The Cardinals went 13-3 last season and won the NFC West, but came up short of a Super Bowl, losing in the conference championship to the Carolina Panthers. Most of the team is back and the team has added a few key pieces that can finally get them over the hump. They should be in the mix again to compete for a Super Bowl, and these are some of the key players that will help get them there.
1) Tyrann Mathieu, Safety
Mathieu was having a monster season, (89 Tackles, 5 interceptions and 1 forced fumble) prior to tearing his right ACL in week 15 against the Philadelphia Eagles. Mathieu is one of the most versatile players in the league and losing him right before the playoffs, hurt the looks the Cardinals gave their opponents on defense. The Cardinals like to move Mathieu all across the field, as he has made a career at being one of the best ball hawks in the NFL. He tore his left ACL in 2013, so he knows the rehabilitation process and how his body responds to the treatment. The defense looks very different without the “Honey Badger”, so it will be interesting to see if they rush him back to be ready for week 1 against the New England Patriots.
2) Chandler Jones, Defensive End
The Cardinals made a big move by trading for former New England Patriots defensive end Chandler Jones. Jones made the pro bowl for the first time in 2015, as well as set career highs in sacks (12.5) and forced fumbles (4). With Jones going into his 5th year in the league, it appears he is moving into his prime and can be considered one of the best pass rushers in the league. He ranked 5th in the league last season in sacks, which will help the Cardinals’ defense that ranked 20th in the NFL in sacks last year.
3) David Johnson/Chris Johnson/Andre Ellington, Running Backs
This trio is interesting because this is one of the most talented running back cores in the entire league, all of whom got playing time last year and did well. Ellington started the year as the number one back, but got injured in week two with a sprained PCL. Chris Johnson then stepped in, and looked like the Chris Johnson that ran for over 2,000 yards in 2009. Johnson was in the top 3 in rushing up until week 12 when he fractured his tibia. The original third string running back, David Johnson then became the starter and turned some heads with his play. Coach Bruce Arians has made it known this offseason, that the Cardinals will use a lot of two back formations because there is too much talent between the three, especially with David Johnson and Andre Ellington being great pass catchers out of the backfield.
4) Carson Palmer, Quarterback
Palmer is just ol’ reliable and is coming off a season where he finished second in MVP voting. At age 36, Palmer is coming off the best season of his career (4,671 yards, 35 touchdowns, and 11 interceptions). However, father time is catching up to the veteran and who knows how many more seasons he’ll have with a championship caliber team. The Cardinals have so many weapons with the three running backs and receivers Larry Fitzgerald, Michael Floyd and John Brown. If Palmer can stay healthy which has always been his Achilles heel, the Cardinals leader should have another great season and the team should be in Super Bowl contention again.
5) Deone Bucannon, Linebacker/Safety
Bucannon might be a little under the radar unless you are a Cardinals fan, but in a few seasons, he could be a household name. Bucannon was the team’s first round draft pick in 2014, and was listed as the Cardinals’ backup strong safety. Similar to Seattle Seahawks safety Kam Chancellor, Bucannon is a “tweener”, and was asked to move to inside linebacker after Sean Weatherspoon got injured. Bucannon made the most of his opportunity and led the team in tackles with 112 and also had 3 forced fumbles, 2 fumble recoveries and an interception. He is a very versatile player and the team has even listed him this year as a “money linebacker”. He can play all over the field with his speed like a safety and his size like a linebacker. Bucannon will be vital to the defense having another good season.
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