With the 2021 NFL season a key one for the Arizona Cardinals, how does their depth chart shape up heading into the offseason programs? Following some intriguing offseason additions, the Cardinals’ depth chart will have a slightly different look to it this season.
Arizona Cardinals Depth Chart
Who is currently set to start for the Cardinals, and what does their depth look like at key positions?
Quarterback: Kyler Murray, Colt McCoy, Chris Streveler
Running Back: James Conner, Chase Edmonds, Eno Benjamin, Jonathan Ward, Tavien Feaster, Khalfani Muhammad
Wide Receiver: DeAndre Hopkins, A.J. Green, Christian Kirk, Andy Isabella, Rondale Moore, KeeSean Johnson, A.J. Richardson, Rico Gafford, Antoine Wesley, Andre Baccellia, JoJo Ward, Isaac Whitney
Tight End: Maxx Williams, Darrell Daniels, Cary Angeline, Ian Bunting, Ross Travis, Bernhard Seikovits, Bruno Labelle
Offensive Tackle: D.J. Humphries, Kelvin Beachum, Justin Murray, Josh Jones, Joshua Miles, Branden Bowen
Offensive Guard: Justin Pugh, Justin Murray, Brian Winters, Koda Martin, Max Garcia, Sean Harlow, Shaq Calhoun
Center: Rodney Hudson, Lamont Gaillard, Michal Menet
Interior Defensive Line: Rashard Lawrence, Leki Fotu, Jordan Phillips, David Parry, Michael Dogbe, Cameron Murray
EDGE: J.J. Watt, Chandler Jones, Zach Allen, Markus Golden, Devon Kennard, Victor Dimukeje, Dennis Gardeck, Kylie Fitts, Shareef Miller
Linebacker: Isaiah Simmons, Jordan Hicks, Zaven Collins, Tanner Vallejo, Ezekiel Turner, Terrance Smith, Evan Weaver, Reggie Walker
Cornerback: Byron Murphy, Malcolm Butler, Robert Alford, Darqueze Dennard, Marco Wilson, Tay Gowan, Jalen Thompson, Picasso Nelson, Jace Whittaker, Lorenzo Burns, Jamal Carter, Donald Rutledge
Safety: Budda Baker, James Wiggins, Shawn Williams, Chris Banjo, Jalen Thompson, Deionte Thompson, Charles Washington
Kicker: Matt Prater
Punter: Andy Lee, Tyler Newsome
Long Snapper: Aaron Brewer
Cardinals Depth Chart Analysis | Offense
Let’s break down the Cardinals’ depth chart on the offensive side of the ball.
Entering his third season, Kyler Murray is the clear starter for the Cardinals at the quarterback position. Looking across his numbers, there was clear progression from his rookie season in 2019 to his 2020 season. Improvements in completion percentage, touchdown percentage, yards per attempt, and on-target throws are all good signs. An important part of that was the added protection, as Murray’s sack percentage dropped from 8.1 to 4.6.
Behind Murray, Colt McCoy has been brought in as the veteran backup ahead of Chris Streveler. While not exactly an exciting prospect, McCoy does give the Cardinals an experienced vet to lead this offense if Murray gets hurt.
After the departure of Kenyan Drake and the early inactivity of the Cardinals in free agency, it looked as though Chase Edmonds may get to lead the backfield. That was changed drastically, however, with the signing of James Conner.
The arrival of Conner means we could see the Cardinals’ depth chart take a similar shape to last year. That would see Conner as the early-down back, with Edmonds filling a more pass-catching-centric role. Yet, both backs are more than capable in both facets of the game.
The Cardinals’ seventh-round draft pick from the 2020 NFL Draft could be set to take up that third spot on the depth chart. The Cardinals did not utilize Eno Benjamin in 2020, but there is limited competition on the rest of the running back depth chart.
The Cardinals’ wide receiver depth chart should have parallels to last season with A.J. Green replacing Larry Fitzgerald in the lineup. DeAndre Hopkins dominated the targets with 160 last season, while Christian Kirk and Fitzgerald split 161 between them. It is unlikely we see the role of Hopkins diminish after he had 1,407 receiving yards and 6 touchdowns on 115 receptions.
The biggest question mark will be whether Green or Kirk can fill the slot receiver role that Fitzgerald played last season. Kirk played in the slot as a rookie and in the early part of 2019. However, he has predominantly played on the outside since then. If neither is suited to that role, we may see Andy Isabella starting in three-receiver formations at the expense of Kirk or Green. Isabella has had a slow start to his career but has impressed at times.
The other option to fill the role in the slot is the Cardinals’ rookie receiver, Rondale Moore. Moore is currently sitting fifth on the depth chart, but the second-round selection could force his way into a starting role if he proves to be reliable out of the slot for the Cardinals. These five options appear to be the clear favorites to earn a roster spot in 2021.
The tight end group appears to be the weakest part of the Cardinals’ offensive depth chart. With the departure of Dan Arnold in free agency, Maxx Williams and Darrell Daniels look set to battle it out for the top spot on the depth chart. Last season, the two combined for 21 targets, 16 receptions, 194 receiving yards, and 2 touchdowns.
A lack of a clear top target among the tight end depth chart leaves an opportunity for the likes of Cary Angeline, Ian Bunting, and the rest of the tight end group to stake a claim for a starting role. This area of the offense is extremely open for someone to step up and take the opportunity in what should be a fascinating offense.
It will be no surprise that the Cardinals will open the season with Kelvin Beachum and D.J. Humphries as the starting tackles. They led the Cardinals in snaps on offense with 1,128 and 1,131, respectively. They will be joined by Justin Pugh once again (starting at left guard).
Justin Murray finished the 2020 season as the starting right guard and should be the favorite to open the 2021 season in that role. The starting offensive line should be made up with Rodney Hudson at center. Hudson was acquired this offseason in a trade with the Las Vegas Raiders.
The main competition comes at guard, where Brian Winters has been a regular starter (New York Jets and Buffalo Bills). If Winters loses out on the starting guard role with Arizona, he would be a valuable swing option at tackle and guard as a backup. Behind that group, the fight at guard and tackle is for roster spots. Any of the remaining names could make up the final offensive line spots. At center, Michal Menet will compete with Lamont Gaillard for the backup role behind Hudson.
Cardinals Depth Chart Analysis | Defense
Let’s break down the Cardinals’ depth chart on the defensive side of the ball.
Interior Defensive Line
There is certainly an opportunity for someone to make a splash and earn a starting role on the defensive line. Rashard Lawrence is currently penciled in as the favorite to start, but Leki Fotu played 25 percent of the team’s snaps last season and could push for the role. Most likely, the two will be used in a rotational situation in the interior of the line. Both were drafted in the fourth round of the 2020 NFL Draft, and their battle could be one of the more intriguing in camp.
J.J. Watt naturally draws the headlines here, and a combination of his talent opposite Chandler Jones will produce a fearsome pass rush. The other likely starter here will be Zach Allen, who could benefit as the third defensive lineman with defenses paying attention to Jones and Watt. The third season of his career will be key for Allen, who has just 2 sacks and 6 QB hits through those first two seasons.
The fourth member of this group that should see starting snaps is Markus Golden. He returned to the Cardinals in 2020 after spending a season and a half with the New York Giants. He finished with 2 sacks in his final four games and 9 QB hits in the final five games of the season. Devon Kennard and Victor Dimukeje could both push Golden for snaps if he struggles in camp or to start the season.
The remaining EDGE options will be competing to serve in a depth role. Gardeck and Fitts should have the upper hand, having both featured in a limited role for Arizona last year.
This is where things get fascinating for the Cardinals’ depth chart. Isaiah Simmons primarily played at linebacker, but he can also drop back into a safety role or cover the slot receiver. He should be a regular starter in his second season. Jordan Hicks looked set to join him in the middle of the defense until the selection of Zaven Collins in the first round of the 2021 NFL Draft.
Collins is a multi-faceted player who could start either as an inside linebacker or on the edge. Since the draft, the Cardinals have given Hicks permission to seek a trade. If he remains on the roster, things will certainly get interesting. Hicks had a slightly down year in 2020 but remains an extremely talented linebacker with 4 interceptions and 168 tackles in the past two years.
Behind those three, there is a somewhat steep decline, making it seem odd that the Cardinals would let Hicks leave. There will be a good camp battle between Tanner Vallejo and Ezekiel Turner. Vallejo has the upper hand having played more in 2020, but Turner could make inroads in camp.
There are a lot of question marks surrounding the cornerback group following the departure of Patrick Peterson. If Malcolm Butler can slot in as a trusted No. 1 corner, that would certainly help. He has been a solid corner over the past few years, allowing a 60 percent completion rate consistently during that period.
He could be partnered by the long-awaited debut of Robert Alford. A player who has suffered from two injury-hit seasons, Alford struggled in his final season in Atlanta, allowing a 67 percent completion rate and 8 touchdowns.
Byron Murphy is the wild card who could start on the outside of covering the slot. Murphy improved considerably in 2020, allowing just 2 touchdowns as opposed to 9 in his rookie year. The fourth name to watch is Darqueze Dennard, who has been a good corner over the past couple of seasons. A combination of Butler, Murphy, and Dennard, with Alford as the first reserve name, could be a strong group.
Rookies Marco Wilson and Tay Gowan are names to watch if they can have a strong preseason/start of the regular season. Both could push for starting roles towards the back end of the year, especially in the event of injury.
You can put Budda Baker’s name in as one of the starting safeties in block capitals and felt tip. There is no one on the Cardinals’ depth chart at safety that is as talented as Baker. While his coverage numbers do not look that great on the surface, we are talking about a player who has made 100 tackles in each of the last three seasons.
The battle for the second role is where it gets interesting. Shawn Williams brings experience, having started 31 games between 2018 and 2019. He took a back seat in the defense last season but had 224 combined tackles and 6 interceptions in the previous two seasons. His main competition is likely to be rookie James Wiggins. The talented player out of Cincinnati is unlikely to be ready to start in Week 1, but he could take that role from Williams during the 2021 season.
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