By: Reese Nasser
The Arizona Cardinals have slowly crafted a roster full of talented young players. With hope that they will build on a somewhat lackluster 2020 season that saw them finish with an 8-8 record, expectations will be high for this team heading into the 2021 season.
In order to improve, it will take contributions from players, specifically players that haven’t broken out into stardom. Here are two players on the Cardinals that are primed for a breakout season on either offense or defense.
Offense: James Conner, Running Back
James Conner is new to the running back room in Arizona. He signed with the Cardinals this offseason and will hope to jumpstart his career.
After a very strong 2018 season with the Pittsburgh Steelers where Conner reached the end zone 13 times and had nearly 1,500 yards from scrimmage, Conner has yet to return to this form.
In 2019, Conner appeared in just 10 games but still found his way into the end zone seven times. The difference in 2019 was that Conner proved to be a receiving threat. Three of Conner’s touchdowns came through the air. Even with the scoring success, Conner produced only 715 yards from scrimmage.
Conner’s 2020 season was not much better than his 2019. In the 13 games that he played in, he reached the end zone just six times. There were positives that came along with it though. He still proved to be a threat in the receiving game and while not scoring through the air, he was still able to haul in 35 receptions.
Conner has just turned 26 years old and choosing to sign with the Cardinals could be just what his career needs.
Conner will be joining an offense that is led by quarterback Kyler Murray and star wide receiver Deandre Hopkins. Conner will also share a backfield with running back Chase Edmonds.
Edmonds had his ups and downs over the course of last season and there is no guarantee that there will be a clear lead back in Arizona. Conner and Edmonds could see a clean split in carries and whichever running back that has the hot hand will be who is fed the ball more.
While there will be pressure for Conner to perform, the Cardinals strong offense will allow for him to ease his way onto the field.
Kyler being the QB1 will also allow for Conner to play with a quarterback that is also heavily involved in the run game. This will allow for more opportunities for Conner. If all goes to plan, he will be back to his 2018 form and be a real playmaker for this young Cardinals Team.
Defense: Byron Murphy Jr, Cornerback
Byron Murphy Jr. will be entering his third season with the Cardinals. The former second-round pick has spent almost all of his time in Arizona as the team’s primary slot cornerback. He has made his presence felt at the slot corner spot and has become one of the best in the league at that spot.
There is potential that Murphy could spend more time playing outside corner. With the addition of veteran corner Malcolm Butler and the departure of Patrick Peterson, the number two corner spot is up for grabs. Could Murphy potentially earn that spot? It could be his for the taking.
In year two, Murphy looked much different than he did during his rookie season. When comparing the two seasons, stat wise Murphy may look as if he regressed. During his rookie season, Murphy racked up 78 tackles and one interception. In comparison, Murphy had just 51 tackles and zero interceptions in his second year.
But, this doesn’t tell the whole story. Murphy’s on field performance changed dramatically during year two. In comparison to year one, where Murphy allowed nine touchdowns in pass coverage. Murphy allowed just two during his second season. He also added two sacks and, overall, was much more of a threat to both the pass game and run game.
All signs point to Murphy taking a much bigger role in year three. He should be prepared for this role as he has made great strides to being a top-tier corner in the NFL.