Cardinals had someone this athletic to potentially play at safety; a position that their opponents tight ends frequently exploited last season in scoring a combined 16 touchdowns – having to face Kittle twice a season doesn’t help! Simmons is an instant upgrade to the defence.
His ability to rush the passer, cover opposition receivers and hunt down running backs makes him a necessity in today’s game. The Cardinals biggest challenge is finding his best position – what makes Simmons a defensive rookie of the year candidate though, is that he excels in every position.