"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.
Players: Jeff Beathard, Amir Carlisle, Chris Hubert, Chris King
Age: Beathard: 23, Carlisle: 23, Hubert: 23, King: 22
Experience: All players-1st season
Contract status: All players: 2016-$450,000, 2017-$540,000, 2018-$630,000
2015 season quick review: All four of the Cardinals' undrafted free agents competing for roster spots spent 2015 at the college level, where they performed with mixed results. Beathard played at Appalachian State where he set career highs with 265 receiving yards and three touchdowns as a vertical threat. Carlisle began his career with Notre Dame as a running back, but transitioned to wide receiver and caught 31 passes for 351 yards as a senior. At Fayetteville State, Hubert led his team with 71 receptions including 13 touchdowns, which helped him to one of the most prolific seasons in school history. As for King, the Duquesne product hauled in 81 passes for 1,136 yards en route to an impressive season that solidified his status as one of the top receivers in his conference.
Projected roster status: Though each of the four players mentioned improved throughout their college careers, it would come as a surprise if any of the players made the Cardinals' 53-man roster. The path for undrafted free agents to make NFL rosters has become increasingly difficult with the attention to detail in the scouting world, and though there are always players that will slip through the cracks, this doesn't feel like a strong year for undrafted roster candidates in Arizona because the team returns so many key assets. Instead, it's much more likely the most successful member of the group of four ends up on the Cardinals' practice squad, and will have a better opportunity to compete for a roster spot in 2017.
Projected depth chart status: In the unlikely event that Beathard, Carlisle, Hubert or King does make the Cardinals' final roster, it will be a difficult task to rise up the depth chart and make an impact. With the top five receivers all returning to Arizona this fall, an undrafted free agent who makes the team would likely serve as the No. 5 or No. 6 receiver on the depth chart, see limited playing time, and place the majority of his contributions in special teams roles.
Position group analysis: Arizona has one of the most prolific passing attacks in the NFL and returns quarterback Carson Palmer who set a career-high with 4,671 passing yards, but even the receivers at the bottom of the Cardinals' depth chart last season found it difficult to contribute on offense. With an elite trio atop the depth chart in Larry Fitzgerald, Michael Floyd and John Brown, the Cardinals are at least one year away from transitioning toward different playmakers. Nevertheless, a strong showing in fall camp from an undrafted free agent could help the team stash away a hidden talent on the practice squad and allow for that player to grow with another opportunity available in 2017.
Moving forward: When NFL rosters hold 90 players, a significant portion (In this case 16 players) are brought in after the draft almost exclusively for a closer evaluation while at the same time providing teams with depth to run more complete practices. On the first day of OTAs, head coach Bruce Arians said the Cardinals third and fourth string players practiced separately from the starters and received just as many reps. This is only possible with a 90-man roster, and aside from receiving an evaluation from NFL coaches, the undrafted free agents the Cardinals brought in are also allowing the team to practice at full strength. In all likelihood, making the roster will be a tremendously difficult task for undrafted wide receivers this season, so the team can only hope to find a developmental talent worthy of a practice squad spot.
Key skill: Perseverance
Without even preseason film to work off of, it's difficult to say how each of the four undrafted free agents will adjust to the NFL ranks and take to the Cardinals' offensive scheme. That further complicates the road to the final roster, but these players signed on with the Cardinals knowing what personnel were already in the fold.
The goal for players as undrafted free agents is to continue to make progress on a week-to-week basis, and to scrape past each roster cut. The further a player makes it into the preseason, the smaller the roster becomes. That means there are more reps available deeper into fall camp, and the longer a team looks at a player, the better the opportunity for a team to find a skill or ability that the team values.
Perseverance is key for any NFL player during fall camp, but especially for undrafted free agents enduring a long uphill road to relevancy.
Overall value: The only way in which the Cardinals can begin to recognize the overall value on the contracts of undrafted free agents is for those players to make the final roster. With at least three and in all likelihood four undrafted free agents who won't make the final roster, the Cardinals' won't need to pay Beathard, Carlisle, Hubert and King any of their contract aside from the signing bonuses the teams have already committed to each player.