Cardinals counting on 3rd-round picks to provide a pass rush

(Photo by Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports) Cameron Thomas
(Photo by Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports) Cameron Thomas /

Cameron Thomas and Myjai Sanders will be given an opportunity to earn ample playing time for the Arizona Cardinals in 2022

It’s a scary proposition, but any success that the Arizona Cardinals defense will enjoy during the upcoming season could depend entirely on the unknown.

For example, many Cards fans believed that the club would find a genuine sack specialist to replace the departed Chandler Jones. Instead, general manager Steve Keim stood idly by as top-notch free agents like Von Miller, Hasson Reddick, Randy Gregory, and Za’Darius Smith signed with other organizations.

Arizona still has pass-rushers like Markus Golden and J.J. Watt on the roster, but few would argue with the fact that both veterans are now past their prime.

Likewise, Dennis Gardeck and Devon Kennard have flashed an ability to register sacks at certain times in their career. Still, neither can be counted on to produce in that area consistently.

The Arizona Cardinals are putting their eggs into the baskets of a pair of rookie pass-rushers

When the 2022 NFL Draft took place back in April, Keim and his cohorts elected to use two third-round selections on prospects who could pressure opposing quarterbacks.

That’s fine and dandy, but there’s no guarantee that either youngster will come close to the outstanding production that Jones provided for the Redbirds during his six years in the desert.

The rookie who may have the best chance to provide a significant pass rush for the Cardinals defense is Cameron Thomas, the San Diego State University product which was chosen with the draft’s 87th-overall pick.

As a junior in 2021, Thomas racked up 10.5 sacks in 14 games for the Aztecs. Cards defensive coordinator Vance Joseph would be absolutely thrilled if the 22-year-old can carry that level of play into the National Football League.

Just 13 slots after Thomas was taken, Arizona dipped into the edge-rushing pool once again. Myjai Sanders, a 24-year-old out of the University of Cincinnati, will also be given a long look during this summer’s training camp.

Sanders’ best season as a collegiate performer came two years ago when he totaled 31 tackles (10.5 for a loss), seven sacks, and five passes defensed as a junior for the Bearcats. The Jacksonville, Florida native received First-team All-ACC honors following both the 2020 and 2021 campaigns.

In a perfect world, both Thomas and Sanders will live up to the glowing endorsements that the Cardinals have given them since they joined the team this past spring. If they can’t, Keim could very well rue the day that he allowed a bona fide sack artist like Jones to leave the nest.

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