2021 free agency and NFL Draft will be loaded with top talent at the wide receiver position
One of the Arizona Cardinals biggest needs this offseason is finding a wide receiver to lineup opposite DeAndre Hopkins.
Hopkins was easily the team’s most consistent weapon as he led the Cardinals with 115 receptions, 1,407 receiving yards, and six touchdown. The acquisition of Hopkins from the Houston Texans by General Manager Steve Keim was absolutely extraordinary.
But even with Hopkins, he is only one player. This team needs more physically imposing players that can play at a consistent level.
In recent years, the Cardinals have attempted but failed at developing wideouts selected in the NFL Draft.
Christian Kirk, the Cardinals 2018 second-round pick, has flashed at times but has mainly been inconsistent as their No. 2 guy over the last few seasons.
He finished the 2020 season with 48 receptions, 621 receiving yards, and six touchdowns. The best way for Kliff Kingsbury to maximize Kirk’s potential is by utilizing his athletic ability in the slot, a position where he thrived at Texas A&M.
Another receiver that has been disappointing so far is Andy Isabella. The former 2019 second-round pick was a healthy scratch from Weeks 14-16 and finished the year with only 221 receiving yards.
He is a bit too small (5-9 188lbs) to be a No. 2 wide receiver and struggled in the slot, having played most of his snaps (255) there this season. His passer rating when targeted is only a 63.8, which goes to show that him and Kyler Murray are not often on the same page.
Isabella was a healthy scratch towards the end of the season in favor of 2019 sixth-round pick KeeSean Johnson (6-1 201lbs), who looks like a very capable No. 4 or No. 5 receiver in his limited snaps. He had a fairly even distribution of snaps played out wide (113) and in the slot (95). Johnson looks like a player that is starting to earn the trust of his coaches after making a few big plays when his number was called upon.
As for Larry Fitzgerald, he is not getting any younger (37) and the Cardinals cannot afford to pay him $11 million again. He is also considering retirement and there is a strong possibility that he will with COVID-19 giving him a new perspective in life. Trent Sherfield will be re-signed as a core special teams player but can contribute on the offense if needed.
With that said, the No. 2 wide receiver for the Cardinals next season is not on the current roster. They need a bigger receiver on the outside that can be a redzone threat with Hopkins drawing the double or triple coverage.
They could select another wide receiver in draft and hope that the third time using a draft pick on a receiver in the first two rounds in the Steve Keim era is the charm. Possibly Alabama’s DeVonta Smith (6-1 175lbs) or LSU’s Ja’Marr Chase (6-0 207lbs) will be available at pick No. 16.
Other top draft options include Minnesota’s Rashod Bateman (6-2 210lbs), Ohio State’s Chris Olave (6-1 187lbs), USC’s Amon-Ra St Brown (6-1 195lbs), and Alabama’s Jaylen Waddle (5-10 183lbs).
Potential late day-two or later prospects that intrigue me that could slide into the No. 2 role include Arkansas State’s Jonathan Adams (6-3 220lbs), Clemson’s Cornell Powell (6-0 209lbs), and Wake Forest’s Sage Surratt (6-3 215lbs).
The 2021 free agent class will have an abundance of talented receivers.
The free agent wide receiver class includes Bears’ Allen Robinson, Bengals’ AJ Green, Bucs’ Chris Godwin, Chiefs’ Sammy Watkins, Lions’ Kenny Golladay and Marvin Jones, Titans’ Corey Davis, and so many more.
With the Cardinals projected cap space of $24 million, which can be increased through contract extensions, restructures and cuts, they cannot afford to use all of their money on a top receiver like Robinson or Golladay. Jones and Watkins would be more in their range. But with the NFL salary cap expected to drop, some players will have no choice but to take smaller deals which will make this offseason very interesting.
This is an offseason where the Cardinals cannot afford to stand back as other teams acquire all of these talented wide receivers. Steve Keim must nail free agency and the draft if he wants the Cardinals to make the playoffs in the 2021 league year.