The Arizona Cardinals defensive backfield needs a lot of improvement in 2021 to keep opposing passing games in check. Other than Budda Baker, the Cardinals have no one who can fulfill a full-time starting role.
However, much of their defensive backfield belongs on an NFL roster. Therefore, they have plenty of players who can provide depth or at least fulfill a specific role.
Baker is the outlier. The Pro Bowl safety and First-Team All-Pro lit up the stat sheet with 118 combined tackles to go along with 7 tackles for a loss, 2 sacks, and 2 interceptions. He was a force in both the running and passing game.
Jalen Thompson can still become a full-time starter in the NFL. And next to Baker, he is the best player in the secondary. But he only played in 5 games in 2020. A red flag that he’s injury-prone. At worst, Thompson is a solid backup or role player. Signed through 2022, he has another chance to prove he’s a full-time starter.
Patrick Peterson isn’t done, but he’s lost a step. He had 3 interceptions and 8 passes defended. But he allowed a staggering 67.1 completion percentage and a 98.1 passer rating when targeted. The Cardinals must decide if he’s worth re-signing.
Byron Murphy played well but his best role remains in the slot. If the Cardinals upgrade the corner position, look for him to return exclusively to the slot. Robert Alford is one to keep an eye on. Injuries have kept him out of action for two seasons and it’s likely the Cardinals could move on from him. But he’s signed through 2021, so he may be a wildcard in the secondary.
The Cardinals also have a couple of UFAs in Dre Kirkpatrick and Kevin Peterson. Kirkpatrick had an up and down season. Like Patrick Peterson, he’s aging. Kevin Peterson is probably gone after a subpar season. At the very least, he returns on a one-year deal.
Chris Banjo is another UFA. Injuries to Baker and Thompson put him into the limelight until he suffered an injury of his own. He’s best suited as a role player. Jace Whittaker signed a futures deal and the formerly undrafted rookie could take over for Kevin Peterson as a depth piece in 2021.
Deionte Thompson has all the makings of becoming a key depth piece. He played well in coverage, allowing just 4.4 yards per target and a 38.9 completion percentage. He also proved he could spot start, having started 4 games in 2020 because of injuries at safety.
Budda Baker and Jalen Thompson can be a great tandem if the latter stays healthy. Byron Murphy is a good slot corner, and Patrick Peterson can hopefully remain in Arizona as a role player as he heads to the back nine of his career.
But the Cardinals must solidify the top two corner spots. Preferably by signing a free agent and drafting another. If Robert Alford returns and plays at a high level, it will be a huge boost for the entire defensive backfield.