The 2023 NFL campaign has not been a great one for fans of the Arizona Cardinals. In all honesty, it's incredibly difficult to get behind a squad that has amassed a 1-7 record through eight weeks. Things should get much better for the Redbirds in 2024, but that doesn't make all of the losing the team is doing at the present time any easier to watch.
One positive thing that can be taken out of this depressing season is the performance of the Cards' rookie class. Head coach Jonathan Gannon obviously has no issue with putting inexperienced players on the field. It may be out of necessity, but the fact that the first-year coaching staff has put it's trust in the younger generation could benefit Arizona in a big way going forward.
The biggest prize out of this year's group of rookies has been Paris Johnson Jr., the club's sixth-overall pick out of Ohio State University. While the starting right tackle has struggled at times, the reviews have been overwhelmingly favorable for the 22-year-old lineman. Johnson has been on the field for 100% of the offensive snaps this fall, a statistic that is direct proof of the confidence that the Cardinals have in the talented blocker.
In desperate need of some size at the wide receiver position, the Cards used a third-round selection on Stanford pass-catcher Michael Wilson. The 6 foot 2, 213 pounder has shown a ton of promise, hauling in 25 passes for 401 yards and two touchdowns thus far in '23. Wilson catches everything thrown his way, and is averaging an impressive 16 yards per reception in his first professional campaign.
Arizona Cardinals 2023 rookie class could potentially be one of the best in franchise history
Arizona has gotten a surprising amount of production out of Dante Stills, a sixth-round choice out of West Virginia University. In his seven appearances (three starts), the 23-year-old defensive tackle has been credited with 21 tackles and 2.5 sacks for the Cardinals. Those are more than adequate numbers, especially when you consider that Stills was the draft's 213th-overall selection.
There's a very good chance that yet another Cards rookie will get to show what he can do this coming weekend, when the team goes on the road to take on the Cleveland Browns. Quarterback Clayton Tune, a fifth-round pick out of the University of Houston, is expected to get the start against the league's top-ranked defense. It's a situation that's far from ideal, but the 24-year-old Tune appears to have both the moxie and maturity needed to handle such a challenging assignment.
Cornerback Garrett Williams, a third-round choice who started the year on Arizona's reserve/non-football injury list, recorded an interception in his first pro game two weeks ago. Outside linebacker BJ Ojulari, a second-round addition, registered the first sack of his young career last Sunday. Jon Gaines II, a fourth-round selection out of UCLA, may have challenged for a starting spot at left guard if not for the season-ending knee injury he suffered in late August.
Kei'Trel Clark, a cover guy out of the University of Louisville, was thrown to the wolves early on by the Cardinals coaches. The 22-year-old was recently benched following a promising start, but the valuable experience Clark gained during his five starts could only help him going forward. Just last weekend, fifth-round linebacker Owen Pappoe contributed by recovering an onside kick late in the fourth quarter during the squad's 31-24 loss to the Baltimore Ravens.
Every youngster mentioned in this article has a shot at a bright future in the National Football League. In fact, several could even be vital contributors for the Cards in no time at all. Kudos to general manager Monti Ossenfort for putting together what appears to be one of the organization's most talented draft classes in quite some time.
(Statistics provided by Pro Football Reference)