Arizona Cardinals 2021 Season Awards

Arizona Cardinals 2021 Season
Spread the love

The Arizona Cardinals 2021 season had a tumultuous end, stumbling into and out of the playoffs. However, this was a team that started 7-0, peaked at 10-2, and for a brief time, sat atop the NFL. The Cardinals got some excellence out of their best players, as well as superb performances out of some new faces. Even in the wake of Arizona’s disastrously short post-season foray, recognition was earned. Now, here we have them: The Arizona Cardinals 2021 Season Awards.

Arizona Cardinals 2021 Season Team Awards

Most Valuable Player: James Conner

Arizona’s MVP is the easiest award to grant in 2021, despite it not automatically going to the quarterback. But no, James Conner was far and away the best and, perhaps more importantly, the most consistent player in the Arizona Cardinals 2021 season. What was an under-the-radar signing last off-season turned out to be a masterstroke for the Cardinals. Playing on a deal worth only $1.75M, Conner defied early projections for him to be Arizona’s short-yardage back, instead of thriving in a complementary partnership with Chase Edmonds. Yet Conner’s true value became apparent mid-season. He carried the Kyler Murray-less Cardinals through what could have been a bleak month for the beaten Cardinals.

Conner’s 752-yard rushing total doesn’t quite tell the full story of his importance to this Cardinals team. He led the team in total touchdowns and was so much more than the power back he was supposed to be. He demonstrated highlight-worthy skills in the passing game and exemplified the complete running back. On that deal, he was arguably the best-value player in all of football. He performed well enough to attract big money in free agency, but hopefully, Conner will remain a Cardinal next year.

Offensive Player of the Year: Kyler Murray

Kyler Murray is the future of the Arizona Cardinals, and his early-season performances certainly sold some cynics on that concept. Had his production from the first half of the season played out across the whole year, then Murray would’ve been undoubtedly the MVP of this team. Unfortunately, he fell off the pace. A mid-season injury derailed his MVP-caliber trajectory, and he was never the same player upon his return. However, it has to be said that Murray’s downward spiral towards the end of the season coincided with a significant drop-off from the rest of the team also; Murray’s poor performance was, unfortunately, the product of a faltering environment in Arizona.

Murray is Arizona’s Offensive Player of the Year because when the unit was firing, he was at the core of everything good about Arizona’s offense. Again, much like Conner, his stats don’t tell the story, especially since he missed significant time. Still, Murray’s completion percentage of 69.2% ranked second in the league behind only Joe Burrow, indicating a significant step-up in Murray’s reliability. Adding this consistency to his electrifying game, which was also on full display early on, is vital for Murray as he continues to grow in the NFL. Form aside, Murray cemented himself as a franchise QB and one of the NFL’s most dynamic players.

Defensive Player of the Year & Most Improved Player: Jalen Thompson

Arizona’s defense is littered with star names, J.J. Watt, Budda Baker, Chandler Jones. With Baker, the Cardinals have a claim to the best safety in the NFL. Yet, now, Arizona legitimately has the best safety duo in the league. Jalen Thompson garnered national attention for his tackling ability, but his all-around play at free safety was beyond solid. He was a factor in bolstering Arizona’s relatively weak run defense, led the team with 120 total tackles, and unlocked much of the aggression that Arizona’s defense thrives on with his ability to play single-high safety.

Thompson’s talents are perfect for how the Cardinals want to use him, in that not only is he effective in his own play, but Vance Joseph is allowed to do some silly things with his most versatile players because of Thompson’s reliability on the back end. For a guy that came out of the supplemental draft, Thompson seems to have turned out alright. In only his third year, he was Arizona’s Defensive Player of the Year.

Comeback Player of the Year: Robert Alford

Robert Alford is the only conceivable choice for Comeback Player of the Year. In Arizona since 2019, Alford finally managed to get on the field for the first time in a Cardinals uniform this year. Just getting on the field was an achievement for Alford after suffering season-ending injuries in consecutive years. However, Alford earned a starting role and was a key component of a secondary that impressed early.

Inevitably, injuries shut Alford down again in the back end of the season. That Arizona struggled to replace him indicated how well he played after so long out. Yet, finally seeing Alford play for Arizona, and play well, was a welcome sight. Whether he comes back next season is up in the air, but a healthy Alford is more than worth bringing back, something he proved in this Comeback Player of the Year campaign.

Offensive Rookie of the Year: Rondale Moore

Arizona’s rookies won’t be winning any national awards this season, but there was some promise in the group. Rondale Moore was Arizona’s only offensive rookie, so he’s the De Facto pick for Offensive Rookie of the Year, but Moore added a very unique element to the Cardinals in 2021. Once voted the most versatile player in college football, Moore had a role immediately, not only on special teams but also in an offense designed to incorporate his skillset. Kliff Kingsbury’s reputation as an offensive guru benefited from the addition of Moore, who unlocked a tonne of sub-packages for Arizona. He lined up in the backfield, took handoffs on motions, and made a pretty good account of himself as a receiver too. A 77-yard touchdown against the Minnesota Vikings was a high watermark.

Production-wise, Moore’s faltering was a reflection of the team as a whole. In the grand scheme of things, he wasn’t anything to write home about as a rookie. However, he teased a versatility that can be innovatively useful for Arizona’s offense going forward, and, with cap issues set to force some big decisions, Moore may have shown enough to warrant him replacing Christian Kirk in the slot this off-season.

Defensive Rookie of the Year: Marco Wilson

Arizona’s shiny new thing in the draft was a defender in the first round. However, it was the acquisition in the fourth round, a pick they moved up to, that drew the most praise in the regular season. Marco Wilson‘s reputation as the kid who cost Florida a game in 2020 preceded him, but his SEC pedigree shone through in Arizona. That shoe-throwing incident delivered Arizona a player worth far more than a fourth-round pick, especially since he was thrust into a starting role after Malcolm Butler’s untimely exit. He, like Alford, was a notable bright spot in an overachieving secondary in the early parts of the season.

Down the stretch, Wilson struggled, as life as a rookie corner in the NFL can be brutal. Quarterbacks targeted him heavily, and he gave up a lot of plays, drawing some heavy criticism. However, there’s certainly something there with Wilson; whether he’s a true starting corner in the NFL is yet unclear; the Cardinals will undoubtedly look to strengthen the position this off-season regardless. However, Wilson will continue to have a significant role in this Cardinals secondary going forward. Given the circumstances, Wilson was decent and, in contrast to the disappointment of Zaven Collins’ rookie year, Wilson was clearly Arizona’s Defensive Rookie of the Year.

Main Photo: Embed from Getty Images