Arizona Cardinals poised to roll with a surprise starter at left guard

The first official depth chart of the 2023 Arizona Cardinals lists journeyman Elijah Wilkinson as the squad's starting left guard.
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Atlanta Falcons v Cincinnati Bengals / Justin Casterline/GettyImages
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When the Arizona Cardinals signed free agent Elijah Wilkinson back in April, the acquisition flew almost completely under the radar. The journeyman blocker was joining his third organization in three years, so the club's fans weren't expecting a whole lot. In fact, most believed that Wilkinson would serve in a backup role at best for the Cards offensive line.

On Tuesday, Arizona released it's first official depth chart of 2023. Quite surprisingly, Wilkinson is listed as the squad's starting left guard. Will the 28-year-old still be running with the first string when the Redbirds visit the Washington Commanders less than five weeks from now?

If Wilkinson does retain his status as a starter, general manager Monti Ossenfort would be getting one heck of a bargain. According to Spotrac.com, the veteran agreed to a one-year contract that will pay him just over $1.23 million this coming fall. That would be incredible value out of an addition that was supposed to be nothing more than a reserve for the Cardinals offensive line.

Wilkinson got his start in the NFL back in 2017 as an undrafted free agent with the Denver Broncos. After appearing in nine matchups as a rookie, the former University of Massachusetts product logged seven starts at right guard for Denver in 2018. Wilkinson was moved to right tackle the following season, and was credited with 19 starts at the spot in total for the Broncos during the 2019-20 campaigns.

In March of 2021, Wilkinson signed a one-year deal with the Chicago Bears, logging 13 appearances and one start in the "Windy City". Last fall, the 6 foot 5, 330 pounder started nine contests at left guard for the Atlanta Falcons.

Rookie's claim on right tackle gig could result in Elijah Wilkinson starting at left guard for the Arizona Cardinals

In the days following this past April's draft, there was talk that first-round pick Paris Johnson Jr. could man the left guard spot. While it's no secret that the youngster was brought to the desert to play tackle, the Cards already had a pair of reliable veterans at the position. Former first-round choice D.J. Humphries is entrenched on the left side, while 34-year-old Kelvin Beachum has been a fixture at the right post since 2020.

Over the past couple of weeks, Johnson has laid claim to Beachum's job. It appears that the 22-year-old rookie is simply way too talented to keep on the bench. With Johnson now penciled in as the starter at right tackle, Wilkinson's hold on the gig at left guard should remain intact, correct?

Well, not necessarily. Dennis Daley, another free-agent acquisition, is right behind Wilkinson on the Arizona depth chart. The 27-year-old Daley has 36 professional starts under his belt, including nine at left guard for the Carolina Panthers back in 2021.

The Cardinals' opening game is roughly one month away, and Wilkinson may still be forced to hold off a legitimate challenge by Daley. Jonathan Gannon seems to be the type of head coach who will elect to roll with the five best blockers. It remains to be seen whether Wilkinson will be a part of that distinguished group when the regular-season gets underway on September 10th.

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(Information provided by Pro Football Reference)