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Looking around the NFC West: The Arizona Cardinals

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NFL: Arizona Cardinals-Minicamp Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

In the build up to the 2019 NFL Draft, one of the most repeated questions was regarding the height of Kyler Murray out of the University of Oklahoma. The height at which he would measure in at was obviously of utmost importance because there is no greater predictor of success in the NFL than the height of the team’s quarterback.

With the Arizona Cardinals selecting Murray with the first overall pick, and the team bringing in Kliff Kingsbury in as head coach, there are far more question marks about the 2019 version of the Cards than there are known quantities. How much of the Air Raid offense will Arizona run? How much will Murray stay in the pocket and how much will the offense take advantage of his speed? How will players on both sides of the ball adjust to their third system in three seasons under a third different head coach?

Even those players who have been with the organization for several seasons will be asked to change what they do and how they do it yet again. Thus, the Cards may not even be able to rely on those few talented veterans they have on the roster. There is no better example of this than Patrick Peterson, who has been a shut down cornerback for the Cards for the past eight seasons, but even his ability to contribute will be limited early as a result of his six-game suspension for using performance enhancing drugs.

In short, there’s not a lot that can be known with certainty when it comes to the Cards. Maybe the offense will be phenomenal. Maybe the offense will bomb out at the NFL level. Maybe the Cards will present a rebirth of Jerry Glanville’s Run N Shoot. Maybe they’ll see a short lived success that is eventually figured out by opponents like during Chip Kelly’s time with the Philadelphia Eagles.

The things we do know are that they will have a roster full of highly athletic skill position players. There is no questioning what wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald brings to the field, and Cardinals fans are certainly hopeful that running back David Johnson returns to his pre-Mike McCoy form. However already set to turn 28 late this season, Johnson’s prime may have already passed, as so often happens to running backs before fans are ready and willing to accept it.

Behind those two, however, Arizona is light on experience and heavy on the hope of upside potential. At receiver alone the team has potential playmakers in Hakeem Butler, Pharoh Cooper, Christian Kirk and Andy Isabella, to go along with one-time first round pick and Chicago Bears mega-bust Kevin White. While White did next to nothing during his time with the Bears, coming to play in whatever version of the Air Raid system Kingsbury brings to the NFL puts him back in the system in which he put up 1,447 yards and 10 touchdowns as a senior at West Virginia.

Getting down to the very basic level of things, teams that face the Cards during the early portion of the season will have an extremely limited amount of NFL level tape on the offense the team will be running, while the Cards will be rolling out a receiving corps that threatens deep with high end speed from nearly every position. While Fitzgerald has undoubtedly lost a step at age 35, the other receivers all bring the threat of beating defensive backs deep on any given play. Butler ran a 4.48 forty at the combine, while Kirk ran a 4.45, Damiere Byrd clocked in at 4.28 at his Pro Day back in 2015 and Isabella was timed at 4.31 at his Pro Day.

That brings things back to Murray at the quarterback position. There is never any way to know what to anticipate from a rookie quarterback, but Murray brings a dimension that his predecessors with the Cardinals didn’t - the ability to beat defenses with his feet. No defensive coordinator was staying up at night worrying about how to slow down Carson Palmer, Drew Stanton or Josh Rosen on the ground, but Murray is an entirely different beast. His slight stature will likely gather a significant amount of coaching to avoid taking significant hits, but that won’t prevent him from running entirely. But before a defender can hit Murray, they actually have to catch him.

Opting not to run the forty at either the combine or at his Pro Day, his exact speed is up for debate, unless one accepts “really fast” as an acceptably specific answer. Murray’s 1,143 rushing yards over his last two seasons with the Sooners actually outpaces the 1,076 rushing yards Chris Carson recorded with the rival Oklahoma State Cowboys during his two seasons in Stillwater. Basically, Murray is a threat on the ground that the Cardinals haven’t had in the past, and to gain an understanding of exactly how dangerous and how fast he is, here’s a clip of Cardinals offensive players running in practice, with Murray fighting for the lead until the end.

And in case you’re wondering who that is that Murray is neck and neck with in that sprint, it’s the aforementioned Andy Isabella of the 4.31 speed.

Cutting right down to the chase, nobody really knows what Arizona is going to bring to the field this season and how well they’ll be able to compete. What we do know, however, it that it will involve an offense designed to get the ball to playmakers in space, and those playmakers have the speed to make things happen once they have the ball in their hands.

If the Cardinals defense can give teams fits like it did to the offenses of the Seahawks and Bears in 2018, then they could prove a dangerous opponent in the NFC West. There’s no need to panic, but there’s definitely a collection of weapons down in the desert that could make some noise if given the chance.