*Xavier Cromartie and I spent a week+ going back and forth on email chatting about the Arizona Cardinals. Below is a transcribe of our emails. It's an informal chat that we knew we'd be posting/publishing, but there will be typos and shorthand grammar, etc. Buckle up...it's about 5-6K+ words. Posting as is with no editing...
RC: We have hit the end of the regular season, and as we do at the end of the season, America's foremost authority on NFL Draft Mock Draft's Xavier Cromartie and I go back and look at some of our summer predictions and team over/under bets. We have an informal email chat and we publish the results of our discussions.
In Summer 2019, both Xavier and I loved the Arizona bet on the 'over' win total...we and some of you got in at 5.0 or 5.5...so, we either pushed or had our hearts broken when Arizona couldn't get to a 6th win in the end (thanks to Sean McVay playing his starters for no good reason...so glad Todd Gurley's touches are being managed).
Xavier has been chomping at the bit to talk about this Arizona team in 2019 and its future, which I'm really interested to hear because I have not discussed it at all with Xavier ahead of time. So, what he's about to open up with -- I don't know if he's going to call for them to win the next Super Bowl or demand the coach and GM be fired immediately.
Xavier, the floor is yours to open up the Arizona discussion. Start it anyway you desire...
XC: I've never seen an NFL season in which so many teams had week after week of either good or bad luck without ever regressing to the mean. The Arizona Cardinals are one of the teams that had bad luck. They played one of the hardest schedules. They had the worst coverage in the league. Kyler Murray had an injured hamstring for the last five weeks. And yet every advanced statistic available indicates that they should have won 6-8 games anyway. There were three plays that changed their fate this season:
(1) Week 1 against Detroit. The Lions were at their strongest and the Cardinals were at their weakest. But, after a rough start, Kyler Murray led a marvelous comeback to force overtime. With 11 seconds left, Matthew Stafford threw a certain pick-six to Tramaine Brock... and Brock dropped it.
(2) Week 10 at Tampa Bay. The Cardinals had a 90.6% win probability late in the 4th quarter when Trent Sherfield inexplicably fell down on his route, allowing an easy Jamel Dean interception. Then through a combination of awful coverage and ref call, the Bucs almost immediately drove the entire length of the field for a game-winning TD.
(3) Week 11 at San Francisco. Despite blowing a 16-0 lead, the Cardinals still led 26-23 on the 49ers' final drive. They 49ers were just hoping for a long field goal attempt to force overtime. On the worst defensive play call I have seen in my entire life (not hyperbole), the Cardinals rushed six defenders, but Chandler Jones was not one of them, because he was assigned to cover Jeff Wilson, who easily blew by Jones for the game-sealing touchdown.
Thus, the Cardinals easily could have gone 8-8 as projected, and at worst they should have been 6-10 to cover the Over on either 5 or 5.5 wins. But luck was not their only problem, because even at 8-8 they wouldn't have been a playoff team. What went wrong? The blame starts with Vance Joseph. He's an incompetent coach because he runs a system that the players are incapable of executing, and he refuses to utilize the players' strengths. Everyone saw tight ends kill the Cardinals week after week, and the Cardinals didn't adjust.
Joseph's defensive philosophy is to send a higher number of pass rushers and trust each individual defender to cover. The Ravens use the same philosophy but for a different reason: the Ravens have players who can cover. The combination of tight coverage holding up while a high volume of defenders rush the QB causes serious problems for QBs playing the Ravens. But the Cardinals don't have tight coverage. They're allowing easy mismatches because they can't execute. Even Vance Joseph would agree, but he would place the blame on the players. Why is he knowingly putting players in situations in which they can't succeed? There is no better example than assigning Chandler Jones (19.0 sacks) to cover Jeff Wilson, and Joseph continued to drop Jones into coverage all season. Haason Reddick was a disaster at ILB until they moved him to OLB for the last three games. Byron Murphy (4.55) was drafted to play the slot but was forced into a shutdown elite corner role. Chris Jones (4.57) and Kevin Peterson (4.58) are backup-level CBs. Essentially, the Cardinals' defense operated completely backwards. They should have put trust in the pass rush and sent the extra volume into coverage. Unfortunately, the Cardinals announced that Joseph will return for the 2020 season.
RC: The issue I'm wrestling with on Arizona 2019, leading into 2020...on the eyeball test, I don't think this offense got any better as the season went on and I didn't see the Kingsbury fluster any team except Tampa Bay for about two quarters. It's an average to below-average offensive plan with predictable routes and slow-ass WRs (while Isabella sits idle) that tries to run a lot of plays total for tempo, but the sad plan just leads to a lot of fast three & outs...making Vance Joseph's awful defense even worse losing the time of possession game.
As much as I was let down waiting to be dazzled by the sleight of hand this offense was to bring, there is one hope -- Kyler Murray may be the best thrower of the ball, the best identifier of an open receiver and then most accurate thrower to that identified receiver I have ever seen in 25+ years of watching football. As much as I think that Kingsbury's management and his offense is a giant steaming pile of BS...Kyler Murray could carry it and take it to new heights. And he can do that if he has one thing -- time to throw.
Too often Kyler dropped back and in 3 steps into a 5-step drop he was already getting consumed and scattering for his life. When he had time, he's an assassin like none other I've ever seen before.
When sacked two or fewer times in a game this past season -- 5-1 record.
Three or more sacked in a game, 0-9-1.
When sacked 5 or more times...6 passing TDs/7 INTs, and 14 TDs/3 INTs in all the other games.
Agree or disagree on Kingsbury, Kyler and the upside all falling on the O-Line?
XC: I agree that Kyler Murray is great when he has time to throw. He was my #1 draft prospect last season, and not everyone agreed with that idea at the time. Can you imagine if the Cards had kept Josh Rosen and drafted Quinnen Williams instead? Yikes. For 2020, I'm already projecting the Cardinals to draft an offensive tackle with the eighth pick.
But the offense definitely got better as the season went along. From a raw mathematical standpoint, the Cardinals scored 21.25 PPG in the first half of the season and 23.87 PPG in the second half, even though the first half was easier. The offense didn't show up at all for the first four weeks, then they caught a nice stretch of weak defenses (CIN-ATL-NYG) before going back to futility against the Saints. In the second half of the season, the Cardinals were stuck playing tough teams every week (aside from the Browns), but offense improved enough that they were able to compete against those top teams.
And the reason that the offense improved is that Kliff Kingsbury showed the traits of a great coach. I'm not saying he's there yet, but the traits are there. It's like watching season one of a TV series that becomes a must-watch hit phenomenon by season three/four. In week 1, the Cardinals offense used four or five WR sets on 76% of their snaps, like we all expected for fantasy. But it didn't work. The offensive tackles weren't good enough to protect without help from tight ends, and the WRs weren't talented enough to warrant being on the field. The sets they ran with three WRs worked better. The next week, they still ran a lot of four WR sets, but they increased the three WR sets and continued to have more success with those. After week 4, sitting at 0-3-1, Kingsbury shifted away from the four WR idea as their primary set in favor of more three WR sets. In three WR sets, Kyler threw more TDs, had a higher YPA, and took fewer sacks. It is a great quality in Kingsbury to be honest with himself about what works and be willing to adapt to what's best for the team. You also don't see him screaming at refs or players. He's a guy who can rationally accept harsh truths instead of clinging to his ego. As time goes on, he's going to get better and better.
Another excellent decision was installing Kenyan Drake as the starter over injured David Johnson and Chase Edmonds. I see your grumbling each week about how other coaches are hopelessly devoted to their starting RBs. Kenyan Drake comes in and rushes for 5.2 YPC and 8 TDs in eight games. The Cardinals were one of the most efficient rushing teams in the NFL. Where is the praise? David Johnson didn't belong on the field with his injured ankle. Fans, and especially fantasy players, severely underrate the impact of injuries. A player may feel good enough to come back a few weeks after a sprain, but it can take months or even a full year before a sprain is really fully healed.
Trading a fifth rounder for Drake was pretty brilliant, because if I were the Cardinals GM, I would have considered spending a fourth or fifth rounder on a RB anyway. I'd sign Drake for something reasonable ($6 million/year) to pair with Chase Edmonds. David Johnson belongs at WR. I'd want seven WRs on my 53-man roster. My top five WRs on the depth chart would be David Johnson, Christian Kirk, Larry Fitzgerald, Andy Isabella, and Hakeem Butler. I like Pharoh Cooper on the end of the roster. I'd move KeeSean Johnson to the practice squad. And then I'd draft a WR in the second or third round this year, because it's a good, deep class. Trent Sherfield and Damiere Byrd don't belong on the team.
One thing we agree on is that keeping Andy Isabella locked away in cold storage all season was perplexing. When they had some injuries at WR, they actually signed Pharoh Cooper to avoid putting Isabella on the field. They knew that Isabella was small when they drafted him. Kingsbury called him "a little beast." He scored an incredible 88-yard TD against the 49ers. He works hard. They need to figure out where they want to use him.
RC: David Johnson and Andy Isabella are my two reasons that I do not trust Kliff Kingsbury to, in and of himself, make the changes needed to have the high octane offense.
To your David Johnson point, it doesn't matter that they shifted to Drake when DJ and Edmonds got hurt or DJ failed, and then Drake played well. Chase Edmonds was great when he got his shot. Both Drake and Edmonds were running the ball better than DJ this year in this offense. But my amazement was -- anyone with any brains at all could see David Johnson mostly failing as a runner, for whatever reason...but he was also saving the offense as a receiver. He made plays in the passing game that were not of this world, for an RB -- and then Kingsbury isn't smart enough to use him as a pass game weapon? You've gotta be a special kind of stupid to watch what DJ was doing as a receiver and then don't do anything with it. He was smart enough to pull DJ for Drake, as a runner...OK, good. Coaches can make changes in failure...they fear failure and try to snuff it out at first sight. He made a needed change, good. But doing something creative with this receiving back (DJ), Kliff did nothing of the sort -- which makes him nothing special as visionary, and makes him equal to 30-31 other head coaches in the NFL. Just not 'special' or 'creative'. Not to mention DJ being a beloved figure on the team and in the community and then you just bench him and kinda-sorta lie about it. It's more of the same people/personnel issues he had at Texas Tech...and it's going to bite him eventually, like it did at Tech.
If we let the DJ thing go, and just give him grace for a mistake or oversight or there was something else we don't know...OK, fine. Then how do you draft Andy Isabella 2nd-round and see him destroying coverage with pure speed in the preseason and then in regular season spots and then never really get him the ball? How many plays did that guy flash on and then never see the ball the rest of the game or for games. You can't call a bubble screen or jet sweep? Isabella didn't just deserve to play more...he was, to me, the missing ingredient to make that offense go to the next level...and they never got close to making it happen.
If I'm an offensive visionary, like KK supposedly is...and I have the choice to use DJ and Izzy or Drake and Pharoh Cooper -- give me DJ and Izzy and let me design things for those special talents. You could find 10 Kenyan Drake's available via 3rd-day of the draft or free agency cheap, and Cooper is a generic body. How do you not gravitate towards the special/unique weapons and figure out how to make use of them and then be hailed as a genius.
My fear is Kingsbury can just identify QB talent really well and then rolls out an offensive style he stole from Mike Leach...and his team isn't going any further than the QB...and like his Texas Tech with Patrick Mahomes years -- it never goes as far as it should.
My upside with KK is -- Kyler, with blocking, unleashed...is magic. But it might never be as good as it should be but it might be really good. To me, their offense, just watching it live then re-watching during the week, and watching intently because I had so much fantasy riding on them -- I saw the same good/bad things going on the 1st-half and the 2nd-half in the passing game. I saw no progression or improvement. I mean. Kyler got a little better/more comfortable each week...but there were no real offensive explosions that dropped your jaw. They had two great quarters vs. Tampa Bay and then they were like watching teeth get pulled the rest of the season...everything seemed like a chore -- and they couldn't even do garbage time right. Almost always failing in the red zone, comically so. Every other pass was no one open but Kyler throwing some miracles into tight windows...or one guy gets open and Kyler lays it on him.
This team is going as far as Kyler takes them because with any other QB this offense would've been the worst in the league bar none.
I don't mean to condemn the offense like it wasn't OK/good, like it was terrible or anything...they could move the ball like no other team in the league between the 20s. There was promise, but I never saw them ever really cash in on it or have a whole game of 'wow'. It was just erratic and sloppy and exciting and me wondering why Isabella and DJ are on the sidelines in key passing spots.
I hope I am wrong, I hope you are right about Kingsbury making adjustments but I need to see more than Drake having three good games out of 8, and games Chase Edmonds could've had if healthy, before I feel like Kingsbury is going be this great captain of the ship. We haven't even really approached the train-wreck that was this defense...but it flashed some moments 2nd-half of the season.
Just being a mediocre captain of the ship is fine...because then Kliff is in a class of 25-30+ other NFL head coaches. He can be as good/bad as most others but he has Kyler. Look at Mike McCarthy's existence. I wanted to see Kliff do something like what Kyle Shanahan did with SF this season or what Sean McVay did with the Rams when he took over. I just didn't see that year one. It wasn't Freddie Kitchens/Browns bad but it wasn't anything that made me think he's any different than the nice failure he was at Texas Tech. Xavier...I need you to promise me this goes to the next level in 2020+!!!
XC: I can promise that the opportunity will be there. It will be up to the Cardinals to take advantage of it. In 2020 the Cardinals have the dream schedule draw of the AFC East and NFC East. And they get last-place games against the Lions and Panthers. All 10 of those games look like potential wins right now. The Patriots could lose Brady and Josh McDaniels. The Panthers have a bright future, but they could be starting over with a new QB as well.
Between Kingsbury and David Johnson, I'm siding with Kingsbury. I can promise that Kingsbury is a good play designer, because I've already seen it. And I know that the Cardinals players respect him as a coach. I had no fantasy attachment to David Johnson in 2019. DJ looked like he was running in slow motion on that bad ankle. He was 24-years-old as a rookie, and so it's not really a surprise that he peaked early in his career and has faded fast. He turned 28 during the season. His explosiveness and elusiveness have diminished. He is still a good receiver, but I believe that his effectiveness as a receiver this season was before the ankle injury. The Cardinals did, in fact, use DJ quite frequently in the slot early in the season before he was injured.
Regarding Andy Isabella, we know that he was an elite Ohio high school athlete. But then he went to Massachusetts and barely played his freshman season. He didn't become elite until his senior season. It's likely that he's still developing as a football player. At UMass he didn't receive NFL-level coaching nor strength training. Part of the reason that there's bias toward Alabama-type players in the draft is that they're ready to play in the NFL right away. Isabella is a hard worker, and it won't surprise me at all to hear stories in July that Isabella is 'light years ahead' of where he was as a rookie.
The Cardinals have one of the best salary cap situations heading into the offseason. They have four more years of Kyler on his rookie deal. Generally, I wouldn't advise building a team through free agency, but there are a few players worth targeting. I would give up on Robert Alford and do what it takes to get CB Byron Jones. In today's game, a team needs three good CBs. I would also look for one or two veteran DTs to be a key part of the main rotation. Chris Jones would probably be too expensive for me, though. I would look for value here. There are also some value rotational EDGE options to look at, as opposed to spending $20 million/year on Clowney or Arik Armstead.
In the draft, the first pick should be an OT. There are four or five OTs who are first-round worthy this year, and so they won't be reaching for need. They'll have their pick of what type of OT they like. Some people would suggest DT Derrick Brown, but he might be gone by pick eight, and I wouldn't want to take a DT there. LB/S Isaiah Simmons, however, will likely be available and is worth consideration because he could have a Derwin James-like impact on their defense. With their second-round pick, I'd expect to get good value on a WR in this exceptional class. They severely need a WR with height to help in the red zone. Kyler would love CeeDee Lamb, and so I suppose he'll get some consideration for their first-round pick as well. But they could maybe get Laviska Shenault, Tee Higgins, or Justin Jefferson in the early second round. With the third-round pick, I'd look for a DT or LB to fill a need, and in the fourth round I'd get whichever one I didn't get previously. The remaining picks are depth and value, focusing on the OL and DL. If the Cardinals do things right, they can be Ravens-lite.
RC: You've watched/studied/scouted a million college QBs and watched them go to the pros and compete, as have I...after seeing Kyler Murray's rookie season/what he's like in the pros -- How would you, gut reaction, rate what you see versus recently drafted QBs and established stars of the past few years? How do you classify or compare or try to describe Kyler in the QB universe?
Totally different direction -- does Hakeem Butler returning 2020 do anything for you in the overall offensive output equation?
One DJ follow up -- I totally agree David Johnson ran like he was stuck in mud, and Edmonds-Drake worked better as runners...but did he not look fluid/fine/amazing as a receiver? My beef/concern is -- how do you possess DJ with those skills and not find a way to exploit it more. DJ won one game in 2019 with a stunning catch. He had several other 'how did he do that?' catches for 1st-downs when this offense was stalling all the time early on...it's not 'DJ has good hands'...it's 'DJ has stunning hands and mismatch ability in the passing game -- why not load that gun and fire it?'
XC: Watching Kyler's rookie season felt like watching that old Peyton Manning SNL skit where he's playing with a bunch of kids. Kyler was launching rockets to incapable WRs. Damiere Byrd is a placeholder until Andy Isabella is ready. KeeSean Johnson got benched and deserved it. Trent Sherfield was a total joke when they had to put him out there. Not that Kyler was flawless either, but he's going through the standard rookie QB learning process. He looks like the only legit franchise QB from this class. He's one of the best QB prospects I've seen.
Looking for a "Lamar" isn't a new concept to me. I very strongly advocated for Cam Newton back in 2011 (while Mike Mayock pushed for Blaine Gabbert instead). I was high on both RG3 and Russell Wilson (way higher than where Wilson went, pick 75). Remember that we did a dynasty rookie mock draft in 2018 in which I took Lamar Jackson at 1.04 and said that he should have been pick 1.02 (after Saquon Barkley). I was super high on non-running QB Baker Mayfield as well, and I still am. In three to five years, the top 10 QBs should look something like Wilson, LJax, Mahomes, Murray, Mayfield, Watson, Prescott, Joe Burrow, Trevor Lawrence, and then you can debate the tenth spot among Tua, Justin Fields, Goff, etc.
We don't really know where Hakeem Butler is in his development. But he has the size that the Cardinals need in the red zone. If he's the next Brandon Marshall, great. If he's Allen Lazard, he'd be an upgrade on their current WR depth. If he's Ramses Barden, we'll forget he existed. It's reasonable to expect Butler to be like Lazard. I had Butler in the late-second to early-third round area. I thought people putting him in the top 10 or making Calvin Johnson comps were insane. You had him around the top 50.
David Johnson was one of the most heavily used RBs in the slot early in the season. They know what he can do. He injured his ankle in mid-October. He also had an ongoing back issue that I doubt fully went away either. When a guy is injured like that, the injury timetable is really the amount of time that it's safe to avoid reinjury. It doesn't mean that the injury is fully healed. Fully healing takes months. When it's in a critical area like the ankle or calf, you cannot expect the player to have the same ability to perform. Look at TY Hilton. You could ask why they didn't use him more down the stretch when he was obviously their most explosive receiver. The Colts' staff put out the usual lie that he wouldn't play unless he got back to 100%. Then they rushed him back after about four weeks and he aggravated the calf tear. They rushed him back again for the last few games, not learning from their mistake, and he was ineffective. He should have been put on IR immediately. The Cardinals didn't need to rush DJ back, and so they didn't.
RC: All very fair points on my three questions.
I would add on Hakeem Butler...we're entering an era, I think, where there are going to be a million 6'0-6'2/200-215 pound receivers who can be legit NFL starters. We're about 2-3 years away from every team having at least two #1 WR talents on the roster. And the #4 WRs on depth charts soon will be like the strong #2 WR talents of 3-5 years ago. We have a glut of good-great WRs hitting the NFL in waves -- I think Butler can stand out among that because of his size-athleticism as a freak that DBs cannot cover like they're used to covering all the smaller/'normal' WRs -- he might payoff because he's 'different'. In that sense, I like him higher in draft value as a pure bet on getting something defenses have a hard time stopping...like DK Metcalf. Not a great traditional WR, but used for what he IS good for -- he can make big chunk plays and open up the field for others. I think Butler has enough 'freak' that he could be quite valuable...assuming he can catch (struggled in the preseason), but he should be able to (considering his college career numbers) well enough like DK was able to look better in the pros than college (with better QB play). DK, Hakeem...they are not the traditional Larry Fitz/Hopkins types, but they have different usefulness they bring to the table. Kyler's accuracy + Butler's radius to throw to...it could be money. At least, enough to warrant the investment.
As an early read on the 2020 schedule, and the Arizona talent base, and assuming they upgrade O-Line...where are you early seeing Arizona for wins-losses in 2020? And where, in general, do you place this team in the NFC West? You were not in love with SF coming into the season, are you buying in or think it's a blip (a legit question mark because a year ago many, like me, thought the Rams were the future...now, a year later we're not so sure and now SF has assumed that role. Temporary assume by SF or not)? You're always right on Seattle...so, do you think they still have enough juice left in the tank? Did the Rams just have a dip or are they disintegrating in your eyes? One of Arizona's potential W-L issues is -- the NFC West is not easy. Can they go back to the NFC East, please!!!
XC: I agree that a lot of good WRs are coming into the league this season, because the 2020 group is considered one of the all-time deep WR classes, similar to the 2014 class. But I always disagree when you say that some sort of new paradigm is occurring, because it ignores all of the WRs who are quietly washing out of the league. Check the WR depth charts from 2017 and see how many starting WRs in their early/mid 20s are now forgotten: Corey Coleman, Kevin White, Kelvin Benjamin, Devin Funchess, Cameron Meredith, Donte Moncrief, Josh Doctson, etc. And then look at how many WRs got too old to play: Jordy Nelson, Eric Decker, Jeremy Maclin, Doug Baldwin, Brandon Marshall, etc. Teams that have a pair of true #1 receivers (like Mike Evans and Chris Godwin) are rare and highly fortunate. A lot of WRs have name recognition and talent, but what they don't have is actual on-field performance.
It's too early for full win-loss projections, but the Cardinals' schedule sets them up very well. We'll have to see what additions they make this offseason. The division is tough for everyone. They all can beat each other. I can admit that my 49ers projection was significantly off. The reason is that I had much lower expectations for their secondary. Richard Sherman, K'Waun Williams, and Jimmie Ward were all established veteran players, not young developing prospects. It wasn't reasonable to me to project all three of them to have a great year after what they did in 2018. The Seahawks are the same 9 or 10 win team every year as long as they have Wilson and Bobby Wagner. The Rams struggled on offense this season. The issue is that Jared Goff is great when he has time to throw, but he collapses under pressure. Goff's not going anywhere for at least three years, and so they'll need to focus on improving the o-line. But they have a lot of money sunk into Goff, Aaron Donald, Todd Gurley, and Brandin Cooks. After the Rams' success in 2017, they pushed all-in to win during the 2018-2019 window. If you want a bold projection, the Rams could end up as the fourth-place team in the NFC West in 2020. But it's too early to say right now.
RC: Sure, WR names are falling away...they always are/were. Now, more than ever because so many fresh talents are flooding the league and playing/impacting quickly. I think when this 2020 WR class hits, coming off the heels of the very good/deep 2019 class...we're 1-2 drafts away from a total overload of talented WRs in the NFL like we've never seen -- which stands to reason because now there are 25+ capable starting QBs where there used to be 5-10 maybe. The number count on passing game talent from college to the pros the past 2-3-4 drafts is unlike anything football has seen. You have to admit that? And do you think it's going to stop/decline ahead or just keep getting worse/more flooded?
You used to have one go-to WR if you were lucky and then if your #2 was pretty good/OK...what a WR group you had. Now, we've got teams with 3-4-5 really talented WRs on the depth chart more and more. Another draft or two and teams will have two #1 WR talents (what would be considered #1 type talents 5-10 years ago) as their #1-2 punch and some teams will have three #1 WR talents as their #1-2-3 grouping.
And I'm just wondering if in a sea of similarly talented WRs...if the freaks don't start to come back in fashion -- one-dimensional, but a really good one dimension WR can become a weapon easier than prior years. And I especially wonder of the 6'5"+ guys who used to be basketball players but now chose football from an early age and grew up in the passing game era -- will they be the difference makers of the near future when they come around. I.E. Hakeem Butler could be a weird wrinkle that really benefits this offense.
Look at the Cardinals WR group...Fitz is Fitz, still great. Kirk has #1 abilities. Andy Isabella can be a freak slot or deep ball guy, a #1 type like Edelman (only better). Butler can be a freak red zone/end zone bail out kinda option as well as 3rd-down jump balls in desperation, etc. The Cards have two legit top WRs, and two kinda freak WRs that they didn't even use in 2019. What if Fitz is still Fitz...Kirk does well like he did this year (safe to say)...but then Isabella becomes a force with the 3rd-best coverage on him and opens up the field, and then oh by the way we got a 6'5"+ guy who runs in the 4.4s that dominated from time-to-time in college and he has a big a catch radius as there is in the game? If Butler and Isabella take that step...to go with Kirk and Fitz...what this offense might be, and Butler in a position to be Kyler's 'up for grabs' option when no one is open (as happens a lot in this system, or did in 2019).
That's my hope in Arizona 2020...they could have the most unique, hard-to-stop, freakish four-WR grouping the NFL has ever seen with arguably the most accurate/most able to identify open receiver and fire with as a quick a release as there is in the league quarterback the league has maybe ever seen.
XC: The history of the NFL shows one long, unending bull market for the passing game that continues to make new highs each year. Passing evolved very gradually from the late 1940s through the late 1970s, but then Bill Walsh started a revolution when he installed the West Coast offense in San Francisco and everyone imitated it with their own variations. But the prototype for the modern NFL offense started in 2007 with the Patriots when Tom Brady suddenly exploded for 4800 yards and 50 TDs on a 16-0 team. The third WR replaced the fullback, and the shotgun became standard. And so there certainly is greater demand for WRs now. Teams should aim to collect WR talent like the Cardinals are trying to. The goal is to score points. In most situations, passing plays are better than rushing plays. You pass to control space and you run to control time.
The issue is what is a '#1 WR.' I'd say that there's a flood of potential 'starting' WRs. A starting WR isn't necessarily a #1 WR. The Cardinals right now don't have anyone that I'd call a #1 WR. Fitzgerald was a #1 WR in his prime, but he's not anymore. Christian Kirk is lucky to be called a #2 WR. Julian Edelman is a #1 WR, but the current state of Andy Isabella is not "better than Edelman." Butler at 6'5 has the potential upside of Mike Evans or Vincent Jackson, but I can name 100 WRs who were 6'5 and had failed NFL careers. Right now Butler is a fourth-round pick with zero career catches. No one is a #1 WR until they show it on the NFL field.
On average, I'd say there's about one #1 WR per team. Some teams have zero, a few have two. There are more quality #2 WRs today than before. They start but have specialized roles. That's why they're not #1 WRs. I believe that teams are, in fact, not being aggressive enough in drafting WRs. The Packers wasted another year of Aaron Rodgers by not giving him any real support beyond Davante Adams. It's true that even the most out-of-touch teams have woken up to the fact that they need more WRs, like how the Redskins finally got a #1 WR in Terry McLaurin. But after getting a franchise QB, I would focus drafts on WR(/TE) and CB until I had four of each. It's astonishing to say, but the Bucs have actually been the best at executing this plan lately. If the Bucs didn't have Jameis '30 INT' Winston at QB, they could have been a Super Bowl contender.
RC: I wanted to add one last item to finish off this conversation...
If you were an NFL GM today, and could pick from the following QBs (and put the coaches you wanted with them), who would you take between Lamar Jackson, Kyler Murray, Baker Mayfield, Joe Burrow (leaving out Mahomes on purpose), and why?
XC: I have to put Baker Mayfield last out of the four. There are a lot of potential excuses for his play this season. He had the hardest schedule, the o-line was poor, the receivers were injured, and the coaches underwhelmed. But Mayfield should have embraced the challenge. Mahomes didn't have the easiest time this season either, but Mahomes overcame the challenges. At least on an individual basis, Mayfield should have risen to a higher level. His smug personality works only if his actions match it. He struggled in week 1 and never recovered. He still has the talent. Hopefully he will learn from last season and get back on track.
In third place, I'll put Kyler Murray. We're talking about really good QBs ahead of him. Murray was a bit too safe as a rookie. It's good that he limited INTs. But he also lacked aggression to score TDs. A lot of sacks were his fault, again from lack of aggression. He didn't rush the ball enough even before his hamstring injury. But he looks like a very promising franchise QB. He's the only franchise QB from the 2019 class.
The 'runner-up' is Lamar Jackson. Just on passing efficiency alone he has been outstanding. He's consistently getting better and better. Although it seems doubtful that he will maintain such incredible numbers over the long term. We've seen super seasons from the great QBs like Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers, etc. They stay great throughout their careers, but they come back down to more reasonable numbers. Jackson had a lot of help around him. He had elite blocking, he had one of the top tight ends, he had a 4.2 WR, he had the running game threat (other than himself).
But I have to choose Joe Burrow as the winner. As of right now, he appears to be without a flaw. Any type of analysis suggests that he is the greatest QB prospect of all time. Some people complain that he has an average arm, but I don't know of anyone who is more accurate on deep passes. When plays break down, Burrow almost always knows whether to run it himself or escape and find an open receiver. But two aspects of Burrow really put him over the top. The first is that he is unbelievably good under pressure. He still delivers perfect passes, even on deep shots. The other aspect is that Burrow stood up to the challenge of the schedule. Louisiana State played the toughest schedule in FBS. And against that schedule, Burrow went 15-0 with 76.3% completion, 5671 passing yards, 65 total TDs, and 6 INTs. He showed up in every game, but he showed up biggest in the two biggest games. Eight touchdowns against Oklahoma and six touchdowns against Clemson. Right now he's invincible.
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