Over the last three seasons, the Arizona Cardinals have shuffled the deck at the safety positions, with three different pairings to start the year. For the fourth straight season, the Cardinals enter the season with a new safety pairing. Arizona has had some big-time talent playing as the last line of defense. 2019 looks to be more of the same. Today we take a look at the roster and preview the last defensive unit of the series, the safety position.
FS: Budda Baker
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The safety positions are well stocked with young talent. Swearinger and Shaw are the two elder statesmen of the group at 27 years old. The two combine for 12 years of NFL experience, four more years than the remaining six safeties. Arizona let veteran safety, Antoine Bethea leave during free agency. Bethea was a solid contributor during his time with the Cardinals and was a major factor in the development in Budda Baker. The former Washington Husky, Baker has been an all-around specialist for the Cardinals.
Drafted in 2017, Baker is entering his third season, as well as learning his third defense. Through 30 career games, Baker has accounted for 160 total tackles and played both in the slot and up at the line. This season, Vance Joseph is looking to use Baker at his natural position, free safety. Joining Baker will likely be Swearinger. The former South Carolina star, is in his second stint with the Cardinals, after previously playing in Washington.
Swearinger has played both safety positions during his seven-year NFL career. The flexibility of both he and Baker allows the defense to better adapt. It also allows the defense to better hide coverage. Swearinger has the better ball skills, but is not one to mix things up in the trenches. A solid partnership between Swearinger and Baker would go a long way to making the Cardinals defense unmatched through the air.
The young talent at the position raises questions as to the plan moving forward. Heading into this season, the strong and free safety spots look like foregone conclusion. Baker and Swearinger are the safest bets at safety. Rookies Deionte and Jalen Thompson (no relation), are talented. Deionte has the look of a starting-caliber safety. The former Alabama product played sparingly during his first two seasons in college, before being named starter for his junior season. Thompson rewarded the team with an All-American and All-SEC selection.
Deionte is a ball-hawk safety who will make mistakes early on. He is destined for a season primarily with special teams. However, he will push to be a starter by the end of the season. Jalen Thompson was selected in the supplemental draft. He often served as the slot defender during his collegiate career at Washington State. Jalen has the footwork and quickness to stay with receivers, but is lacking in the physicality department. Both players are likely special teams bound, but will undoubtedly make a case for time on defense.
In terms of talent on the bench, the Cardinals possess three or four possible starters at safety. However, it is a young bunch who need to learn on the job. Any injuries to either Swearinger or Baker could lead to a pair of rookie safeties. However, expect Joseph’s defense to even out the equation by placing either Ford or Shaw as part of the equation for the second pairing.
What it Means
At the end of the day, there should only be five or six spots taken up by the safeties. Players such as Jalen Thompson provide versatility with his coverage skills. The preseason and special teams duty will determine spots five and six. With a pass-heavy offense on the other side of the field, expect a ton of competition during training camp. Baker, Swearinger, and Deionte Thompson seem like locks. Jalen Thompson and Ford are positioned in the next tier. This leaves possibly one spot left. We will know more in the coming weeks, but on paper, the safety position seems like a safe space for the Cardinals.