With free agency and the draft in the rearview mirror, and organized team activities and minicamps in full swing, here’s a starting lineup projection for the Arizona Cardinals:
OFFENSE (ONE RB, TWO TEs, TWO WRs)
QB: Carson Palmer: Despite his age (37), Palmer is still one of the few no-brainers on the roster because he hasn’t dropped off in production.
RB: David Johnson: Who else would the Cardinals start above one of the best players in the NFL, regardless of position?
TE: Jermaine Gresham: He re-signed with Arizona over the offseason and brings a mix of athleticism and passion to the field.
LT: D.J. Humphries: The plan is for Humphries to play left tackle, his natural position, for the first time as a professional.
LG: Mike Iupati: One of the toughest players on the roster, Iupati continues to be one of the best run-blockers in the league.
C: A.Q. Shipley: Rewarded with a multiyear contract, Shipley has established himself as a firm starter in the Cardinals’ offense.
RG: Evan Boehm: Drafted in 2016 as a possible replacement for Shipley, Boehm moved to guard late in the season and flourished.
RT: Jared Veldheer: Veldheer may be under the brightest spotlight this offseason as he moves from left tackle to right tackle for the first time in years.
TE: Troy Niklas: Niklas is penciled in as the starter for now, but injuries have set his progress back, which could put him in jeopardy of losing this spot.
WR: Larry Fitzgerald: Will this be Fitzgerald’s last year? He’s hinted at it, but the future Hall of Famer keeps putting up 1,000-yard seasons into his early 30s and he led the NFL in receptions last season.
WR: John Brown: Brown’s performance will be dictated by how well he’s handling his health issues stemming from being diagnosed as a carrier of the sickle-cell trait.
OLB: Chandler Jones: Now that he has a long-term mega-deal, Jones has to live up to the expectations that accompany it, but he said another year in the Cardinals’ defense will mean more opportunities for him to get to the quarterback.
DT: Frostee Rucker: Rucker has established himself as a foundation of the locker room and defensive line, and he will be relied on even more this year with the departure of Calais Campbell.
DT: Corey Peters: A steady veteran, Peters is expected to see more snaps now that the defensive line room has shrunk a bit.
DT: Robert Nkemdiche: The hopes are that Nkemdiche can build on an underperforming rookie season and be the first-round talent the Cardinals hoped he’d be.
OLB: Markus Golden: There’s some pressure on Golden to repeat or better his 12.5-sack performance from 2016, but he’s continued to improve each season.
ILB: Karlos Dansby: Dansby will make his third stint with the Cardinals, but at 35 how much does he have left to be an everyday starter?
ILB: Deone Bucannon: Like the linebackers before him who worked alongside Dansby, Bucannon will be given an opportunity to be mentored by an experienced veteran.
CB: Patrick Peterson: He wasn’t talked about much as the Defensive Player of the Year last season because quarterbacks stayed away from him, which likely will happen even more this year.
FS: Tyrann Mathieu: This could be a make-or-break season for Mathieu, who’s returning from another serious injury (shoulder). But if Mathieu can regain his Honey Badger form, everybody will forget about his recent run of ailments.
SS: Tyvon Branch: Injured for most of last year, Branch brings a steady and veteran hand to a Cardinals secondary that added young faces through the draft.
CB: Rudy Ford: There’s no clear-cut starter at cornerback, but the rookie Ford has the most experience at the position among the Cardinals’ other defensive backs. It could put him in a position to beat out both Justin Bethel and Brandon Williams .
K: Phil Dawson: He was signed to make field goals, and that’s just what Phil Dawson does.
P: Matt Wile: The job is his for now, but he could face competition in camp.
KR: T.J. Logan: He’s a proven kick returner who was drafted for his speed.
PR: T.J. Logan: He’s not a proven punt returner but said he’ll spend the offseason learning how to field punts.