If there is one thing in particular that has defined the 2017 season so far for the Cardinals, it's injuries.
When teams start losing games in the NFL, it always seems to coincide with losing their best players. First, it was David Johnson who went down against Detroit. Next, Markus Golden was lost for the season with a knee injury suffered against the 49ers. Then it was Carson Palmer's turn, in London against the Rams. Last week, the ailment list got significantly longer, as the Cardinals suffered several more major injuries against the Seahawks.
The two losses that sting the most are tackle D.J. Humphries and safety Tyvon Branch. We were just starting to get excited about Humphries, and I still believe Arizona has found its left tackle for the next decade. The Branch injury hurts as well, as he was playing arguably the best football
of his career.
The bright side of the injury to Branch? This does open the door for a young player, who has shined on special teams, to get more action on defense.
Rookie Budda Baker, with 13 special teams tackles, leads the NFL in that category. As a gunner, he has the speed to run by anybody, and he has the toughness and desire to fight through blockers to get to the return man. Baker, drafted by Arizona in the second round, was compared initially to Tyrann Mathieu because of their instincts and football intelligence. They've played together in sub-packages throughout the season, but now we will get to see them together more often.
The Cardinals traded up to select Baker at No. 36 overall, feeling that Baker was a first-round talent who they couldn't pass up. I think Baker is just scratching the surface of his talent level, and his impact on the Cardinals' defense will be fun to watch over the next month.
Baker, from Bellevue, Washington, was a track star in high school, competing in sprinting events as well as the long jump. He was offered scholarships for football at UCLA and Washington, and eventually signed with the Huskies. The most memorable moment of Baker's young career actually came in August, when we saw his athletic ability on full display during a preseason game at University of Phoenix Stadium.During a seemingly meaningless play, Baker, who was lying flat on his back on the ground, flipped himself up into the air and landed on his feet.
It didn't go unnoticed by SportsCenter and all the highlight shows. We showed the replay in the TV booth over and over, marveling at how someone could actually pull that off while wearing full football pads. With Baker now a full-time defensive player, as well as a special teams ace, we will get to see the best of Budda over the next seven games.