It's been a rapid rise for Jalen Thompson, the second-year safety who didn't join the Cardinals until training camp a season ago and ended the year as a fulltime starter.
The fifth-round supplemental draft choice was not expected to be a key figure on defense as a rookie in 2019, but the early-season release of D.J. Swearinger opened the door to playing time, and Thompson barged in.
Expectations for Thompson are high in 2020, as defensive coordinator Vance Joseph said the 22-year-old is "definitely the answer for us right now at the safety position" next to Budda Baker.
"When he played, we got better," Joseph said. "He made plays on the ball as far as a coverage guy, but the best thing he did was tackle. He tackled some of the best backs in this league one-on-one, open field. That's tough to do. If a safety has that trait, they're going to play a long time.
"We gave up a lot of big plays last year through the middle of the defense early on. When that kid played, those plays stopped happening. It went from being 40-yard gains to 15-yard gains. His trait is how fast he plays, and how well he tackles."
Thompson finished his rookie year with 57 tackles, an interception and a fumble recovery in 15 games, including nine starts.
Pro Football Focus named him the team’s most underrated player after Thompson registered a 70.3 coverage grade in 2019, and Joseph believes he will make a jump mentally this year as he gets more comfortable in the scheme.
"It's going to be his second year in the system, and as far as his IQ, it's going to get better," Joseph said.