One of the benefits of finishing with the worst record in the league is owning the No. 1 overall pick in the draft, and the Cardinals used it on former Oklahoma quarterback and Heisman Trophy winner Kyler Murray, a player new coach Kliff Kingsbury had tried to recruit to Texas Tech and a potential superstar who could change the very landscape of the NFL with his dual-threat talents as both a pocket passer and a runner.
Murray’s addition signaled the end for quarterback Josh Rosen just one year after he was drafted 10th overall, but that’s what had to happen for the franchise to go all in on Murray, who promised at his introductory news conference: “You’re getting a winner. Every time I touch the field, I’m going hard no matter [what] the scoreboard [says].”
All eyes will be focused on what Kingsbury and Murray can do with the offense. Expect the Cardinals to run an insanely fast up-tempo style with an aerial attack featuring multiple receivers, including Larry Fitzgerald, Christian Kirk and a bevy of rookie draft picks led by speedster Andy Isabella and the 6'5" Hakeem Butler.
With Rosen getting dealt to the Dolphins in a draft-day trade, the 5'10" Murray now becomes the epicenter of Kingsbury’s version of the Air Raid offense. It will be interesting to see how defenses react to Murray’s speed and elusiveness as he operates out of the shotgun formation the majority of the time.
He should have a better offensive line than Rosen did. The Cardinals, who were forced to use 10 different starting combinations up front because of injuries, brought in two new starters in guard J.R. Sweezy, a free agent addition from the Seahawks, and veteran right tackle Marcus Gilbert, obtained in a trade with the Steelers. Left tackle D.J. Humphries, center A.Q. Shipley and guard Justin Pugh return from knee injuries, and there has been an influx of experience and youth through free agency and the draft.
After missing all but one game in 2017 (because of a wrist injury) and having a subpar season in ’18, running back David Johnson is convinced he can return to his 2016 All-Pro form, when he led the NFL in yards from scrimmage (2,118) and total touchdowns (20). The goal, he maintains, is still to rush for 1,000 or more yards and finish with 1,000 or more receiving yards. Look for Johnson, one of the best receiving threats in any NFL backfield, to get 25-30 touches per game and line up frequently as both a slot receiver and a out wide. Johnson welcomes the thought of running out of shotgun sets. “I actually love that,” he says. “I did that in college. That’s all we did in college is that gun-read option-type thing. I think it really opens up more space for me and makes me able to read the defense a little bit more besides getting the ball from under center.”
Though he will be 36 when the season starts, Fitzgerald still has plenty of game — he had his three most productive (by number of receptions) NFL seasons from 2015-17 — and he can help mentor a young stable of receivers that includes a third rookie in KeeSean Johnson as well as Bears castoff Kevin White, the former first-round pick who has battled injuries since joining the league.
Keep an eye on the tight end position, where veteran newcomer Charles Clay could have a career revival in this system, and holdover Ricky Seals-Jones, a natural pass catcher, could thrive. The team also added a veteran blocker in Maxx Williams and drafted UCLA’s Caleb Wilson, who led all FBS tight ends in receiving yards.
So what's the final result? Expectations are soaring in Arizona because of Kingsbury and Murray, his tied-to-the-hip flashy quarterback, and if they can’t return the Cardinals to at least seven or eight wins, it will be a disappointment.
(Top photo courtesy of www.azcardinals.com)