Following the selection of Kyler Murray No. 1 overall back in 2019, the Arizona Cardinals ushered in an entirely different era of football in the desert. Just preceding Murray came the arrival of head coach Kliff Kingsbury, forming a duo expected to take the league by storm with unique offensive concepts headlined by Murray’s electric athletic ability under center, similar to the Chip Kelly and Michael Vick experience in Philadelphia.
Just two seasons have passed, but the lack of production and limited on-field success from both sides of the football has left Kingsbury on the hot seat as he approaches his third campaign as Arizona’s head coach. Failing to finish above .500 since their last playoff appearance in 2015, the Cardinals enter a massive 2021 season considering the offseason acquisitions general manager Steve Keim has made in an attempt to place Kingsbury in the optimal position for success.
The Cardinals’ roster is awfully enticing as we sit here in early July. Sure, it’s easy to draw attention to the additions of future Hall-of-Famer J.J. Watt or the uber-talented-but-aging A.J. Green, but I ask you to focus on the first-year and second-year talent primed to serve massive roles for Kingsbury’s group. One of my favorite prospects in the entire draft cycle, Rondale Moore has all the makings of the next lightning-in-a-bottle talent. His ability, when healthy, to take the rock the distance from anywhere on the field could prove to be the steal of the draft if he develops into the player Arizona believes he can be. He’s must-see TV.
Additionally, the duo of first-rounders Zaven Collins and Isaiah Simmons entrenched within the second level of Vance Joseph’s 3-4 defense provides a gleam of optimism for a defense looking to improve upon an underwhelming 2020. While the loss of veteran anchor Patrick Peterson hurts, the development of Budda Baker, the addition of Malcolm Butler, and the progression of Byron Murphy Jr. could round out a solid group of apex defenders for Joseph’s unit tasked with keeping things in reach for what should be a high-flying Cardinals offense.
Although Arizona currently finds themselves in the shadows of the Los Angeles Rams, San Francisco 49ers, and Seattle Seahawks when discussions of potential division winners arrives to the table, it’s hard to envision the Cardinals, who could soon relegate to a rebuild if all falters this season, not remaining in the hunt for a playoff spot come the turn of the New Year.
With Murray leading the charge, the 2019 Offensive Rookie of the Year must hold the burden of increased expectations on his shoulders as the new de facto leader of the offense without Larry Fitzgerald. The presence of DeAndre Hopkins, Moore, and Green will surely offer a breath of fresh air as Arizona’s sparkling pass-catching options, but the onus on Murray to improve drastically in his turnover margin will be crucial if he intends to work alongside Kingsbury past this fall.
Touting one of the league’s oldest rosters with an average age of 26.08, there is zero excuse for Arizona to point the finger at a lack of snaps and inexperience similar to years prior. Replacing Fitzgerald with Watt, a soon-to-be Canton-bound defender with eerily similar leadership traits to that of the long-time Arizona wideout could be the fuel to the fire for the type of campaign Keim has envisioned since the hiring of Kingsbury. With one of the league’s most dynamic dual-threat gun-slingers under center, pairing with one of football’s elite boundary targets in Hopkins, and a fast, youth-infused defensive unit, the Cardinals have all the pieces to come to form and play above .500 ball.
Although a successful campaign for a coach on the hot seat usually entails a playoff or bust campaign, improvement from Murray inside the pocket and the increased development of Simmons and Collins while proving victorious in nine or more matchups (above .500) should lengthen Kingsbury’s leash into next fall.