Arizona Cardinals Rookie Preview
The long wait is over and preseason has finally arrived. While the scores may not mean much, this is the yearly opportunity to see the NFL’s newcomers in their first game action. Each year rookies rise and rookies bust. It’s never fair to evaluate a draft class this early, or even after the first season, but this is where fans catch their first glimpse of a franchise’s potential future, so here is the 2018 Arizona Cardinals rookie preview.
The Arizona Cardinals 2018 draft class is a mixed bag. Their top pick may be the best but also may not see the field this year. There are some potential sleepers, some high expectations and some project players in this class. Let’s take a look at who will have instant impacts, who are wait-and-see players and who will have to fight to prove they belong.
Arizona Cardinals Rookie Preview: Instant Impact
These sections may surprise some people but there are only two instant impact players in this draft class and neither is a quarterback.
Christian Kirk– Wide Receiver – Second Round, Pick 47
The 47th overall pick usually doesn’t come with much fanfare. The Texas A&M product was highly touted during the draft process and his final collegiate season but still slipped to the middle of the second round. However, in recent years it seems more of the receivers drafted after the first round have had the most success. Think about recent first-round receivers. Corey Coleman was just traded for a seventh-round draft pick, Laquon Treadwell hasn’t done anything, John Ross can barely get on the field, Corey Davis had his moments but was extremely inconsistent and Josh Doctson still has potential but hasn’t lived up to his draft status. Meanwhile, Michael Thomas was the fifth receiver taken in his class and has lapped the field.
Christian is more of a Thomas than a Coleman. The young man is in tremendous shape, he’s built like a running back. He has explosion off the snap, running a 4.46 at the NFL Draft Combine. Kirk is a great route runner, playing much of his time at Texas A&M in the slot and excelling. In Arizona, he’ll be playing more on the outside with Larry Fitzgerald occupying the slot. Coaches don’t seem to be worried about the transition. His strength allows him to get off press coverage, which corners love throwing at rookies, and his speed and agility give him the ability to create separation. He could be a fixture at the receiver position for years to come and it starts this year.
Mason Cole– Offensive Line- Third Round, Pick 97
This one is about necessity and has the danger of being a negative. The Cardinals already owned one of the worst offensive lines in the league, and the recent season-ending injury to A.Q. Shipley forces Cole into the starting center position. It’s an easier transition to play an interior line spot than tackle for a rookie lineman but coaches would rather it be earned by performance than injury.
That being said, this man was a rock for Michigan. Mason Cole tied the University’s all-time record for consecutive starts with 51. Cole played tackle as a freshman and sophomore but focused more on guard and center his last two seasons. His draft grade was between second and fourth round for most analysts, so his value was solid. Cole possesses a good anchor and if he can adjust his footwork from guard to center he has a chance to have some solid play this year.
Arizona Cardinals Rookie Preview: Wait-and-See
These are the players that may be stars or contribute greatly but will have to wait for their opportunity to arise.
Josh Rosen– Quarterback- First Round, Pick 10
It is most likely Sam Bradford will be leading this team week one. Sam is probably the better quarterback right now but it’s not often the most “NFL-ready” draft pick sits on the bench. A ton has been written about “Chosen” Rosen this offseason and rightfully so. He’s been on bad teams and made them look better. He’s been on solid teams and tricked people into thinking they were great. Making the players around you better and playing well in crunch time are two rare qualities among quarterbacks and those are Rosen’s defining traits.
How long fans have to wait to see is the real question. Obviously, an injury puts him in but no one wishes that on Bradford. Honestly, if Bradford could get through a 16 game schedule it would be nice to see, he deserves it. There’s no denying, however, that this will be Josh Rosen’s team sooner than later. He’s drawn rave reviews from his teammates, especially Patrick Peterson. He’s the only rookie quarterback that can step in immediately with an understanding of the offensive schemes and language, and know how to diagnose a defense. This may be more of a Kurt Warner/Eli Manning battle than Brett Favre/Aaron Rodgers. It’s just a matter of time. If the team isn’t winning early, fans will see the switch.
Chase Edmonds– Running Back- Fourth Round, Pick 134
This is an obvious pick for a sleeper. This little runner out of Fordham has all the potential in the world to be an effective third-down runner and receiver. At the 2018 NFL Draft Combine, he even ran wide receiver drills to show coaches and general managers he’s more than just a scat back and he did well. In his time in college, be became the FCS’s fifth all-time leading rusher. That’s no small feat for a player out of Fordham. David Johnson will never let anyone else sniff the starting back spot but Arizona made good work of Andre Ellington for a few years, and that’s the role they will likely utilize for Edmonds. Plus, he paid off his sister’s school loans with his signing bonus. That’s an awesome guy. He’s already had some first-team reps in training camp when Johnson has been given a break.
There are obviously some potential issues or else he wouldn’t have lasted until the 134th pick. Being a smaller back, there are always injury concerns. Edmonds is no different, having injured his ankle just last season. He’s also from the smaller FCS conference, which isn’t usually an easy transition. Names like Carson Wentz, Tony Romo, Joe Flacco and Jimmy Garoppolo have made it easy to forget what a huge difference in talent it is. That being said, when his offensive coordinator at Fordham became an assistant at Penn State, Edmonds was invited onto the team, so his coaches believed he had the talent to compete at a higher level. It’s a risky choice, but watching his highlights and seeing him play competently in training camp has it looking like a good one.
Arizona Cardinals Rookie Preview: Projects
These are long-term projects that may never be finished, much like the patio your dad started eight years ago and mentions finishing every now and then. Clean it up, dad, it’s an eyesore. If they are finished, they should be functional, if not exciting.
Chris Campbell– Cornerback- Sixth Round, Pick 182
Campbell may end up being the late round gem for Arizona. It’s optimistic but he has the makings of an accountable defensive back. He’s a solid six feet tall and 195 lbs., so a prototypical body type. Chris played sparingly over his first three seasons at Penn State with only four starts during that span. Campbell had a great game in the Rose Bowl against USC his junior season, which helped propel him to start all 13 games his senior season. Coaches at Penn State have said he’s very coachable, which every coach says before the draft. Campbell actually showed that coaching, improving each season on the field.
Campbell has good open-field agility which helped cover his deficiencies in college. He is a liability against the run and the better route runners he faced were able to get him turned around more often than not. He doesn’t always play with the same technique and needs to be far more consistent in that area. Most likely, he won’t be asked to contribute too much in 2018 but if he makes the 53 man roster, he will be asked to be a sub and play special teams. Campbell has had to work his way into playing time before and the hope is he can do so again.
Korey Cunningham– Offensive Tackle- Seventh Round, Pick 254
Unsurprisingly for a seventh-round pick, Cunningham has a lot to work on. He doesn’t have great arm length or hand size, which are important for a tackle. His main deficiency is his lack of strength. At Cincinnati, he was unable to create any space in the run game and pass rushers with a decent outside move played like his outside arm didn’t exist.
It’s not all bad though or he wouldn’t have been drafted. Coaches believe his strength issues are a combination of playing at the incorrect weight, and not working out the right parts of his body. Both are correctable problems. Cunningham has some upsides, as well. He is very athletic, and his feet are very quick. Was the best blocker on the team when it came to pulling for outside runs and screens. His feet give him great ability to change his anchor position to adjust to a defender’s moves. He may be a long shot, but his athleticism gives him a good chance.
It’s a smaller draft class this year, but it’s a great mix of talent and risk. I see Rosen and Kirk as long-term contributors, with Mason Cole having a good chance to stick around as well. The rest, as with all classes, is a toss-up. Edmonds is my off-season favorite, but my hunch is that Chris Campbell has the best career out of the later picks. These defensive coaches have done great work before, and given a prototypical corner like Campbell, they can do it again.