Last season, the Cardinals traded up for Budda Baker in the second round. Now, we understand why they did. He made the Pro Bowl as a special teamer last season and was productive on the defense. He made plays against the run, the pass, and even blitzed the quarterback. With the release of Tyrann Mathieu, Baker will replace him in the slot and be a full-time starter in the upcoming season.
The 13-year veteran Antoine Bethea returns the Cardinals for a second season, after nabbing a career-high of five interceptions in 2017. He will turn 34 this month and the hope is for him to continue playing at a high level. He is an excellent communicator and has experience this team will need because the depth behind him have little to no experience at all.
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Cardinals’ 2017 sixth-round pick Rudy Ford could have a bigger role on the team, having played primarily on special teams last season. He was a standout during OTAs and I would not be surprised to see him blossom in his second year. He has good size (5’11’’, 204lbs), speed (4.4 40), and strength (20 bench reps). No one really knows him now but when the regular season begins, expect him to make some noise of the defense. The Cardinals loved using three-safety packages in the past and I expect the same in the Steve Wilks era.
The Cardinals did not sign any safeties in free agency, giving a lot of defensive backs on this team a better chance at making the roster. Undrafted free agent A.J. Howard is one of those players that benefit. He is another player that had a great Pro Day, running a 4.51 40 and benching 24 reps. I see a rookie that is instinctive and has the DNA that Wilks in looking for. Appalachian State had one of the more aggressive defenses in college football last season and Howard was one of the leaders of that team. He was a reliable tackler and made plays all over the field. He has the best chance of all undrafted free agents, in my opinion, to make the 53-man roster.
Zeke Turner reunites with Baker, having played in Washington together. At 6’2’’ 214lbs, he is the biggest safety on this team. He was known for wrecking havoc on special teams with his big hits in college. Undrafted free agents have to make themselves known on special teams first and Turner can certainly do so. The Cardinals also added Travell Dixon, who played for the Panthers in 2016.
General Manager Steve Keim brought in Tre Boston for a visit which may indicate that he isn’t fully comfortable with the safety group. At the same time, Boston played for Wilks in the past and so it wouldn’t hurt to take a look. The Cardinals also have Tyvon Branch on speed dial, with him being a free agent and still rehabbing from his ACL tear. Nonetheless, the Cardinals love the progress their current safeties are making in learning Steve Wilks and Al Holcomb’s defensive playbook. More additions or not, this team is satisfied with who they have.