Over the past two seasons the Cardinals have overhauled the Receiver position, and now they have so much up and coming talent that its getting hard to see who will benefit and who will be hindered or possibly even get cut due to a crowded room. The good thing about Kliff Kingsbury’s offense is that he utilizes a lot of 4 and 5 wide sets, which means a lot of balls will be thrown, and with the use of these formations he is more likely to carry more Receivers on the roster, at the expense of other positions, and even possibly the tight end position with Larry Fitzgerald playing more and more as a flex tight end as he closes out his career. Receivers tend to get the “Diva” label, but I think the corps in Arizona won’t have an ego problem because they aren’t getting targeted enough.
Lets first look at the legendary Receiver and face of the franchise Larry Fitzgerald. There are so many stories about Larry that blow my mind, both on and off the field. One example is how he has less dropped passes in his career than he does tackles. This one is super hard to believe when you go back and look at some of the Quarterbacks that he is played with over his career. His hands are easily some of the best the league has ever seen. His career was for surly benefited by being mentored by the likes of Chris Carter and Randy Moss when he was a ball boy for the Vikings in his youth. Another great story is how Randy Moss let him borrow his car to take to his high school prom. At 36 years old, Larry is in the twilight of his career, and it seems that he has accepted that he will be serving more as a mentor to the younger guys in the room going forward. However, with, I still expect the reliable target to be a big role player in the Cardinals offense in 2020, especially how Kingsbury has used him as a flex tight end in 2019. Larry has never had a huge ego, so I expect him to not be concerned not being the top target anymore, and I think he will be a solid number 3 with the Cardinals in 2020.
With the most notable blockbuster trade of the 2020 off-season, the Cardinals acquired DeAndre Hopkins from the Houston Texans. In my opinion, I think Hopkins is the best receiver in the NFL, and even reminds me of a young Larry Fitzgerald. There is no question that going forward Hopkins will be the number 1 target for Kyler Murray. In his past 7 seasons in Houston, he has only had less than 1,000 yards receiving twice in his career, one which came in his rookie season where he posted 802 receiving yards, and the second time in 2016 where he has posted 954 receiving yards. Hopkins has started every game of his career and is a huge get for the Arizona Cardinals. Hopkins will see the majority of targets in 2020, but he also seems like a humble guy that lets his play do his talking, so I think he will be fine with finally having some other quality healthy receivers in the room with him.
The next Receiver on the Cardinals that should be mentioned is Christian Kirk. I think he comes into 2020 maintaining his role as the number as the number 2 option in Kliff’s offense. Clearly the reunion of Kirk and one of his former Texas A&M Quarterbacks Kyler Murray looked to provide some solid chemistry last year as Kirk has 68 receptions for 709 yards and 3 TDs. With a bigger role in the offense going forward I expect Kirks production to continue to trend upwards, especially how he is versatile enough to be placed in the slot or out wide on any given play.
After the top 3 guys in the room, this is where things get super interesting, and where targets will get spread out between a handful of young guys that have the potential to replace Larry once he leaves and will be asked to make up production that was lost now that Pharaoh Cooper and Damiere Byrd have gone to new teams. First let’s look at KeeSean Johnson. In his rookie season last year, Johnson had 21 receptions for 187 yards and 1 TD. The downfall with Johnsons rookie stat line is that he only had a 50% catch percentage, which will need to drastically improve in 2020. Although he made 4 starts, he only played in 35% of offensive snaps, but that number is still higher than any other receiver that hasn’t been named on this list yet.
The next player we should mention is the second-year speedster Andy Isabella. During the 2019 draft process, Isabella started to fly up draft boards when he ran a 4.31 40-yard dash at the combine. Isabella is easily the most hyped up player on Cardinals right now, and people are expecting him to have a big 2020 season, me included. The interesting thing about Isabella’s stat line is that he only had 9 receptions on the season, but he still had 189 yards, which is 2 more than KeeSean Johnson who had way more receptions that Isabella. I think Isabella will have a bigger role than Johnson going forward as he is a more reliable target (69.2 catch%) and his speed allows him to be more of a game breaker than Johnson. Isabella also provides some value as a kick returner which he may see more reps at going forward.
Trent Sherfield saw a huge decrease in production in his 2019 sophomore season. He went from a 2018 season that saw him contribute with 19 receptions and 210 yards to a 2019 season where he had 4 receptions for 80 receptions. I dont know what to credit this drop off to as he played in 25% of offensive snaps last season. Maybe a sophomore slump? Maybe a bad relationship with Kyler Murray? Maybe Kingsbury doesn’t see the value in him, or he has an inability to grasp the new offense? Either way it will be interesting to see what role Sherfield has in 2020 or if he even makes the roster.
The 7th and final Receiver on the Cardinals roster I want to discuss is Hakeem Butler, who I am super high on. I loved Butler going into the draft last year, as his combination of size, speed, and vertical leading ability look to make him a valuable red zone threat in the NFL. Unfortunately, he broke his hand last year in training camp which caused him to miss his rookie season. I think out of everyone on this list, he has the potential to be Larry Fitzgerald’s replacement when he retires and could even be the top threat on the offense if DeAndre Hopkins is constantly double teamed every play. I am really looking forward to see if he lives up to his potential and the hype in 2020.
There are a handful of other Receivers on the Cardinals roster right now including undrafted Receivers such as Ohio State’s Johnny Dixon, Boise States A.J. Richardson, and Hawaii’s JoJo Ward. These guys will be fighting for a potential 8th roster spot, or a practice roster spot.
Like I said at the beginning, in this pass happy Air-Raid offense there will be a ton of balls to go around, but it will be interesting to see who gets majority of the targets passed the top 3 and once you factor in other players on the roster such as Running Backs Kenyan Drake and Chase Edmonds, Tight End Maxx Williams, and potentially Quarter Back Chris Streveler, who is a Taysom Hill type offensive threat who comes from the CFL this year, if he makes the roster.