Analysts at ESPN were reserved in their praise for the Arizona Cardinals when it came to projecting their standing in the NFL for the next three years.
A panel made up of Jeremy Fowler, Louis Riddick, Seth Walder and Field Yates did an exercise that graded teams based on various categories, aggregated the scores and then gave a final ranking “based on how well each team is positioned for the future.”
The Cardinals ranked 22nd.
That ranking was the worst in the NFC West with San Francisco at three, Seattle at eight and the Rams at 18. Baltimore and stud quarterback Lamar Jackson had the No. 1 spot in the ranking.
More specifically, the Cardinals ranked 24th in “overall roster minus QB,” 11th in quarterback (a score of 81.0), 23rd in coaching, 17th in drafting and 22nd in the front office.
The Cardinals are a team with the chance to outperform this ranking due to the projected brilliance of quarterback Kyler Murray. But expectations are a bit more tepid than his scintillating rookie season would suggest for the franchise simply because the roster remains a work in progress around him (offensive line and secondary), plus the Cardinals play in what should be regarded as the best division in football. — Yates
Yates goes back to a common narrative that the Cardinals’ offensive line is a concern, but that is up for debate. Kyler Murray took a lot of sacks in 2020, but it’s well-documented by even the team’s own admission that many of those hits were his own fault. Returning veterans on the offensive line plus the addition of Josh Jones at a value position in the draft are reason to be optimistic about that group’s performance.
As far as the low drafting and front office scores go, general manager Steve Keim was losing favor with the fanbase until he had what was mostly considered home run draft and swung a lopsided trade for wideout DeAndre Hopkins.
The coaching quality of Kliff Kingsbury is probably TBD.
The stability and consistency of the front office is what will determine whether this franchise can maintain what appears to be positive momentum heading into the future. For every Kyler Murray “hit” in the draft, there cannot be a Josh Rosen “debacle.” Until that is the case, the Cardinals will be treading water in the bottom half of the overall rankings. — Riddick
Fowler said he actually liked the roster “more than he thought he would” and Walder acknowledged Murray’s rookie campaign was “largely successful.”
Still, whether the lower-third ranking for the Cardinals proves right could depend on some big X factors, like whether Murray takes a big leap forward in his development in year two and whether additions to the defense make a big difference under returning coordinator Vance Joseph.