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No Third Wheel: Christian Kirk Major Piece At Wide Receiver

Young pass-catcher an asset alongside DeAndre Hopkins, Larry Fitzgerald

Arizona Cardinals wide receiver Christian Kirk during training camp on August 26, 2020.
WR Christian Kirk is not expected to be lost in the shuffle behind WR DeAndre Hopkins and WR Larry Fitzgerald.

Christian Kirk is flanked by a pair of future Hall of Famers in the Cardinals' receiving room, but he should not be mistaken for a third wheel.

DeAndre Hopkins and Larry Fitzgerald are incredibly accomplished pass-catchers, so it was not a surprise to see them discussed among the top wide receiver duos in the NFL this summer.

However, the conversation doesn't end there when talking to members of the Cardinals' offense. While Kirk's body of work may not compare to his more famous teammates, there is the full expectation that he will be a major threat alongside them in 2020 – turning that duo into a trio.

"He's got it," quarterback Kyler Murray said. "I'm ready for him to unleash it."

Kirk led the Cardinals in receiving yards per game last year, but his overall numbers – 68 catches, 709 yards, three touchdowns – lacked sizzle because an ankle injury sidelined him for three games.

If Kirk stays healthy all season, coach Kliff Kingsbury is confident he will have the breakout campaign that was originally earmarked for 2019.

"I see the potential to go through the roof," Kingsbury said. "Last year before he got hurt, I thought he was going to have a really, really big year. Unfortunately he had the ankle that slowed him down. But you see his mentality, you see his second year in this offense, third year in the pros. He just looks like a different guy."

Kirk was not satisfied with a 2019 season which had peak moments but also the injury and a couple of high-profile drops. He's heard the praise in training camp and wants to live up to it.

"I've got to back it up," Kirk said. "I've got to go out there and play the best football I can play. I believe in the offseason I put myself in the best position to be successful this year. I took it very seriously. I can't really talk about it -- talk about what I'm going to do or hope to do. I've just got to go out there and play, and make the opportunities when they come toward me."

Hopkins is one of the best receivers in the NFL, and thus will command a large share of targets. Even so, the Cardinals play fast, and Kingsbury's offense is designed to regularly get playmakers the ball, so touches shouldn't be an issue for Kirk.

He has shown the ability to be a deep threat, a quick-game asset and a vital piece on jet sweeps and other backfield-related plays Kingsbury likes to call.

Murray believes the addition of a bona fide No.1 receiver will be a net positive for Kirk, because it will give him more favorable matchups.

"Adding D-Hop just makes Christian that much more dangerous to me," Murray said. "Last year, whenever we were 3x1, they'd single up one side and let the weakside safety play to the three-receiver side. It crowds it up for those guys. Now when you've got a guy like D-Hop at the 'X,' you've got to help."

Kirk does not show any disdain for having to compete against a pair of legends for targets in the passing game. On the contrary, he is excited about the setup.

Kirk, 23, has spent two-plus years soaking up knowledge from Fitzgerald and now gets to pick Hopkins' brain.

"It's been really good, being able to talk with him and be a sponge," Kirk said.

Hopkins and Fitzgerald have shown their full worth for years in the NFL, and give the passing game the type of base-level consistency that should lead to success. Kirk is the X-Factor that could really push it to another level.

"If he plays a full season," Kingsbury said, "you're going to see his full potential."