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Can This Arizona Cardinals Rookie Replace DeAndre Hopkins?

When the Arizona Cardinals drafted Michael Wilson with the 94th pick of the NFL Draft, reaction was mixed. He was an injured prospect from Stanford, which was a struggling team in the PAC-12 conference. Yet Wilson remained on a glide path to the next level.

Could Michael Wilson Replace DeAndre Hopkins?

A Tumultuous Road to the Pros

On October 15 in South Bend, IN, the Cardinals were playing their annual rivalry game against Notre Dame. It was late in the third quarter when Wilson caught a three-yard pass from quarterback Tanner McKee. The throw was low and behind Wilson, who had to stop to catch the pass. When he was tackled, he heard the crack to his collarbone. 

Wilson had a decision to make; does he enter the draft having only played 14 games in three seasons due to injuries? Or does he return to Palo Alto for a sixth season allowed due to COVID-19? Wilson needed a break and the call from the Senior Bowl was that break. The Stanford receiver finished with four catches, yielding 76 yards and the game’s only receiving touchdown. Cardinals quarterback coach Israel Woolfork, who coached at the Senior Bowl had seen enough. Arizona would selected Wilson with their second pick of the third round. 

NFL evaluators would question the injury-plagued three seasons on the rookie’s resume. It is fair, but not the whole story. His lack of playing time at Stanford produced a raw talent, not the finished product of a player who missed little or no time. 

Can Michael Wilson Improve in the NFL?

Wilson has the size, at 6’2″ and 213 pounds, as well as athleticism to be a starting wide receiver. However, his route running needs refinement, as his 4.58 speed will not allow separation from elite defensive backs. The Cardinals rookie has a tremendous attitude. Wilson is a willing blocker and shows some ability to become a gunner on special teams. Simply stated, Wilson will do whatever it takes to not just stick but make a run at starting receiver.

In more ways than one, Wilson is looking forward, as are the Cardinals, to 2024. Between the potential for the Cardinals to have the first and second overall picks, as well as some special pieces acquired in 2023, this season is all about rebuilding. That means opportunities to be on the field, especially with the now-released DeAndre Hopkins. With no real roadmap on who deserves the most amount of time on the field, Wilson will have an opening to compete. 

Arizona has a laundry list of opportunities. If Wilson can stay healthy and on the field for 17 games, then the sky’s the limit. His work ethic, developed on the farm at Stanford, says he is willing to do the work.

Wilson may not have the pedigree of those receivers taken in the first round of the 2023 NFL Draft. Names like Jaxon Smith-Njigba, Quentin Johnston, and Zay Flowers have a much higher profile than Wilson with bigger name recognition. While that doesn’t always translate to the Hall of Fame, the Cardinals rookie wide receiver has all the tools needed to have a great career. 

What began at the Senior Bowl comes full circle in Arizona. For a player looking for an NFL career, Wilson is one who can and will make the most of his time in the Desert Southwest.

Main Photo: Mingston Lau – USA Today Sports


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