Debating quarterbacks and the Cardinals these days has basically become sport across the NFL landscape.
But in an offense with Kliff Kingsbury as architect, the Cards are aware of another part of the equation – the need to bolster a wide receiver corps that will catch a quarterback’s passes.
“No doubt that will be a position we focus on this spring,” General Manager Steve Keim said.
For the better part of the last 15 years, wide receiver was mostly a strength for the franchise. In 2003, the team drafted Anquan Boldin, added Larry Fitzgerald a year later, and the duo dominated for six seasons, with Steve Breaston helping make a power trio en route to a Super Bowl appearance.
A second round came with Fitzgerald at the helm a couple of years later, with Michael Floyd and John Brown playing at high levels.
Fitzgerald remains, although he acknowledged he’s not the same player he was as he heads towards a 16th season and age 36. Christian Kirk had a good rookie year. Beyond that, the Cardinals are still trying to find out who can make a significant impact.
“That’s our goal, to find guys who are dynamic perimeter players, guys who can create the separation or do things running routes, or the guys who have a particular skillset after the catch,” Keim said. “We have to find guys who can not only take the top off but can threaten defenses.
“You can’t have a bunch of average athletes out there and make them look good because of a particular scheme.”
It helps to have Fitzgerald back. How he might be deployed in a Kingsbury system is yet to be seen, but it wouldn’t be hard to envision a potential at 100 catches again. More importantly, he can be a leader in the locker room for a unit that could be young otherwise.
“I think my role has changed,” Fitzgerald said at the recent Sloane Sports Analytics conference held at MIT. “I think it’s important for me to continue to help the Christian Kirks of the world and the Josh Rosens of the world, the guys that are going to be here for the next 10 years playing. Just give them all the knowledge I can to help speed up their learning curve.”
The onset of free agency could – and might need to – bring on a veteran. But the draft looks deep in wide receivers, guys that could help build the Cardinals’ depth chart.
“I think it’s a really deep class and I’m excited to evaluate it,” Kingsbury said.
There are big receivers like D.K. Metcalf, N’Keal Harry, A.J. Brown and Hakeem Butler available. There are smaller, quicker options like Marquise Brown and Parris Campbell. With Kirk in the fold, it’s the outside guys the Cards figure to watch, but a strength of Kingsbury is that he can work with different types – as long as they are playmakers.
“I think he’s pretty flexible,” NFL Network draft analyst Daniel Jeremiah said. “Everybody tried to pigeonhole him with the Air Raid, and they’re going to play this specific way. (But) he’s had years where he’s had a tight end. The tight end was Jace Amaro, and he had, what, 100 catches in that offense? He’ll work around what he has. To me, I think about getting the ball out of your hands quick because of what’s up front right now. Until they can get that solved, I would want guys that can uncover quickly, so I’d put more of an emphasis on the quicker, faster receivers.”
The Cardinals will continue to look at Trent Sherfield and Chad Williams, among others, and former Ram Pharoh Cooper will have a chance to show what he can do at receiver after being a December waiver pickup.
The goal is to get the wide receivers back to a position of strength, and that won’t happen just from quarterbacks throwing a bunch.
“With this offense, there will be a number of opportunities,” Keim said, “but you have to have the horses to do it.”
Images of Cardinals cheerleader Davis from the 2018 season