For the past several years, Budda Baker has been the heart and soul of the Arizona Cardinals defense. The 27-year-old has been voted to five Pro Bowls, and has earned recognition as one of the NFL's best safeties. However, the Redbirds have another player at the position who could very well be overtaking Baker as the squad's best defender.
Jalen Thompson, a fifth-year safety, has been more productive than the highly-respected Baker in 2023. From 2019-22, the former fifth-round supplemental draft pick had operated in the shadow of his more recognizable mentor. Fortunately for Thompson, the days he spent playing second fiddle to Baker now appear to be over.
In 10 starts this fall, Thompson has racked up 55 tackles, three interceptions, five passes defensed and a sack for the Cards. By comparison, Baker's entire stat line this season consists of 50 tackles in seven appearances. The team's former second-round choice from six years ago has yet to record any picks, pass breakups or sacks for the Arizona defense during the current campaign.
Changing of the guard at the safety spot could be taking place for the Arizona Cardinals defense
The 25-year-old Thompson has slowly been closing the gap on Baker over the past couple of years. In 2021, the 5 foot 11,190 pounder tallied a whopping 121 tackles, and also contributed three interceptions and seven passes defensed to the Cardinals defensive unit. Last year, Thompson was credited with 110 tackles, a pick and another eight pass breakups for the group.
Baker, for his part, was named to the NFC Pro Bowl squad at the end of both of the past two seasons, despite the fact that Thompson's overall numbers were actually slightly better. Two years ago, Baker registered 98 tackles, three interceptions, seven passes defensed and two sacks for "Big Red". In 2022, the former second-round choice totaled 111 tackles, two picks and seven pass breakups for former coordinator Vance Joseph's defense.
It's quite apparent that Thompson is ascending for the Cards, while Baker has been sort of quiet over the past three months. The way things are going, Thompson could be viewed as the leader of current coordinator Nick Rallis' defensive contingent sometime in the near future. Don't look now, but a changing of the guard at the safety position seems to be happening at this very moment in the Arizona desert.
(Statistics provided by Pro Football Reference)