<
>

Robert Nkemdiche key in how losing Calais Campbell affects Cardinals

I actually don’t think the Arizona Cardinals losing Calais Campbell to free agency will have as big of an impact as it could. That’s not saying his absence won’t be felt; it’ll leave a major void in the defense, and not just because he’s 6-foot-8. If the Cardinals didn’t have two dominant outside pass-rushers as they do in Markus Golden and Chandler Jones, then, yes, I’d say losing Campbell would have the biggest impact on next season because opposing offenses would have one less pass-rusher to worry about and could focus their attention on one side of the defensive line.

But with Jones and Golden on either side of the line, losing Campbell won’t be felt as much, especially if Robert Nkemdiche begins playing as the Cardinals expect him to. As long as the Cardinals can get pressure off the edge, the interior pass-rushers could reap the rewards. Campbell broke out for eight sacks in 2016 because he wasn’t double-teamed as much with offensive lines paying so much attention to Jones and Golden. As long as those two continue to play at high, productive levels, Arizona's interior pass-rushers – Nkemdiche, Frostee Rucker, Rodney Gunter, Ed Stinson and Josh Mauro -- will continue seeing one-on-one blockers, which makes their life all the easier.

But if Nkemdiche doesn’t play like the first-round pick he was in 2016, the Cardinals’ defensive line could be in trouble. Rucker will be steady all season and Gunter will be solid, but Nkemdiche has the most talent on that line. If he doesn’t use it, Arizona’s interior pass rush could struggle.

Where I think Campbell’s presence will be missed is in the Cardinals' locker room. He was a steadying force, someone who was even-keeled and a leader. He commanded a lot of respect from teammates and was the type of player any franchise would want to represent it in public.

However, I think the biggest question for 2017 will be how the veterans keep the locker room in line, something that was an issue last season. Too many of the younger players didn’t use the older players as mentors and did their own thing to an extent. That was one reason why the Cardinals pursued veterans in free agency, particularly Karlos Dansby. Getting a locker-room presence like him will fill the void left by Campbell’s departure and help change the culture of the locker room yet again.