The Arizona Cardinals defensive line looked like a mess on paper before the 2023 season even started. A cast-off in L.J. Collier, a role player in Carlos Watkins, and Leki Fotu, a disappointment throughout his first three seasons, looked as though they were the top guys for the job.
It wasn’t saying much, but Collier and Watkins found themselves on injured reserve early in the year, forcing the likes of Dante Stills and Kevin Strong to get an extended look. Both played well, and when Roy Lopez joined the team, the Redbirds had at least a serviceable makeshift unit.
Stills is approaching 40 tackles on the season with 3.5 sacks, five tackles for loss, and five quarterback hits to complete what has been a decent stat sheet. Strong is in the same boat, with 37 tackles, 2.5 sacks, four tackles for loss, and three quarterback hits.
Then there is Lopez, who in 10 games with the Redbirds, has 30 combined tackles, a tackle for loss, and a quarterback hit in what has been a part-time role with the team. Lopez is also grading higher than Stills and Strong on PFF, with an overall grade of 70.1.
Arizona Cardinals could have another surprise at defensive line
Naquan Jones, whom the Cardinals promoted just two days ago to the active roster, could be another solid player for a defensive line that has played better than most expected. Jones showed flashes with his former club, the Tennessee Titans, in 2021 and 2022, when he logged a combined 3.5 sacks, 45 combined tackles, six tackles for loss, and five quarterback hits in 24 appearances (six starts) throughout 2021 and 2022.
Considering the way defensive linemen have turned out this season, along with current Walter Payton Man of the Year Nominee Jonathan Ledbetter, another serviceable producer, Jones could be the next man up. If that’s the case, then the Cards could have a solid foundation of defensive linemen heading into 2024 should they all return.
This isn’t to say they shouldn’t acquire another piece or two through the 2024 NFL Draft, but the overall depth could be promising for a group that initially looked as though it comprised nothing but temporary stopgaps in a best-case scenario.
Source: Cardinals Promote Naquan Jones To Roster by Darren Urban, AZCardinals.com
(Statistics provided by Pro-Football-Reference, grades provided by PFF [subscription])