Rookie recap: A look back at the Cardinals’ 2018 rookie class

Second-round rookie WR Christian Kirk had a solid rookie season in the desert. Did he have the best season of any Cardinals rookie?

With the 2019 NFL Draft on the horizon—and the Cardinals holding the #1 pick—it’s a good time to look back on our 2018 rookie class.

With the coaching staff mostly filled out, expect most of the talk around the Arizona Cardinals for the next several weeks to center around their #1 pick in the 2019 NFL Draft. But before we go full steam ahead with 2019 draft talk, it’s worth looking back at our 2018 class one more time.

What did we get out of our rookies in 2018? Did each pick live up to expectations? What can we expect out of them in 2019? Let’s go back through the draft class (as well as a select few UDFAs) and see.

Note: This is *not* a grade of the 2018 draft. One year in is way too early for that. We won’t really know how this class should be graded until they’re up for their second contracts.

Round 1: QB Josh Rosen

2018 Stats: 217/393 (55.2%), 2,278 yards, 11 TD, 14 INTs, 66.7 QB rating

2018 Recap: We’ve discussed Rosen ad nauseam on this site, and you know where we stand by now. Rosen’s debut season was largely a lost year, what with the mid-season OC change, the offensive line turnover, the lack of weapons, and, finally, the head coaching change after the season. On the field, he didn’t appear to develop at all—and he actually appeared to get worse as the season went on. Hardly a surprise given the dumpster fire raging around him. But, at this point, the Cardinals have no idea whether or not Rosen is a franchise QB. Not what the team was hoping for out of his rookie season, obviously.

2019 Prognosis: The Cardinals have already hired QB whisperer Kliff Kingsbury to jump-start Rosen’s development. Next, GM Steve Keim needs to surround Rosen with more NFL-caliber talent on the offensive line and at the WR/TE positions. Assuming Kingsbury can implement his offense and Keim can upgrade the overall offensive talent, the onus will be on Rosen to show that he’s the future of the franchise. He doesn’t quite need to make a Jared Goff-like leap to the Pro Bowl in his second season, but 3,000 yards and 20 TDs would be a reasonable expectation. If he can’t do that, the team might be back in the market for a QB of the future once again. Fair or not, 2019 is looking like a make-or-break year for Rosen.

Round 2: WR Christian Kirk

2018 Stats: 43 receptions, 590 yards, 3 TDs

2018 Recap: It took Kirk a couple of games to get up to NFL speed, but starting in Week 3 and until his season ended prematurely in Week 13, Kirk averaged 6 targets, 4 receptions, and 56 receiving yards per game. He also scored the 3 TDs. Over a full season, those numbers would prorate to 64 receptions, 896 yards, and 5 TDs. Those are solid numbers for a #2 WR, especially for a rookie. Kirk also showed obvious chemistry with Rosen. He had easily the best rookie season out of anyone in the 2018 draft class.

2019 Prognosis: Kirk’s 2019 depends a lot on whether Larry Fitzgerald comes back for another season. If he does, Kirk will likely be relegated to a more complementary role again, especially if Keim brings in another starting-caliber WR via the draft of free agency. But if Fitz doesn’t come back (shudder the thought), Kirk could be featured in the slot and could put up massive numbers in Kingsbury’s system. Either way, the prorated numbers above are probably a good baseline for Kirk in 2019.

Round 3: C Mason Cole

2018 Stats: 16 games started, 0 missed snaps

2018 Recap: Cole was prematurely forced into the starting lineup in the preseason when erstwhile starter A.Q. Shipley went down with a torn ACL. Cole was obviously durable and performed admirably for a rookie, but he was a below-average starter (PFF’s #34 C) on the NFL’s worst offensive line. Still, you’ll take 16 starts from a rookie at any position.

2019 Prognosis: Cole should enter training camp as the undisputed starter at center whether or not Shipley is back. (Shipley is under contract for 2019, but the team can save about $500k by cutting him.) Although he didn’t play well in 2018, you have to imagine he’ll play better with a) a year of starting experience under his belt, and b) actual NFL guards playing on either side of him, rather that practice squad players and street free agents.

Round 4: RB Chase Edmonds

2018 Stats: 60 carries, 208 yards, 2 TDs, 20 receptions, 103 yards

2018 Recap: Edmonds didn’t see the field much behind David Johnson—he only played about 21% of the offensive snaps. And other than one decent game (against the Packers), he didn’t have much of an impact even when he did see the field. More was expected after the preseason hype, but, like everyone, Edmonds was caught up in the offensive morass of 2018.

2019 Prognosis: Utilizing multiple backfield weapons has been en vogue in the NFL for a few years now, but the Cardinals have largely eschewed using a complementary back with a healthy DJ in the fold. Will that change under Kingsbury? He used multiple back at Texas Tech when he had to, but when he had a bellcow (DeAndre Washington), he mostly leaned on him. I’d like to see Edmonds get more touches in 2019, but he could be in line for another season of table scraps behind DJ.

Round 6: CB Chris Campbell

2018 Stats: N/A

2018 Recap: Campbell didn’t make it out of the preseason, getting cut in early September. He was signed to the Saints practice squad in October but never cracked the 53-man roster. This was a whiff by Keim.

2019 Prognosis: N/A

Round 7: OT Korey Cunningham

2018 Stats: 6 games started

2018 Recap: Cunningham was pressed into duty when our two starting tackles went out of the lineup (D.J. Humphries to the IR, Andre Smith to the unemployment line). Other than one bad game (against the Falcons), Cunningham played pretty okay, although he did struggle with penalties occasionally. All in all, he played better than expected for a 7th-rounder until he, too, went on the IR after Week 16.

2019 Prognosis: Something will have gone wrong with Keim’s offseason plans if Cunningham enters training game as a starting tackle, but given his starting experience, he will be a nice depth piece in 2019. Perhaps he can develop for another year before making a run at Humphries’ job in 2020?

Undrafted Free Agents

We’ll tackle these guys quick hit style: LG Colby Gossett was snatched off the Vikings practice squad late in the season and was immediately plugged into the starting lineup, where he struggled mightily in his four starts. I can’t imagine he figures in the team’s plans for 2019 except maybe as a training camp invite … WR Trent Sherfield shined in the preseason but didn’t see much action until after the bye week. He was basically the team’s WR2 down the stretch after Kirk went down and played well enough. We’ll see if he can pick up Kingsbury’s offense in the offseason and stick around WR4/5 type … LBs Dennis Gardeck and Zeke Turner were special teams stalwarts all season—both played over 75% of the special teams snaps in 2018. You might also remember Gardeck’s TD in Week 17. Can either of them earn any playing time on defense for Vance Joseph in 2019?

Final Thoughts

A lot of rookies saw the field for the Cardinals in 2018, but they mostly failed to make a big impact. That’s the reality of a 3-13 team, unfortunately. For most of these guys, that’ll probably be the case in 2019 as well. The two big exceptions are Rosen and Kirk—they are the present *and* future of the offense and should make a much bigger impact in 2019.

Of course, whomever we wind up drafting with the #1 overall pick will also have a huge impact. And with the first pick in each round of April’s draft, it’s very safe to expect this year’s draft class to be more impactful than last year’s overall. For now, let’s settle in for the next three months’ worth of scouting, mock drafts, and trade rumors. Should be a blast!

Your turn to weigh in, Cardinals fans. What did you think of the 2018 rookie class? How do you think they’ll develop in 2019? Who was the standout performer to you? Let us know in the comments.

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