Last year (2012) I was fortunate enough to attend my first Cardinals game at University of Phoenix Stadium. It was Week 15 of the NFL season and the Arizona Cardinals were facing the Detroit Lions. It was easy to notice all the blue Lions’ jerseys that where being worn by fans not of the Cardinals, but even more surprising was the lack of number 93 jerseys.
Calais Campbell doesn’t have the star power of a top-five pick such as Patrick Peterson or the recognition of a perennial Pro Bowler like Larry Fitzgerald, but he is arguably the best player wearing Cardinal red at the moment.
Campbell, a 2008 second-round pick did not start in his first season in the NFL, instead he was the backup that would eventually take over for Antonio Smith, who left in free agency. Campbell started for the Cardinals in 2009 at the right defensive end position and has played there ever since.
The defensive end has been as consistent as anyone else on the team and has gradually improved each year. Campbell’s excellent play has him receiving the recognition that you would expect from an elite defensive linemen.
Pro Football Focus is one of the most informative and well respected pro football websites available. It recently ranked its top 101 players of 2012 and Calais Campbell earned the 29th spot on their list; this is what PFF had to say: “In the past we’ve viewed Campbell as someone who does his best work rushing the passer.
Consider that evaluation changed as the Cardinals’ defensive end really upped his game to become a complete player. Despite missing time he still finished third in our 3-4 defensive end rankings and was a guy opposing offensive coordinators paid a lot of attention to. A real destructive player.”
In 2012 Campbell accumulated 39 total pressures in the passing game including sacks. He also had 44 tackles along with 34 defensive stops in the run game. What is even more impressive is that Campbell managed these stats as a 5-technique defensive end(3-4 defensive end) in a two-gap defense.
Campbell’s ability to play the run affectively from different defensive alignments is what separates him and a player like Darnell Dockett. Make no mistake Campbell is surely the best defensive linemen the Cardinals have to offer.(Stats via Pro Football Focus).
Where does Campbell rank amongst the other defensive linemen in the NFL? For the average fan a player like Campbell gets lost in the shadows of players like J.J. Watt, Haloti Ngata, and Justin Smith.
In no way, shape, or form am I trying to take anything away from those players, they are certainly three of the best defensive players in the NFL and deserve every bit of respect they receive. My point is that Campbell deserves his name mentioned with those player because he is as good as they are(except J.J.Watt who was insanely great in 2012).
Pat Kirwan, a former NFL scout who is now an NFL insider for CBS, recently published an article in which he ranked the top defensive linemen in the NFL. Campbell earned the ninth spot on Kirwan’s list, and this is what he had to say: “Campbell has a rare combination of size and athletic ability.
He was overshadowed by teammate Darnell Dockett for years but has emerged as a dominating 3-4 DE. At 6-feet-7 he can play with leverage and get under the pads of shorter offensive linemen.”
Campbell’s versatility is what make him such a dynamic player. His ability to line up all over the defensive front including the 5-technique in the Cardinals base 3-4 defense and also the 3-technique defensive tackle in the sub-packages that the defense employs. Campbell also gives the Cardinals scheme flexibility.
He is more than capable of lining up on the strong side of a 4-3 defense and play on the edge where he can use his athletic ability and quickness to cause habit in the backfield. There’s no question that Campbell’s versatility brings value to any NFL team no matter the scheme.
What can we expect from Campbell going into 2013? At this time we know that the Cardinals will continue to run a 3-4 defense under defensive coordinator Todd Bowles.
Bowles’ scheme will allow Campbell and his teammate Dockett to be aggressive and be playmakers instead of space eaters. Campbell’s sack numbers and pressures could take a leap this year in the Cardinals one-gap scheme. If he can continue to be consistent against the run and become a difference maker for the Cardinals defense there is no doubt that Campbell will put together an All-Pro season in 2013.
The Cardinals are very fortunate to have a player like Campbell on their defensive front. His excellence on and off the field is something that deserves the attention of every fan. Campbell’s age (26) ensures that he is still a player on the rise and that his best football is still ahead of him.
So the question remains: “Is Calais Campbell at top-50 player?” My answer would be yes, but please do not take my word for it. Campbell’s resume speaks for itself and does not need me to speak on his behalf.