Join the Footballguys Daily Update
Start your morning with our roundup of the most important stories in football - with the fantasy insight you need to make league-winning decisions. Delivered straight to your inbox, 100% free.
Welcome back for year 29 of the Eyes of the Guru column. Last summer, I started a new tradition with the EOTG, posting team-by-team rather than a division at a time. The goal here is to give our customers a more steady diet of information in smaller doses.
These teams have been covered so far:
There is another step in the evolution of the column this year as well. I have talked about the need for positional realignment among edge defenders and interior defensive linemen for several years now, and the True Position format has finally arrived. Not every league host site has come to see the light, but many have. The rest are eventually sure to follow.
Going forward, I will be treating and labeling all edge defenders as defensive ends. This will include 4-3 defensive ends, 3-4 outside linebackers, and anyone else in the new hybrid schemes of today’s NFL that makes a living by chasing quarterbacks off the edge. Likewise, the defensive tackle position will include all interior defensive linemen in 4-3 schemes and all down linemen in 3-4 alignments. As a result of this approach, we have eliminated the constant arguments and flip-flopping of positions among these players.
For reference, when mentioning where players finished in the rankings last season, my model will be the standard Footballguys scoring system. This is the basic stuff:
- Tackles = 1.5
- Assists = .75
- Sacks = 4
- Forced fumbles = 3
- Fumble recoveries = 3
- Interceptions = 4
- Passes defended = 1.5
- Touchdowns = 6
When tackle numbers are mentioned, solo stops and assists are generally not lumped together. Unless there is a reference one way or the other, tackles refer to solo stops. When talking about the total number of takeaways for a player, I am counting interceptions, fumble recoveries, and fumbles forced since all of these are scored very similarly in most leagues. Keep in mind that based on scoring systems, rankings will vary (sometimes greatly) from league to league.
From time to time, the rookie corner rule will be referenced. For those who are new to IDP or the EOTG, the rookie corner rule is the basic fact that in the NFL, starting a rookie on the corner is like throwing chum to the sharks. Offensive coordinators will target young and inexperienced players as weaknesses. Thus, these guys have an accelerated number of opportunities. Often these players are the cream of the crop at the position (which is why they are starting so soon), and their numbers will begin to drop steadily after their rookie seasons.
Unlock More Content Like This With A
Footballguys Premium Subscription
"Footballguys is the best premium
fantasy football only site on the planet."
Matthew Berry, NBC Sports EDGE
Arizona Cardinals Overview
The Arizona defense was bad in 2022, ranking in the bottom half of the league in virtually all important statistical categories. They allowed completions on nearly 70% of opponents' pass attempts, which was dead last, while only Kansas City allowed more passing scores, and only the Bears surrendered more points. There were a lot of roads leading to this destination, with poor personnel decisions being a four-lane highway.
We can throw out everything we know about last year’s unit as the organization moves forward with a new coaching staff and a totally different defensive scheme. Gone are the days of the 3-4. Welcome the 5-2 Monster. What exactly is a 5-2 Monster? Basically, it’s a 4-3 with two off-ball linebackers and a rover/monster that will move around and look for favorable matchups. We could also look at it as sort of a big nickel since the guy manning the Monster position is usually an athletic safety. If you want to see what this scheme looks like in action, watch an Eagles game from last year. Both head coach Jonathan Gannon and defensive coordinator Nick Rallis earned their new jobs by putting together Philadelphia’s Super Bowl defense in 2022.
What should we expect from the Cardinals front five in 2023? Well, the Eagles racked up a ridiculous 70 sacks last year. That’s 15 more than the Chiefs, who were second. That said, a defense can’t succeed on scheme alone; it takes horses to pull the cart. Fortunately, some of the young players inherited from the previous regime may fit better in this scheme than the one they were drafted to play in. This doesn’t mean instant success, but it could spell quick improvement.
Under Gannon, the Eagles’ defense rotated a lot of guys. This was largely by design to keep everyone fresh, but it was also because there were a lot of good players on the roster. The Cardinals roster has some talent to work with but not as much depth. It’s not going to help that the team lost half of its sack total from last year when J.J. Watt (12.5) retired and Zach Allen (5.5) took the free-agent bus out of town.
There is not much history with the guys that remain, but there is plenty of potential among the young talent. Zaven Collins was a first-round pick in 2021, though he was seen as an inside linebacker by the previous regime. He struggled for two seasons and will now try to follow the path of another Cardinals’ first-round selection, Haason Reddick. Collins has been working with the edge rushers virtually from the day the new coaching staff took over. The question is, was this move born of desperation as the organization tries to salvage some value from a former first-rounder, or does the new coaching staff see something in Collins? He managed seven and a half sacks in 32 games at Tulsa and had two last year, so there is room for optimism.
Arizona used third-round picks on both Myjai Sanders and Cameron Thomas last spring. Sanders posted 13.5 sacks over his last three seasons with Cincinnati but managed just 2.5 in 14 games as a senior in 2021. His rookie campaign was rather quiet as he contributed 23 total tackles, 3 sacks, a pair of turnovers, and three batted passes. Those numbers are not eye-catching, but they take on a new light when we consider he played just 259 snaps.
Statistically, Thomas had a more successful college career, totaling 20 sacks in three seasons at San Diego State, with 10.5 of them coming as a junior in 2021. Thomas joined Sanders as a lesser part of the rotation in their rookie season, totaling 18 combined stops with 3 sacks and a swatted pass on 236 plays. Both players have high ceilings in this scheme, as does this year’s second-round selection, LSUs B.J. Ojulari.
Entering the NFL, Ojulari is a somewhat raw, undersized rush specialist. He needs to add muscle to hold up better as a point-of-attack run defender and will have to expand his arsenal to make an impact as a pass rusher. Most scouts agree that he has the tools to do both.
Some prognosticators speculate that Collins and Sanders will be the starters. Others see Thomas in one of those spots. Most agree that Ojulari will at least be part of the rotation based on the fact he was drafted early by this regime. When it comes right down to it, we could see any combination of these four listed as starters on the depth chart but there are no points awarded for that. Providing that Collins makes a successful transition from inside backer to edge, expect to see all four of these players being heavily involved.
The Eagles invested heavily in their interior line positions. Arizona didn’t have the resources to do so this year, so instead, they spent judiciously in free agency, bringing in some solid veteran contributors but no big names. Holdovers Rashard Lawrence, Leki Fotu, and Jonathan Ledbetter figure to have roles in the rotation, as do free-agent additions Kevin Strong Jr. and Carlos Watkins. All of these guys are serviceable NFL players, but there is no Jordan Davis, Fletcher Cox, or Javon Hargrave among this group. Take a wait-and-see approach and pick one of them up if they come out strong in September.
- DE Zaven Collins – Mystery role and mystery value
- DE Myjai Sanders – high ceiling, especially in the sack department
- DE B.J. Ojulari – Not excited about his rookie prospects but could blossom down the road
- DE Cameron Thomas – Higher floor than Sanders but slightly lower ceiling also
- DE Dennis Gardeck – No impact
- DT Rashard Lawrence – No impact expected
- DT Carlos Watkins – Marginal impact
- DT Kevin Strong Jr. – No impact expected
- DT Jonathan Ledbetter – No impact
- DT Leki Fotu – Marginal at best
Someone will make plays at linebacker for the Cardinals. Figuring out who is going to be a challenge. Isaiah Simmons has officially been moved to the secondary, and while it is not yet official, it sure looks like Zaven Collins has a new home on the edge. The only good thing these moves do for IDP managers is further limit the options to choose from.
The only sure starter here is Kyzir White, who comes over from Philadelphia and is already familiar with the scheme. What we don’t know is which linebacker spot he will fill. White saw action both in the middle and on the weak side during his time with the Chargers. He lined up on the weak side for the Eagles last year but remains an option at either spot. As a former safety, he has a three-down skillset regardless of where he works.
The best production of White’s career came in his final season with the Chargers when he finished 89-54-1 with 4 turnovers and 3 pass breakups in 2021. Those numbers were good enough for a top-10 finish. With the Cardinals’ defense in rebuild mode and relatively little competition for tackles, White could be in line for new career highs. At worst, he should be a quality third starter for IDP managers.
Where White lines up could be determined by who his running mate is. The top two options appear to be former Packer Krys Barnes and rookie Owen Pappoe. Barnes spent his first three seasons as an inside backer in Green Bay’s 3-4. He was highly productive when called upon but was never able to sustain a starting role. Barnes was rarely included in sub-packages, but when forced into a starting role for a stretch in 2020 and again in 2021, he became a viable IDP option. In 2021, Barnes totaled 58-23-1 with a pair of fumble recoveries and 4 passes defended on just 565 snaps.
Pappoe brings a lot of positive traits to the table. He is good in coverage, has plenty of range, reacts quickly, and is a sound tackler. On the other side of the ledger, he sometimes struggles to get off blocks, will misjudge pursuit angles, and doesn’t make a lot of impact plays. Pappoe’s production at Auburn was respectable but not particularly impressive. In twelve games as a senior, he totaled 93 combined stops with a pair of sacks, a pick, and 2 forced fumbles. Scouts tend to agree that Pappoe would best fit as a weakside backer where he is uncovered and free to chase.
Beyond those three options, the Cardinals linebackers are a collection of inexperienced guys, undrafted rookies, and special teams contributors.
- MLB Kyzir White – Underrated target with a high floor and LB2 upside
- WLB Owen Pappoe – Rookie sleeper to keep an eye on
- MLB Krys Barnes – Deep sleeper worthy of a spot on the end of a roster just in case
- MLB Ezekiel Turner – Special teams contributor
- WLB Josh Woods - No impact
Continue reading this content with a 100% free Insider subscription.
"Footballguys is the best premium
fantasy football only site on the planet."
Matthew Berry, NBC Sports EDGE