The Arizona Cardinals could have as many as five new starters when the NFL season opens. Here’s a starting lineup projection:
Quarterback (Carson Palmer): As long as he’s healthy, Palmer will be the Cardinals’ starting quarterback. He has thrown for more than 4,000 yards in four of the past five seasons, and another such season will be expected if he can stay upright in 2017. This might be his last chance to win an elusive Super Bowl trophy.
Running back (David Johnson): In his second season, Johnson proved himself to be one of the best players in the NFL — not just one of the best running backs. He had more than 100 all-purpose yards in his first 15 games last season, setting an NFL record. He finished with 1,239 rushing and 879 receiving yards — 121 short of becoming the third running back in NFL history to have 1,000 rushing and 1,000 receiving yards in the same season.
Wide receiver (Larry Fitzgerald): The older Fitzgerald gets, the better he is. He led the NFL with 107 receptions last season and had his second straight 1,000-yard campaign. The question that will linger for Fitzgerald this season is whether it’s his last.
NFL Training Camp Coverage
Who’s on the bubble? Which rookie could surprise? NFL Nation reporters take a crack at a preliminary 53-man roster and starting lineup projection and preview what to expect in training camp for every team.
Tight end (Jermaine Gresham): Gresham returned to the Cardinals after signing a four-year deal in March. He has become part of the heart and soul of the offense after displaying raw emotion throughout the past season, though at times it was detrimental when he drew penalties for his outbursts. Another season with Palmer, his former teammate in Cincinnati, might mean more action for Gresham in the passing game.
Right tackle (Jared Veldheer): After an entire career at left tackle — dating to his junior year of high school — Veldheer is moving to right tackle. Well, that’s the plan at least. He transitioned to the other side of the line during OTAs and minicamp, but his biggest test will come during training camp, when contact with defenders is allowed. Veldheer is coming off a torn triceps.
Right guard (Evan Boehm): It took Boehm one season to prove to head coach Bruce Arians that he’s capable of being a starting offensive lineman in the NFL. Arians installed Boehm as the starting right guard after last season, and it’ll be his job to lose during camp, with a handful of competitors pushing him.
Center (A.Q. Shipley): Shipley will be enjoying his first season starting at center with a two-year contract after he secured his status as the starter last season.
Left guard (Mike Iupati): One of two offensive linemen returning to play the same position he played last season, Iupati has been consistent for the Cards since he came over from the San Francisco 49ers in 2015.
Left tackle (D.J. Humphries): Humphries is the other half of the Veldheer switch, moving back to his natural position. He played on the left side for three games last season after Veldheer was hurt but finished the season on injured reserve because of a concussion.
Tight end (Troy Niklas): On IR for the final 13 games last season, Niklas has plenty to prove this year. He impressed enough during OTAs and minicamp, so it’s likely that he’ll be part of the offensive plans as long as he’s healthy. But with Niklas, that’s a big if.
Wide receiver (John Brown): Coming off a 1,000-yard season in 2015, Brown struggled last season, as health issues plagued him on and off the field. He was diagnosed as a carrier of the Sickle Cell trait in October and revealed in May that he had a cyst on his spine drained after the season. By all accounts, Brown is looking more like the receiver he was two years ago than the one from 2016.
The Cardinals have been impressed with Haason Reddick’s transition to inside linebacker this offseason. AP Photo/Angie Wang
Outside linebacker (Chandler Jones): He got a new deal, and now Jones has to prove that he is worth it. He signed a five-year contract in March that’s worth $82.5 million. That’s a ton of money, but Jones has had double-digit sacks the past two seasons, and he told ESPN last year that with another season in the Cardinals’ scheme, he’ll get even better.
Defensive tackle (Frostee Rucker): Mr. Steady. Rucker played through a lingering ankle injury last season but is healthy and recovered. Although he has been an influential presence in the Cards’ locker room during his time in Arizona, he’ll have to step up his game on the field and in the locker room with the departure of Calais Campbell in free agency.
Defensive tackle (Robert Nkemdiche): After a disappointing rookie season in which the first-round pick played in just five games, the expectations are great entering his second season. With Campbell gone, the Cardinals need him to secure a starting role and be productive in 2017.
Defensive tackle (Corey Peters): Peters has become a key cog in the Cardinals’ defensive pressure up front. That should continue this season, as his role becomes more important with Jones’ continued success and Markus Golden’s breakout season a year ago.
Outside linebacker (Markus Golden): Speaking of Golden, he had a team-high 12.5 sacks a year ago, his second season in the NFL. This season, sacks might be harder to come by as offensive lines, which focused on Jones last season, focus their game plans on Golden. But he has shown that he can adapt and learn, and he should produce another double-digit-sack season.
Inside linebacker (Haason Reddick): Arizona’s first-round pick this year found himself practicing with the first-team defense during OTAs and minicamp after inside linebacker Deone Bucannon had ankle surgery. The starting job will be Reddick’s to lose during training camp, and thus far, the Cardinals have been impressed with his transition from hand-in-the-dirt edge rusher to standing up at inside linebacker.
Inside linebacker (Karlos Dansby): He’s back for a third stint with the Cards, but with him 35 years old, the biggest question surrounding Dansby will be how much he can contribute. He started seven games last season and played in all 16. His presence in the locker room and as a mentor to Reddick will be invaluable.
Cornerback (Patrick Peterson): Simply put, no quarterback wants to throw Peterson’s way anymore. He averaged a league-high 8.5 coverage snaps per target last season, according to Pro Football Focus. Each year, it seems, Peterson turns in performances worthy of being in the conversation for the NFL’s defensive player of the year, but because he doesn’t have sexy statistics, he tends to not be part of it.
Safety (Tyrann Mathieu): This might be Mathieu’s most important season in the NFL. He finished last season on injured reserve — the third time in four years that his season concluded with an injury. There’s no doubting Mathieu’s talent, but he needs to prove that he can stay healthy for an entire season. He practiced without a knee brace toward the end of offseason workouts, a sign that the Honey Badger of old is back.
Safety (Tyvon Branch): Another defensive back who suffered an injury last season, Branch was able to come back from groin surgery, albeit briefly. He finished the season on IR.
Cornerback (Justin Bethel): Bethel will be part of the most hotly contested position battle in training camp, against Brandon Williams at cornerback opposite Peterson. After looking strong in OTAs and minicamp, Bethel has shown that his experience might be enough to get him the starting job, but there isn’t a clear favorite because contact isn’t allowed during offseason practices, and the Cardinals are a press-man team.
Kicker (Phil Dawson): Forget his age. Dawson was the most important offseason acquisition for this franchise. His foot could win the Cardinals close games, which last season’s kicker couldn’t do.
Punter (Richie Leone): This position is a toss-up. Leone is a bit bigger than Matt Wile, who punted for the Cardinals last season. Leone is also a convert from the CFL, which might make for some interesting stories.
Long snapper (Aaron Brewer): Unless the Cardinals bring in another long snapper to compete with him during training camp, the job is Brewer’s.