Projecting Roles for the 2022 Arizona Cardinals Rookies

Cardinals Rookies
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The Arizona Cardinals had a reasonably solid draft in 2022. Their top pick might have been slightly perplexing, with the Cardinals selecting tight end Trey McBride, but the rest of the group rounded out well enough that McBride was a suitable headliner. Arizona picked up some much-needed pass rush help in the third round, along with a pair of late-round guards and a promising prospect at running back. The 2022 draft yielded 8 new Cardinals rookies.

The Cardinals roster is stable; the offense has enough weapons, and the defense enough playmakers, that the Cardinals rookies won’t be required to produce immediately. However, some of the group may carve out impactful roles as rookies. Let’s look at what roles await Arizona’s rookie class in the 2022 season.

Projecting Roles for the 2022 Arizona Cardinals Rookies

Trey McBride’s Role Will Be Prominent

Trey McBride was initially a puzzling pick for Arizona, given the franchise’s extensive spending at tight end; the team re-signed Zach Ertz and Maxx Williams and signed Stephen Anderson. However, doubts over Williams’ fitness and the lack of clarity over Anderson’s role mean that McBride will be more than a pick for the future as a rookie. Especially given Arizona’s trending towards an offense that gives more prominence to the tight end and 12-personnel, McBride will be a significant presence in Arizona’s offense as a rookie.

However, McBride shouldn’t be considered a starter, mainly because Arizona’s base offense will remain an 11-personnel system. When Arizona shifts into a 12-personnel look, McBride’s two-way ability will likely see him feature opposite Zach Ertz. On the depth chart though, he’ll be Ertz’s backup. If he beats out Anderson, that is. Williams’ rehab will be a factor, but if Williams can’t go, then it will be McBride’s prerogative to prove his place over Anderson in camp. It’s also worth remembering that Arizona has no problem slow-playing any player, even their top picks if they’re not up to scratch at first.

Cameron Thomas May Be the Only Starter

Cameron Thomas has the best chance of any of the Cardinals rookies to be named a starter in 2022. Despite some initial speculation about his position, given his versatile projection, Steve Keim confirmed that Thomas would stand up on the edge for Arizona. Outside linebacker took the Cardinals biggest blow this off-season with the departure of Chandler Jones. Heading into the 2022 season, the spot opposite Markus Golden is beyond wide open.

Thomas’ biggest competitors in camp will be Dennis Gardeck and Devon Kennard, which is a level of competition he can certainly play to. SDSU product offers a size on the edge that those two do not, which will go some way towards helping Arizona’s run defense deficiencies. Thomas will have to go above and beyond to leapfrog either of the two veterans, especially fan-favorite Gardeck, but he’s capable of doing it. Thomas can win the job, but will at least feature prominently on defense for Arizona.

Myjai Sanders Set for Situational Role

Unlike Thomas, Myjai Sanders doesn’t quite have either the refinement or skillset to win the starting role as a rookie. Despite drawing some physical comparisons to the departed Chandler Jones, Sanders isn’t there yet. It’s going to take some time for Sanders to be a fixture on defense for the Cardinals.

That doesn’t mean, however, that Sanders won’t get on the field as a rookie. Sanders playing some kind of role is highly likely, given Arizona’s need at the position. Furthermore, Vance Joseph’s blitz packages can utilize a player with the speed and length of Sanders, a combination the Cardinals don’t currently have at pass rusher. Especially in Joseph’s linebacker-heavy sub-packages, like the infamous ‘NASCAR’ package, Sanders will see some usage as a situational pass rusher. Otherwise, with such an impressive physical profile, Sanders is going to see some work on special teams.

Keaontay Ingram Faces Camp Competition

Those around the Cardinals are quietly excited by Arizona’s latest rookie running back, USC product Keaontay Ingram. A big back with speed and receiving potential, Ingram projects as a great fit in this offense. He will enter training camp as an immediate contender for a significant role in Arizona’s offense as a rookie.

The extent of the role available to Ingram has been dialed back in recent days with Arizona bringing in Darrell Williams. Williams was one of three Kansas City Chiefs with over 1000 all-purpose yards in 2021 and will slide in as James Conner’s backup in 2022. Before the signing though, there was an open competition for that spot between Ingram and fellow running backs Eno Benjamin and Johnathan Ward. Now, the three will compete for one running back spot, with a role on special teams almost mandatory; it was a lack of special teams prowess that kept Benjamin off the active roster for so long. Ingram has an even chance at taking that spot.

Rookies Lecitus Smith & Marquis Hayes Will Make Roster

Lecitus Smith is another player a lot of Cardinals staff are very high on; many consider the Virginia Tech guard to be Arizona’s best-value pick in this year’s draft. The run-up to the draft saw predictions linking the Cardinals to a guard early. However, the signing of veteran guard Will Hernandez in free agency moved the position down in terms of needs. Still, bodies are necessary for the trenches, and Arizona grabbed two in the late rounds, Smith and Oklahoma’s Marquis Hayes.

The nature of the position means that, barring injury, both guards, or Smith at least, will make the roster. In theory, the right guard isn’t set at this point either. Both will ostensibly be given the chance to compete for it, although the spot will be Hernandez’s. Still, the Cardinals need bodies inside, and in case of injury, both Smith and Hayes have the potential to dress as backups throughout the 2022 season.

Christian Matthew & Jesse Luketa Will be Special Teams or Practice Squad

Two late-round picks, cornerback Christian Matthew and linebacker Jesse Luketa will have to work to make the roster this fall. Their draft position, as well as the players already ahead of them at their respective positions, essentially preclude them from any role on Arizona’s defense this year. Training camp offers an opportunity, but both will be fringe players and practice squad candidates as Cardinals rookies.

The way to make the roster will be to impress Jeff Rodgers, Arizona’s special teams coordinator, and assistant head coach. If either of these two is to make the roster, they will have to make a name for themselves as special teams aces, as Dennis Gardeck once did. Luketa’s Penn State pedigree and athletic linebacker archetype make him a prime candidate for teams, while Matthew, a developmental prospect, could slide to the practice squad for the time being.

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