This article is part of our Team Previews series.
The Cardinals' one-year trial run with coach Steve Wilks yielded league-worst marks in both point and yardage differentials, among many categories. Swapping out Wilks for Kliff Kingsbury, GM Steve Keim is banking on the latter to revitalize a lifeless offense with the help of rookie QB Kyler Murray.
THREE THINGS TO KNOW
FROM WILKS TO KINGSBURY
The Cardinals haven't had many sustained eras of fortune in their 99-year history, but the duo of Bruce Arians and Carson Palmer accrued a 49-30-1 record and reached the playoffs twice in five seasons together. Both coach and quarterback decided to retire after the 2017 campaign, setting in motion the surprise hire of first-time boss Steve Wilks in January 2018. The experiment didn't go as planned. Wilks cycled through two offensive coordinators en route to the league's least potent unit in terms of points (14.1) and yards per game (241.6 – nearly 50 behind the 31st-ranked Dolphins). The situation was so uninspiring at midseason that All-Pro cornerback Patrick Peterson demanded a trade, only to rescind the request. Predictably, GM Steve Keim moved on from the defensive-minded Wilks after a 3-13 finish. The replacement was another outside-the-box choice in Kliff Kingsbury, a protege of the air raid offense with little team success in six years at Texas Tech. To run the noted four-wide sets that typify the style of play, the pass-catching corps needed a boost behind proven holdovers Larry Fitzgerald, Christian Kirk and David Johnson. The offseason additions of veteran tight end Charles Clay and three rookie wideouts serve that purpose in theory, but the long-term key to it all will be a rookie quarterback.
FRANCHISE QB FINALLY FOUND
Within days of the Cardinals bringing Kliff Kingsbury on board, the rumor mill began in earnest due to comments made by the coach last fall about Oklahoma quarterback and Big 12 opponent Kyler Murray. Kingsbury noted then, if given the chance, he'd use the No. 1 pick on Murray, and his new employer just so happened to own that selection. There was one sticking point, though. Steve Keim was less than a year removed from trading up in the draft to take Josh Rosen 10th overall. Unfortunately for Rosen, he had several things working against him once he got on the field Week 3. The offensive line continually was in flux, with 11 different players logging at least 100 snaps and only one (rookie center Mason Cole) earning more than 600. Moreover, a change at coordinator was unable to unlock the offense, which finished last or second-to-last in QB rating, yards per pass attempt and yards per carry, an ignominious feat with stalwarts Larry Fitzgerald and David Johnson available for all 16 games. The Cardinals took the evaluation process of Murray down to the wire, upholding Kingsbury's proclamation at the top of the draft and eventually dealing Rosen to the Dolphins on Day 2. Murray brings many skills to the table, and his pinpoint accuracy and acclaimed mobility are ideal attributes to have behind a still deficient front line.
PIECES IN PLACE FOR MURRAY
If there's one universal truth regarding signal-callers, it's that it takes time to acclimate to the pro ranks. Never before has a greenhorn quarterback entered the NFL and posted 3,700 yards and 27 touchdowns on nearly 64 percent passing as a rookie, as the Browns' Baker Mayfield did a season ago. Expectations won't be so lofty for this year's top pick, but Kyler Murray will be put into a position to succeed, if not flourish. Working within the Air Raid should ease the transition, what with its tendency for short, quick passes and the necessary personnel to keep the offense functional. Among those in consideration for four-wide-receiver sets, Larry Fitzgerald is an old reliable with nine 1,000-yard campaigns to his credit, while David Johnson is a TD machine with the versatility to line up in the backfield, slot and outside. Murray also will have at his disposal college teammates Christian Kirk and Ricky Seals-Jones, who all were on the Texas A&M campus in 2015. Fellow draftees of Murray's include even more firepower at wideout, namely burner Andy Isabella, the 6-5, 227-pound Hakeem Butler and steady outside receiver KeeSean Johnson. No matter the combinations used by Kliff Kingsbury on a given Sunday, Murray has the skill set, players at his disposal and usage in a high-tempo offense to make an immediate impact.
PIVOTAL PLAYER: David Johnson
Since breaking out for more than 2,100 yards from scrimmage and 20 total touchdowns in 2016, Johnson has endured a pair of lost campaigns due to injury (2017) and coaching incompetence (last season). As long as Johnson stays healthy, new coach Kliff Kingsbury will move his top back around the formation to utilize his all-around ability.
RISING: Christian Kirk
Stuck in a stale offense in 2018, Kirk managed to reel off 8.7 yards per target on a 63.2 percent catch rate as a rookie. Merely maintaining those numbers should translate well with increased volume in the renewed scheme.
FALLING: Chad Williams
Williams hasn't tapped into his potential as a 2017 third-rounder, catching 20 passes in 16 games to date. With the Cardinals adding four wide receivers the past two drafts, he may be fighting for a roster spot in camp.
SLEEPER: Ricky Seals-Jones
Seals-Jones flashed at the end of the 2017 season but fizzled with the rest of the offense last year. Despite the presence of newcomer Charles Clay, Seals-Jones could prosper in his reunion with Kyler Murray.
KEY JOB BATTLE – NO. 4 RECEIVER
There are more questions than answers as it pertains to the Cardinals offense under Kliff Kingsbury and Kyler Murray. When looking at the known entities, Larry Fitzgerald, David Johnson and Christian Kirk will be among Murray's favorite targets, but there should be room within the air raid offense (or a revised version) for another receiver or two to make a regular impact. Among the candidates are two 2019 draft picks (Andy Isabella and Hakeem Butler), free-agent signing Charles Clay and a plethora of holdovers, namely Trent Sherfield, Ricky Seals-Jones and Chase Edmonds. The pecking order behind the top trio will be determined by performances throughout training camp and the preseason, but Isabella may be given the longest leash due to his status as a second-rounder and ability to stretch defenses.
KYLER MURRAY – QB (Rd. 1, No. 1 – Oklahoma)
The two-sport athlete chose football, and the gamble paid off.
CHARLES CLAY – TE (from Bills)
Makes the cross-country trek after four modest years in Buffalo.
ANDY ISABELLA – WR (Rd. 2, No. 62 – Massachusetts)
Poised for immediate reps as a vertical threat in this Murray-led attack.
HAKEEM BUTLER – WR (Rd. 4, No. 103 – Iowa State)
A hulking target, may need to bide his time for an opportunity.
JORDAN HICKS – LB (from Eagles)
Durability is a concern, but coming off a 91-tackle, three-sack campaign.
TERRELL SUGGS – LB (from Ravens)
Long-time Raven heads home in the twilight of his career.
J.J. NELSON – WR (to Raiders)
In search of a return to form to his highlight-reel first three seasons.
ANTOINE BETHEA – S (to Giants)
Parlayed a bounceback into yet another incentive-laden contract.
THE INJURY FRONT
Christian Kirk, WR – A broken foot took the shine off an impressive rookie year from Kirk, who posted a 43-590-3 line on 68 targets in 12 appearances last season. He proceeded to prove his health during the offseason program and even got a vote of confidence in June from Kliff Kingsbury. With the likely upgrade in coaching and under center, Kirk seems poised for a breakout in what is expected to be an uptempo offense.
Charles Clay, TE – Clay was plagued by injuries in his fourth and final year with the Bills, accruing a career-low 184 yards on 36 targets (5.1 YPT). With the move to Arizona, he has the opportunity for a fresh start, but it'll be delayed due to a knee concern that forced him to the preseason PUP list. Considering Clay has missed at least two games per season in six of eight pro campaigns, the 30-year-old is all but certain to yield snaps to fellow tight end Ricky Seals-Jones at some point this fall.
Jordan Hicks, LB – After Hicks completed one 16-game slate in four chances, the Eagles opted to go in a different direction at middle linebacker this offseason. He eventually found a new home with the Cardinals, but the injury-prone label will be difficult to brush aside. On a positive note, Hicks was on a 121-tackle pace last year amid missing four games with a calf injury, so suiting up for something close to a full campaign could vault him up the IDP ranks.