The Arizona Cardinals have gotten off to a rocky 0-3 start to begin the season. Despite trading up to select quarterback Josh Rosen in the 2018 NFL Draft, head coach Steve Wilks started veteran Sam Bradford for the first three games. Now, it has been announced that Rosen will get the nod in Arizona’s Week 4 matchup with the Seahawks. While the offensive line has struggled, there has been a bright spot at the receiver position in the form of Christian Kirk.
After moving up to take Rosen, Arizona used its next selection to take Kirk, pairing a rookie quarterback with an explosive playmaking receiver. Kirk has started to rapidly progress his game and can bring much-needed big plays to a mostly stagnant offense.
As a prospect, Kirk was a homerun threat after the catch. His elusiveness and agility allowed him to be a yards after catch monster. In his route running, he could make seamless vertical cuts to create separation. Additionally, his acceleration out of breaks and spatial awareness allowed to find voids underneath zone coverage.
Kirk’s body control allowed him to adjust to an array of passes and make plays through traffic. Though he would go through stretches of relying on his body to catch passes, he was a consistent receiver who projected perfectly for the slot in the NFL.
Through 3 weeks, his role has grown for Arizona. With minimal depth at wide receiver, Kirk cracked the starting lineup in Week 3. His targets, receptions, yards, and percentage of targets completed have improved each week of the season so far. These statistical improvements culminated in an 8 target, 7 receptions, 90 yards performance last week against the Bears.
Kirk will likely continue to be heavily relied upon for young quarterback Josh Rosen. As a player who can separate immediately with his burst, Kirk can be a primary read on passing plays. Additionally, Kirk has done an excellent job so far of working through windows of zone coverage in order to get open as a secondary option.
Christian Kirk working through windows pic.twitter.com/jp4yQgP8sb
— NFL Draft Videos (@NFLDraftVideos) September 27, 2018
Against Chicago in Week 3, Arizona did a great job of sending Kirk in motion to alter his alignment and get clean releases. Early on, he was used as an underneath target and picked up chunks of yards this way as the Bears defensive backs respected his deep speed enough to give him cushion.
By the fourth quarter, Kirk had set up a double move and ruined the defensive back on an out and up for a gain of 32 yards. His vertical speed and smooth cuts were matched with enough shallow targets to make the defensive back bite on the fake.
Christian Kirk with the out and up. Attacks the space underneath CB’s cushion with his shoulders turned to the sideline, which makes CB drive the out route. Sticks foot in the ground and gets upfield. pic.twitter.com/trGmssjs5p
— Brad Kelly (@BradKelly17) September 27, 2018
When Rosen took over the game, he targeted Kirk in pressure situations in the fourth quarter. With the ever-dangerous Larry Fitzgerald and David Johnson on the field, it’s reasonable to suggest defenses will continue to play Kirk in similar ways that Chicago did. For Kirk, this means his role will likely continue to include being asked to defeat man coverage, often times with free releases.
In order to get Rosen clicking and locked in, starting him off with short and intermediate throws will likely involve Kirk’s speed and route running ability. As games progress and Arizona opens up the playbook for Rosen, Kirk has the ability to stretch the defense with his vertical game.
Don’t be surprised to see the chemistry between Rosen and Kirk start meshing, and be firing on all cylinders by season’s end.