A pass heavy offense isn’t something new for the Arizona Cardinals. What may be new however, are the concepts and formations used by head coach Kliff Kingsbury. 11 personnel with the tight end in the backfield and the running back in the slot. Three receivers to the far side with a single receiver to the near side. Keeping a focus on the offensive side of the ball, we take a look at the outside, and preview the wide receivers.
WR1 (X): Andy Isabella (R)
WR2 (Z): Larry Fitzgerald
WR3 (Y): Christian Kirk
WR4 (when needed): Hakeem Butler (R)
As You Wish
In Kingsbury’s offense, having receivers who can play multiple spots is important. The roster reflects that need. In theory, many of the wide receivers on the roster can play at least two, if not all three, of the receiver spots. That type of flexibility allows the offense to take advantage of potential matchups, in addition to adding wrinkles to the offense. Kingsbury wants his quarterback to spread the football around to the different targets, akin to a point guard in basketball moving the ball to the open player.
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Isabella played both in the slot and split out wide during his college career. He has the speed to stretch the field outside, while maintaining the shiftiness needed in the slot. Kirk is not a pure speedster, but his quick burst and ability to separate allows for his use all around the field. An interesting prospect to watch, is rookie, Hakeem Butler. The former Iowa State receiver has the size physical traits of the prototypical outside receiver. Conversely, placing him in the slot, gives a massive target for Kyler Murray to find in the red zone.
Coffee is for Closers
At the time of this posting, there are 11 wide receivers officially listed on the Arizona roster. They won’t keep everyone. Instead, expect the Cardinals to keep six or seven receivers, and stash one or two rookies on the practice squad. The two guarantees so far are Kirk and Fitzgerald. Beyond that, Isabella and Butler both look like near locks to make the roster. The dream scenario is that both rookies shine throughout training camp and force themselves onto the field. Butler has the unique physical traits, as he stands at 6’6″ and 227 lbs, with an impressive 4.48 40-yard time.
For argument’s sake, if the Cardinals choose to keep seven receivers, that leaves three spots for seven players. KeeSean Johnson was selected in the sixth round this April, and put together three straight seasons of at least 65 receptions and 750 yards receiving. What he lacks in deep speed, he makes up for with his large catch radius and strong hands. The remaining two spots have a lot to do with how the special team units are composed. Sherfield and Pharoh have shown their worth in that sense.
Williams is entering his third season and has yet to earn his third round selection. He has played sparingly over the first two seasons, amassing just 20 receptions for 202 yards through 16 games played. White was drafted seventh overall by the Bears in 2015, but injuries have prevented him from playing an entire season. Byrd and Richardson have the largest hills to climb. Their ability to learn the system and contribute will dictate where things go.
A year ago, the wide receiver room was a glaring weakness for the Cardinals. As it stands now, it is one of the biggest strengths on the roster. In 2018, Arizona’s offense ranked last in passing yards, next to last in passing touchdowns, and last in yards per game. There’s only one way to go from there. On paper, the current list of receivers have already surpassed last season’s group. Frankly, the mere fact that Mike McCoy is nowhere near the facilities, serve as a significant upgrade.
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The new offense and the introduction of Murray at quarterback puts a premium on versatility and execution at the receiver position. General manager Steve Keim has made it a point to retool the offense, finding upgrades at every position. It is difficult to imagine zero improvement this season. Ultimately, time will tell how explosive the Cardinals offense can be in 2019. One thing is for sure, the wide receiver room has gotten a whole lot better.