WELCOME BACK: LARRY FITZGERALD 2.0. Approaching 35, he has been as productive as ever, but by different means than early in his career. He's no longer swift enough to consistently win on the perimeter, but his patience and route running have translated remarkably well to the slot. He is a great reminder that speed can be overrated; as a receiver, defenders have to react to your tempo. Savvy technique can be enough to create separation. Fitz must put up huge numbers again in 2018, as the Cardinals have no other proven starters at wideout.
During his brief stint as Minnesota's starter last season, before his left knee betrayed him, SAM BRADFORD flourished with the same underneath throws preferred by Arizona coordinator MIKE MCCOY. But JOSH ROSEN, the 10th pick, was the most pro-ready QB in this year's draft. At UCLA he worked many of the route combinations McCoy will feature. The Cardinals might begin 2018 with a win-now mentality, but it is likely to become a rebuilding year. Expect Rosen to unseat Bradford before season's end.
New coach STEVE WILKS was a first-year defensive coordinator last season in Carolina and featured blitzes involving zone coverage, not man-to-man. That's rare; by converting a pass defender into a rusher, you enlarge the voids in your zones. Wilks could do that because he had outstanding linebackers in Luke Kuechly and Thomas Davis. In Arizona, DEONE BUCANNON and HAASON REDDICK have comparable speed, but not yet as much field awareness.
What Wilks didn't have with the Panthers was a shutdown corner like PATRICK PETERSON. Wilks also didn't have an outstanding slot defender. Second-year safety BUDDA BAKER might not be a true slot corner, but considering that's where many of Wilks's blitzes come from, Baker, with his athletic burst, could become a corner-stone player there.
No defender had more sacks or tackles for loss over the last two years than CHANDLER JONES. He'll be a pure defensive end in Wilks's scheme, giving him more chances to wreak havoc in the backfield.
2017 RECORD 8W 8L
SI'S 2018 PREDICTION 4W 12L
18th BRONCOS [Thursday]
ARIZONA HAS struggled for years with its O-line. New coordinator MIKE MCCOY'S faster-developing designs will place less stress on his pass blockers than former coach Bruce Arians did, but this group will still struggle on third and long.