Let’s make this clear: The 2015 Arizona Cardinals are a deep, deep football team. One of Football Outsiders’ foundational assumptions is successful teams are solid across the board and not made up of “stars and scrubs.” It’s clear that General Manager Steve Keim and Bruce Arians are seeking to build a strong rotation wherever possible.
The first draft of this column intended to identify the 25 most important Cardinals, but it was hard to support the position that, say, Andre Ellington is among the 20 most important Cardinals when it would be surprising to see him get 60% of the total offensive snaps. I’d considered putting Corey Peters on this list, but at the end of the day, would Peters being a good nose tackle on 40% of the defensive snaps really matter in this team going 9-7 versus 11-5?
What’s clear is that the seven individuals we’re looking at today are essential to the success of the team in 2015. Losing any of them for a significant length of time would cripple the opportunity for the Cardinals to secure home field advantage throughout the playoffs and have a legitimate chance of playing in Levi Field in February.
7. Michael Floyd, Wide Receiver. One reason the Cardinals offense in 2014 was fairly toothless was a down year from Floyd. Floyd’s size and speed on the outside presents strategic challenges and opens up the short middle of the field for Larry Fitzgerald and the deep middle for the diminutive speedsters that make up the rest of the wide receiver corps.
6. Sean Weatherspoon, Inside Linebacker. As of this writing, Daryl Washington remains suspended, which leaves a huge hole in the defensive front seven from a playmaking perspective. Weatherspoon could be the most complete (run/pass/leadership) linebacker the Arizona Cardinals have had since Karlos Dansby—the first time—if he can stay healthy.
5. Jared Veldheer, Offensive Tackle. The mammoth 2014 free agent acquisition exceeded almost every expectation; he should have been a Pro Bowl player if the Cards passing or rushing game were any good at all last year. Veldheer is among the most important Cardinals in 2015 because there’s no real option behind him to be the best two-way player on the offensive line.
4. Carson Palmer, Quarterback. The ability of backup quarterbacks to keep the Cards in games helped push Palmer down to this point in the list. Palmer isn’t a franchise-level quarterback at this point in his career, but he’s good enough to lead your team to the playoffs. Whether he’s good enough to lead the Cards to the promised land is anyone’s guess.
3. Calais Campbell, Defensive End. Campbell has the second-highest cap charge on the team, and he deserves every dollar. Campbell is key to the Cards run and pass defense. His ability to disrupt by himself provides new defensive coordinator substantial room for error in his defensive schemes.
2. Patrick Peterson, Cornerback. Peterson’s been a lightning rod. When you have the highest cap hold of any player on the team, that’s going to happen. But Peterson is the linchpin of everything else the Cards do on defense—in pass protection and run defense. His ability to battle the opposition’s best receiver without aid is essential.
1. Bruce Arians, Head Coach. There’s little doubt that if the old man somehow falls apart or falls down and can’t get up in 2015, he’s taking the rest of the team with him.