Arizona Cardinals position grades: The defensive line surprised us in 2023

The Arizona Cardinals did not have a good defensive line in 2023, but it wasn’t as terrible as the NFL universe initially thought it would be.

Arizona Cardinals v Pittsburgh Steelers
Arizona Cardinals v Pittsburgh Steelers / Joe Sargent/GettyImages
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On paper, the Arizona Cardinals defensive line looked abysmal heading into the 2023 season. Those slated to start were Leki Fotu, L.J. Collier, and Carlos Watkins, while Jonathan Ledbetter, Dante Stills, and Kevin Strong slid in as projected backups. 

Nobody on the unit impressed the Red Sea, as Fotu never put up sound production, Collier was a draft bust, and Watkins was a journeyman. Ledbetter looked like a career backup, Strong was another journeyman, and Stills was the 213th overall pick in the previous season’s draft. The latter was also the only example of general manager Monti Ossenfort addressing the position via the draft, which was and still is a major need.

But, despite having the league’s worst run defense, the line held up surprisingly well considering the situation. No, it wasn’t the way the Cardinals planned it, as Collier and Watkins went down with injuries early, and that most likely ended their respective careers in Glendale. 

Ledbetter outplayed his projections, as did Strong, and even Fotu looked better than he had in his previous three seasons. Stills was the real story, and he likely earned a starting spot in 2024 unless the Cards make ultra-heavy investments in the unit. 

Arizona Cardinals defensive line was better than everyone thought

To address the concerns, Arizona added Roy Lopez and he also made more contributions than most of us thought. And it was much-needed, since the injuries never stopped as Ledbetter and Fotu landed on injured reserve later in the year, and the former battled injuries all season. 

But even then, the Arizona Cardinals line held up well, allowing just 91 rushing yards in Week 17 against the Philadelphia Eagles. Dante Stills ended up missing the season finale, leaving the Cards to make the best of a bad situation, but even then, the 136 rushing yards they gave up to the Seattle Seahawks was nowhere near their worst outing. 

Considering the circumstances surrounding the defensive line, the Cards are getting a solid ‘C’ since it could have, and should have been, a lot worse. They need to do a lot of work on the line for 2024, but at least they realized they could make it somewhat work even with a patchwork unit. 

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(Statistics provided by Pro-Football-Reference)