Team Previews: 2018 Arizona Cardinals
Team Previews: 2018 Arizona Cardinals

This article is part of our Team Previews series.

THE SKINNY

The Cardinals finished in the bottom half of the league in both offense and defense last season for the first time in coach Bruce Arians' five years with the team. Arians has since moved from the sideline to the broadcast booth, making way for the Steve Wilks era in Arizona.

THREE THINGS TO KNOW

ARIZONA PLAYING HOST TO QB QUANDARY
On the heels of the most successful five-year run in the Arizona portion of franchise history, the Cardinals are facing life without coach Bruce Arians and quarterback Carson Palmer, who together compiled three 10-win seasons and made two playoff appearances. The concurrent retirements of the duo made way for Steve Wilks to don the headset, but the most important position on the field is a question mark. In the opening salvos of free agency, the front office inked Sam Bradford, the leader in the clubhouse, and Mike Glennon to contracts. Once the offseason program began in April, Wilks revealed his plan for the injury-prone Bradford, which includes limitations on his workload until training camp. The cautious approach is understandable after Bradford had left knee surgery last November, marking his third as a pro, but he now faces another hurdle to the top post. Seeking a long-term answer under center at the 2018 NFL Draft, GM Steve Keim packaged the 15th overall pick and two other selections to move up five spots and nab Josh Rosen. Typically, signal-callers tabbed in the first round don't sit for long, if at all, due to organizational and public pressure. Wilks is apt to go with the best man for the job, something he openly admitted after the draft, making the Bradford-Rosen battle one to watch.

THE WORKHORSE THAT IS JOHNSON
David Johnson took a circuitous route to his standing one year ago as one of the preeminent considerations at running back alongside Le'Veon Bell and Ezekiel Elliott. Kicking off his career with spot duty on offense in 2015, Johnson got a chance late to operate as a lead back due to injuries in front of him and didn't look back. From Week 13 of that season through the end of the 2016 campaign, he rampaged over the opposition to the tune of 132.2 yards from scrimmage per game while hauling in 97 of 148 passes and notching 25 touchdowns in 21 outings. His ensuing ranking during 2017 fantasy draft season was justified, but expectations vanished in the span of two minutes Week 1, when a pair of big blows forced Johnson from the contest. Diagnosed with a dislocated left wrist within days, he stayed on injured reserve the rest of the year. Without his services, the Cardinals offense tumbled from ninth in yards per game during his 2016 breakout to 22nd overall last season, relying on the inept trio of Chris Johnson, Adrian Peterson and Kerwynn Williams thereafter to grind it out on the ground. David Johnson received a clean bill of health this offseason, and considering the depth chart behind him – 2018 fourth-rounder Chase Edmonds, 2017 fifth-round pick T.J. Logan and D.J. Foster – he shouldn't lack for touches in the fall.

THE RECEIVING CORPS BEYOND FITZ
A certain first-ballot Hall of Famer, Larry Fitzgerald has prospered throughout his 14-year career, despite only brief interludes of superior quarterbacking. An examination of his age-34 season is enlightening, to say the least. In 2017, the Cardinals didn't have Carson Palmer beyond Week 7 thanks to a broken left arm, compelling Drew Stanton and Blaine Gabbert to run the offense. The resulting quarterback play was pitiful, as evidenced by a combined 6.0 yards per attempt and 12:11 TD:INT across parts of 10 games. David Johnson's absence caused all three signal-callers to lean on Fitzgerald, and the veteran wideout didn't back down from the increased attention. Tying Jarvis Landry for the third-most targets (161) in the NFL, Fitzgerald posted his most 100-yard outings (four) since 2011 and double-digit catches on four separate occasions. Though some of Fitzgerald's target share will return to the do-it-all Johnson this season, the Cards' receiving corps otherwise comprises hit-or-miss options (J.J. Nelson and Brice Butler) or unproven entities (recent draft picks Christian Kirk and Chad Williams, plus tight end Ricky Seal-Jones). It remains to be seen whether the residual looks are spread among the group, or one of them emerges from the pack, but Sam Bradford or Josh Rosen nonetheless have an array of weapons at their disposal.

PIVOTAL PLAYER: Larry Fitzgerald
Fitzgerald continues to churn out Pro Bowl campaigns, snatching 100-plus passes for at least 1,000 yards for a third straight year in 2017, despite working with three different signal-callers. Following Carson Palmer's retirement, Fitzgerald will be on the receiving end of throws from Sam Bradford or first-round pick Josh Rosen this fall.

BAROMETER

RISING: Christian Kirk
Taken in the second round of the 2018 draft, Kirk lands on a Cardinals squad with just two established pass catchers in Larry Fitzgerald and David Johnson. At the very least, Kirk can contribute in the return game.

FALLING: Sam Bradford
A couple elements are working against Bradford in his quest for a starting gig. First, the coaching staff is capping his offseason reps. Perhaps more important, though, was the selection of Josh Rosen at No. 10 overall.

SLEEPER: Ricky Seals-Jones
Arizona's tight end room is in flux due to Jermaine Gresham's rehab from a Week 17 Achilles' tear. After averaging 7.4 YPT and scoring three TDs in the last seven contests of 2017, Seals-Jones could profit from the situation, assuming he avoids punishment for a mid-July arrest.

KEY JOB BATTLE – BACKUP RUNNING BACK
When training camp kicks off, all eyes will be directed toward stud running back David Johnson, who missed the final 15 games of 2017 due to a dislocated wrist. However, the pecking order behind him is of interest, considering the combatants. T.J. Logan, selected in the fifth round last year, failed to make an impact as a result of the same injury as Johnson. A shoe-in to handle kick-return duties – he averaged 27.2 per chance and scored five touchdowns at North Carolina – Logan also recorded 5.4 yards per carry and 23 offensive TDs on just 474 career touches. His chief competition comes in the form of rookie Chase Edmonds. Helping Edmonds' case is unparalleled production during four seasons at Fordham. After racking up 153.8 yards from scrimmage per game and an FCS-record 74 scores in 44 appearances, he may be the top consideration to serve as an alternative to Johnson, especially with first-team reps under his belt during mandatory minicamp.

KEY ACQUISITIONS:
Sam Bradford – QB (from Vikings)
The initial favorite to replace Carson Palmer has a rookie threat.

Josh Rosen – QB (Rd. 1, No. 10 – UCLA)
Owing to the investment made in him, a candidate to start right away.

Brice Butler – WR (from Cowboys)
Boasts blistering speed, but lack of output elsewhere clouds forecast.

Christian Kirk – WR (Rd. 2, No. 47 – Texas A&M)
Will look to take advantage of the void behind Larry Fitzgerald.

KEY LOSSES:
Carson Palmer – QB (retired)
Wraps up career in top 12 in both passing yards and touchdowns.

Adrian Peterson – RB (FA)
On the wrong side of 30, he's appeared in 13 games the last two years.

John Brown – WR (to Ravens)
Waning health prompted the Cardinals to move on.

Tyrann Mathieu – S (to Texans)
Tenure in Arizona highlighted by game-breaking plays and injuries.

THE INJURY FRONT
Jermaine Gresham, TE – Gresham parlayed back-to-back prove-it deals into a lucrative four-year contract in March of 2017, and while he played 66.7 percent of the offensive snaps last season, he has yet to reach the heights of his five campaigns with the Bengals. Embedded in the healing stages of a torn Achilles and currently on the PUP list, the 30-year-old will be hard-pressed to bounce back, even with college teammate Sam Bradford under center.

T.J. Logan, RB – Logan suffered a dislocated wrist in the Hall of Fame Game and spent his entire rookie season on injured reserve. As the offseason program commenced, he stated that he needs to regain "mobility" in the wrist but intends to ditch his brace by training camp, where he'll be clashing for a backup job with Chase Edmonds behind starting running back David Johnson. More than likely, Logan's primary contribution this fall will occur as a kick returner.

Markus Golden, DE – Prior to tearing his ACL in Week 4 last year, Golden was unable to bring down the quarterback on a single occasion after recording 12.5 sacks during his 2016 breakout. Despite embarking on a running program in early April, he isn't participating at the start of training camp and is instead on the PUP list. In the end, the pass rusher is focused on being available Week 1, working opposite sack artist Chandler Jones as a down lineman in the defense's new 4-3 scheme.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Eric Caturia
Eric is the assistant NFL editor for RotoWire.
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