"Making the Cut"
As the Arizona Cardinals begin their quest to cut the team's roster size from 90 to 53 by the end of the preseason, we're taking a look at the key players at each position group and determining their odds of making the final cut.
Age: Barkley: 25, Coker: 23
Experience: Barkley: 4th season, Coker: Rookie
Contract status: Barkley 2016 salary: $705,000, Coker 2016 salary: $451,666
2015 season quick review: Barkley joined the Cardinals at the end of the preseason last year after being traded from the Philadelphia Eagles and served as the team's third-string quarterback behind Carson Palmer and Drew Stanton. The acquisition of Barkley was somewhat surprising considering Logan Thomas and Phillip Sims battled through training camp for the third-string role, but the Cardinals opted to bring Barkley aboard and swapped a seventh round selection with the Eagles to add him to the roster. Barkley did not appear in a game last season, and will find himself in competition for the third-string job this year with Coker, who is coming off a National Championship with the Alabama Crimson Tide. Coker only played one full season as the starter at Alabama, but completed an SEC-best 66 percent of his passes and played his most efficient games during the postseason.
Projected roster status: The Cardinals have traditionally kept three quarterbacks on the active roster during Arians' tenure, and the anticipation is that either Barkley or Coker will wind up making the team and serving as the team's third quarterback. However, some NFL teams prefer to keep two quarterbacks, and if the Cardinals elect to pursue this option, the organization could stash Coker on the practice squad and leave a roster spot for an extra lineman or defensive back.
Projected depth chart status: As we noted in Stanton's "Making the cut" piece, it would come as a significant surprise if either Barkley or Coker surpassed the career backup and became the team's second-string quarterback. However, with Stanton due to make $4 million next season, it's conceivable the winner of this year's third-string job could wind up as the backup next season in a scenario where the Cardinals are looking to cut costs and part ways with Stanton.
Position group analysis: Since general manager Steve Keim and head coach Bruce Arians assumed their respective roles with the organization, the Cardinals have done a nice job creating competition at the bottom of the depth chart at quarterback. Though not everything has worked out in their favor (e.g. Logan Thomas), the Cardinals have made a consistent effort to prepare their backups in the event of an injury to Palmer. While many fans saw a lifeless offense when both Palmer and Stanton were injured in 2014, the truth is that almost no team in the NFL can compete with a third-string quarterback in the developmental stage of his career. The goal of keeping a player like Barkley or Coker in the fold is to have a young player who can keep the team afloat in a catastrophic situation, as the Cardinals' saw the danger of having an unprepared third-string quarterback when Stanton was injured in 2014.
Moving forward: It's challenging to say whether Barkley truly has a future in the NFL considering he has appeared in just four games over three seasons. As a rookie, Barkley attempted 49 passes and threw four interceptions without throwing a touchdown, but he's had a few years to build on that experience and said upon arriving in Arizona last fall the Cardinals' offense was more tailored toward his skill set. Nevertheless, the team saw what he could do in practice last season, and still elected to resign Stanton to serve as the team's backup. As for Coker, there's much more promise regarding his career even though Coker went undrafted after winning a national title. At 6-foot-5, Coker has the size to be an NFL passer, and he actually possesses decent mobility. The main question regarding Coker is whether or not he can improve his mechanics to the point where he becomes an accurate, reliable passer, but if he shows improvement quickly, Coker could have the inside track at winning the third-string job.
Key skill: Barkley: Mobility, Coker: Arm strength
If Barkley stood 6-foot-5 or taller, the odds are strong he would have been drafted ahead of the fourth round out of USC. Though not every successful NFL quarterback is on the taller side, Barkley doesn't possess the escapability of a player like Russell Wilson or the quick release of a Drew Brees to compensate for his 6-foot-2 frame. Since his days with the Trojans, coaches have asked Barkley to move the pocket and get creative with angles to take advantage of his arm to make him a more efficient quarterback.
For Barkley to be successful, he doesn't need the mobility to tuck and run, but he does need to be able to extend plays, roll on play action passes, and have quick feet in the pocket to adjust throwing lanes. In Philadelphia, Barkley was likely overwhelmed by the unorthodox footwork often required of a Chip Kelly quarterback, and in the images below, we see why Barkley's mobility is so important.
At the snap, Barkley is prepared to start the play in shotgun formation with two receivers to his left and one to his right. Immediately, though, Barkley is asked to roll to his left, at a somewhat unnatural angle for a right-handed quarterback.
As Barkley looks for a receiver coming open over the middle, he loses his mechanics and prepares to throw across his body. While this type of rollout play isn't commonly asked of NFL quarterbacks, Barkley will be asked to roll to both his left and his right to make throws on the run. In this situation, Barkley was clearly uncomfortable, and as he rushes to throw, the pass is tipped by the defender in front of him and subsequently intercepted.
If Barkley hopes to beat out Coker, he will have to demonstrate better mechanics and a more thorough understanding of the Cardinals' scheme than his counterpart. This is certainly possible, but Barkley will also need to show he can execute plays that are tailored for his skills like rollouts and quick-hitters.
While Coker's mechanics and decision-making often left something to be desired at Alabama, he did impress with his arm strength. Aside from Connor Cook of Michigan State, Coker was one of the more accurate downfield passers when he did decide to take rare gambles. The Cardinals will likely want Coker to be more aggressive in practice, especially as the competition for the third-string job heats up. In the images below, we'll see a great example of Coker's arm strength as he's rolling out of the pocket while being chased by a defender.
Though Coker's film is a bit blurry, you can see a defensive end chasing Coker up the field which forces Coker to circle around outside of the pocket and throw on the run. Coker shows impressive mobility for a player at 6-foot-5, and as soon as he creates an angle around the pass rusher, he whips the ball on a line 25 yards down the field. Coker had the benefit of throwing to a wide open receiver, but the ball got there in a hurry and he needed to make this throw quickly because of the defensive pursuit in his face. If Coker can refine his mechanics and learn the playbook quickly this fall, his arm strength gives him a chance to beat out Barkley for the third-string job.
Overall value: Unless either Barkley or Coker enters a game this season, it's going to be difficult to measure the value of each player to the Cardinals. Neither player has a significant contract, so both are on the roster primarily for insurance purposes, but the Cardinals will work to develop each quarterback with the goal of seeing visible improvement by the end of the season. In all likelihood, there's a greater chance the organization will be able to recognize value in Coker, who did not cost the team a draft pick yet could still become the team's third-string quarterback this season. Though Coker throws a solid deep ball which is a skill the Cardinals' scheme requires, it will probably take at least a full season of reworking his mechanics to become a viable option as a backup. If Coker does end up seeing the field at some point, the Cardinals' signed him for a menial sum, so decent production would make the contract worthwhile.