NFL Nation reporter Josh Weinfuss assesses which rookies on the Cardinals could earn a starting berth this season.
Why David Johnson could start: The main reason Johnson could start for the Cardinals is that he fits a need. Arizona needs a big back who can run between the tackles and can get short yards. He fits the billing. With last year’s starter Andre Ellington completely healthy after an injury-plauged season, it became obvious that being the feature back took its toll on Ellington. He’s better suited to run in space and has breakaway speed. Though Johnson is quick, he doesn’t have that type of quickness in open space. Physically, Johnson has all the traits of a starting NFL tailback. He’s tall, muscular, lean. His looks alone can be an intimidation factor. Then when he starts to play, it’s obvious that he has what it takes to be a starter. But in Arizona’s offense, there might not be a true starter. In a two-back backfield, however, Johnson would be the obvious No. 2.
Why D.J. Humphries could start: It’s not about how you start, it’s about how you finish. It’s a cliché as old as sports, but it’s applicable to Humphries. He was criticized for his maturity during organized team activities by Cardinals coach Bruce Arians, but received earnest praise during minicamp for his progress. And there is a reason they drafted Humphries in the first round. Right tackle Bobby Massie is entering the final year of his rookie contract, and it’s clear the Cards don’t want him back in 2016. If Humphries made that much progress in just a couple of weeks, there is a distinct possibility he can continue to grow and mature during the seven-week break before training camp and then during camp. If he’s ready to go by the end of the preseason, why wait to start the Humphries era? Why not bench Massie and start the rookie? It could happen. If Humphries can show better form and not be pushed backward by oncoming pass-rushers, the change could happen quicker than expected.
Why Markus Golden could start: There is a need -- a glaring need -- for the Cardinals to improve their pass rush. The primary way to do that is by applying pressure from the outside. The Cardinals went from 47 sacks in 2013 to 35 last season. A big reason was the loss of John Abraham (who had 11.5 sacks in 2013) for the last 15 games. Though Alex Okafor came into his own last season with a team-high eight sacks and has one outside linebacker job locked down, there is still room for another pass-rusher. And that’s where Golden could have a good shot at starting. His primary competition to begin will be: Lorenzo Alexander, who told ESPN he feels he is better suited as a two-down linebacker so he can contribute more on special teams; Kareem Martin, a second-year player who is moving from defensive end to outside linebacker; and LaMarr Woodley, a veteran who is capable of double-digit sacks but has dealt with injuries recently. If Golden can apply constant pressure and he transitions outside from defensive end, he can end up being a starter. But with the Cardinals’ defense, like with running back, there might not be defined starters because of the rotation among the front seven.