Heading into the 2023 campaign, the Arizona Cardinals defensive line appeared to be headed for disaster. The unit's two standouts from a year ago, J.J. Watt and Zach Allen, were no longer around. It was far from an ideal situation, but surely first-year general manager Monti Ossenfort would replace the dynamic duo with some top-level additions.
As Cards fans have come to find out, the club's management had a different plan in mind. Instead of bringing in star-caliber reinforcements, Ossenfort elected to acquire mid-level free agents for the front wall. Many observers were wary, and rightfully so, about the uninspiring approach that Arizona's front office took towards dealing with the issue.
Things got off to a rough start for the Cardinals defensive line back in September when two of the main acquisitions were sidelined with injuries. Ironically, both Carlos Watkins and L.J. Collier suffered torn bicep muscles. The pair were on the field for a total of just 80 defensive snaps, and it certainly looks like the season has come to an end for both veterans.
Arizona Cardinals undermanned defensive line has performed above expectations this season
Jonathan Ledbetter, a holdover from the previous regime, is the defensive line's leading tackler. In six starts, the 6 foot 4, 282 pounder has totaled 24 tackles for the Redbirds defense. Ledbetter has also contributed 1.5 sacks, but his main role has been as a run-stuffer for the squad.
One of Arizona's most pleasant surprises has been Dante Stills, a sixth-round draft pick out of West Virginia University. The rookie has been credited with 21 tackles and 2.5 sacks, in spite of the fact that he's been on the field for just 45% of the defensive snaps. An expanded role for Stills could be highly beneficial, and coordinator Nick Rallis would be smart to allow that to happen.
Kevin Strong Jr., a free-agent acquisition from the Tennessee Titans, has played much better than expected. The 6 foot 4, 295 pounder has logged five starts, after notching just two during his first four professional seasons. Strong has registered 19 tackles and 2.5 sacks and is on pace to post career-highs in both categories.
Other contributors to the Cardinals D-line include Leki Fotu, Roy Lopez, Ben Stille, and Eric Banks. There are certainly no superstars among the group. Nevertheless, the team has gotten a fair amount of production out of the scrappy crew they elected to roll with this year.
(Statistics provided by Pro Football Reference)