Throughout this past season, the Arizona Cardinals handed their rookie contingent a significant amount of playing time. A playoff berth was nothing but a pipedream, so head coach Jonathan Gannon and his staff used the campaign as an opportunity to throw the team's first-year players to the wolves.
The results for two of the rookies, each of the undrafted variety, were much better than expected. Both running back Emari Demercado and cornerback Starling Thomas V ended up making worthwhile contributions to the talent-starved Cards. In fact, both could still be around when Arizona kicks off the 2024 NFL campaign next September.
Demercado, a 5 foot 9, 215 pounder, turned in several solid performances for the Cardinals scoring attack. The first-year pro's production increased significantly when starter James Conner injured his knee in Week 5. During that contest (a 34-20 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals), Demercado rumbled for 45 yards and touchdown, filling in nicely for a banged-up Conner.
Unheralded rookies gave their all to the Arizona Cardinals over the past several months
In all, Demercado totaled 403 yards from scrimmage and a pair of scores in 14 appearances (two starts) for "Big Red". The 24-year-old's playing time decreased a bit when former New York Jets ball-carrier Michael Carter was acquired in mid-November. Nevertheless, Demercado has more than earned the right to be a part of the Cards rushing attack in '24 and beyond.
While Demercado showed his worth to the Arizona offense, the team also benefited from what Thomas managed to accomplish on the defensive side of the ball. The feisty cover guy flashed the ability to compete for a Redbirds secondary that is devoid of talented corners. If the "Birdgang" wasn't aware of Thomas before the season got underway, they certainly became familiar with the 23-year-old by the end of the year.
When all was said and done, Thomas suited up for 12 matchups and made seven starts for the Cardinals defensive unit. The 5 foot 10, 194 pounder tallied 38 tackles (35 solo) and five passes defensed, and held up well against some of the league's best wide receivers. There's no doubt that the club's front office will be searching for cornerback help this offseason, but Thomas definitely could provide depth at the very least.
(Statistics provided by Pro Football Reference)