Josh Rosen among slew of Cardinals' rookies who were forced on field

Josh Rosen showed a few bright spots after being forced into action early this season. Jason Getz/USA TODAY Sports

TEMPE, Ariz. -- Talk about next man up.

The motto became a way of life for the Cardinals in 2018 in large part because the injury bug became a full-blown epidemic, especially late in the season. In Week 17, nine rookies played, including four starters.

If there was any indication of how the season would pan out, by Week 4, Josh Rosen was starting in place of Sam Bradford. The season was a continual revolving door of rookies, which was part of Steve Wilks’ downfall in Arizona.

Grade: Above average

Best rookie: It’s hard to argue against center Mason Cole, who started all 16 games in place of veteran A.Q. Shipley, who tore his ACL during training camp and provided a sliver of consistency on an offensive line that was decimated by injuries. But wide receiver Christian Kirk was the team’s best rookie this year before he broke his foot in Week 13. When Kirk suffered his season-ending injury he was leading the team in receiving yards (590) and yards per reception (13.72).

Most improved rookie: Seventh-round pick Korey Cunningham steadily improved throughout the season to the point where the Cardinals felt comfortable enough to start him six times at offensive tackle. There’s no denying that Cunningham is still a work in progress, but he’s athletic enough to make up for any other issues he has in pass protection and run blocking. Those, however, could be fixed over time.

Jury is still out on …: After a rocky rookie season, the jury is still out on quarterback Josh Rosen. The first-round pick threw 14 interceptions to 11 touchdowns while totaling just 2,278 yards. For all the good he showed -- the ability to move on from bad plays and to come back late in games -- there were plenty of areas that Rosen struggled in. It took him a while to calm down early in games, he didn’t show much finesse with his passes and he tried to make too many “hero” throws, as he called them, fitting passes into small holes. He showed glimpses of talent throughout the season that could lead him to top tier of quarterbacks in the NFL, but if he struggles for another season, especially under new coach Kliff Kingsbury, more questions about his long-term sustainability will begin to be asked.

Undrafted rookie evaluation: Thrust onto the field because of injuries, the Cardinals’ undrafted rookies ended up playing a crucial role this season, especially the likes of wide receiver Trent Sherfield, and linebackers Zeke Turner and Dennis Gardeck, the latter two who made a season-long impact on special teams. Turner was one of the best special teams players in the league while Gardeck was steady all season and stood out in Week 17 at Seattle.