After unsuccessfully pushing for a Super Bowl with an aging roster over the past few seasons, the Arizona Cardinals enter 2018 in a rebuilding phase. Gone is head coach Bruce Arians, quarterback Carson Palmer and safety Tyrann Mathieu. Former Carolina Panthers defensive coordinator Steve Wilks has been hired as the team’s new head coach and three new faces have been brought in at quarterback: veterans Sam Bradford and Mike Glennon, as well as rookie Josh Rosen.
At their best this decade, the Cardinals were a team of highly skilled veterans with a mix of dynamic young players. Now, the veterans have mostly moved on and the young players are the elder statesmen. However, Arizona has done a decent job injecting young players into the fold even as they’ve regressed over the last two seasons. David Johnson is one of the best playmakers in the NFL, Deone Bucannon has been unable to replicate an incredible 2015 but is still a valuable defender, and Budda Baker was one of the best rookies not talked about enough last season.
As it stands, the Cardinals are too talent-poor to compete in 2018. However, finding new contributors is part of the rebuilding process. Here are three candidates to breakout for Arizona in 2018:
Brandon Williams, CB
One of the bigger disappointments for the Cardinals in recent seasons, Williams failed to live up to the hype entering his rookie season in 2016, losing his starting job quickly and never reclaiming it. However, the third-year pro will have a chance to reclaim his starting spot and get his career back on track in 2018. With Justin Bethel gone to the Atlanta Falcons, there is no veteran standing in Wiliams’ way; his only real competition for the starting spot opposite Patrick Peterson is rookie Christian Campbell, a sixth round pick. Jamar Taylor was added in the offseason, but is best suited for the slot.
Perhaps more importantly to Williams’ career revival is the man who is now overseeing it, first year head coach Steve Wilks. Wilks comes to Arizona after six successful seasons as a defensive coach with the Panthers, first as a secondary coach and then ultimately coordinator. Over the course of Wilks’ time in Carolina, unheralded cornerbacks arrived and exceeded expectations, most notably: Josh Norman (a fifth round pick), Bene Benwikere (fifth) and Robert McClain (seventh).
So now Wilks will turn his attention to Williams and attempt to do for him what he did for many others. What Wilks has in Williams currently is a player with good size and length, tremendous athleticism, and a willingness to play physical. If Williams can put it all together in 2018, a long-standing question in the Cards’ secondary will finally be answered.
Brice Butler, WR
After three largely forgettable seasons with the Dallas Cowboys — which followed two largely forgettable seasons with the Oakland Raiders — Brice Butler signed in Arizona during free agency this spring. With the Cardinals, Butler will be given the first true opportunity of his career to be a team’s starting wide receiver.
An argument could be made he should’ve been afforded that opportunity last season, as Dallas stubbornly stuck by three regressing receivers in Dez Bryant, Terrance Williams and Cole Beasley. At times, Butler looked like their most dynamic option, and he finished first in DYAR among non-qualifying wide receivers in 2017.
A receiver with good size at 6-foot-3 and 220 pounds, and good athleticism, Butler has the physical makeup of a starting outside wide receiver. While it hasn’t come together for him yet, if Butler will take the next step in his career, it should be in 2018.
Haason Reddick, LB
Following a hectic rookie season which saw him move positions after a month, from the inside to outside in a 3-4 defense, Reddick should enjoy a much steadier role in 2018. Back into an off-ball position on the strongside of Wilks’ 4-3, Reddick will be allowed to keep clean, move sideline-to-sideline and play in coverage. This type of role is much better suited for his skill set and should see him even improve upon a 2.5-sack rookie year, as he’ll now rush the passer on timed blitzes off the edge and up the middle.
Reddick was one of the most intriguing prospects in the 2017 NFL Draft for a reason. His combination of size and athleticism projects wonderfully for a modern three-down linebacker. While he was miscast in 2017 and it cost him, 2018 should see him be maximized by the coaching staff and Arizona will be rewarded for doing so. Reddick can set the edge against the run, fill lanes inside, cover tight ends and running backs, and rush the passer on occasion. All of that should be on display in a breakout 2018.