Mark J. Rebilas/USA Today Sports

53-man roster defensive projection 2.0

Our latest defensive projections have the Cardinals keeping a new outside linebacker and adding a rookie draft pick to the final roster.

After Sunday's contest against the Houston Texans, the Arizona Cardinals will have less than 48 hours to cut their roster down from 90 players to 75 players.

On Monday, CardinalsSource will release our cut list projections, but heading into Sunday's matchup, CardinalsSource has made key changes to our 53-man roster projections for head coach Bruce Arians' squad. We split the projections into two separate pieces (offense, defense) to highlight and expand upon the changes to our projections.

After making a slight adjustment on the offensive side of the ball and changing projections regarding how many quarterbacks and tight ends Arizona will keep, we're holding firm on the number of defensive players the Cardinals will hang onto at each position but making slight changes to the final list of players.

Defensive Overview

Defensive line

Rodney Gunter Corey Peters Calais Campbell
Frostee Rucker Ed Stinson Robert Nkemdiche
Josh Mauro

In our initial roster projections, we pegged the defensive line as the most difficult group to judge because it's the deepest position group for the Cardinals. With the end of the preseason rapidly approaching, decisions aren't any easier for the coaching staff, and we have decided to stick with the seven players we initially listed to make the final roster. Throughout camp, Xavier Williams has put himself in a strong position to make the team if any lineman suffered an injury, but unfortunately for Williams, the group continues to get healthier. Both Frostee Rucker and Robert Nkemdiche have returned from injury, and the Cardinals may end up cutting both Williams and Red Bryant, who both have the capabilities to make an NFL roster and help a team this season. In cutting Williams, though, the Cardinals may be able to sign him to the practice squad and keep him as an emergency player. 

Inside linebacker

Kevin Minter Deone Bucannon
Alani Fua Gabe Martin

Much like defensive line, the decisions regarding the Cardinals' inside linebacker personnel should come down to the final moments and the last two preseason games could make an impact regarding which players the Cardinals keep. At this point, we think Chris Clemons has enjoyed a superior camp to both Alani Fua and Gabe Martin, but each player gives the team more special teams depth than Clemons does. Late summer free agent acquisition Donald Butler hasn't done enough to put himself in consideration for a roster spot at this point, and it's unlikely he will end up on the final roster. 

Outside linebacker

Chandler Jones Markus Golden
Alex Okafor Kareem Martin
Tristan Okpalaugo

In our first projections, we listed Shaquille Riddick ahead of Tristan Okpalaugo because of Riddick's status as a former draft choice and Okpalaugo's uphill battle coming from the Canadian Football League. At this point in the preseason, it has become abundantly clear to us that Okpalaugo is the superior player and has far more upside than Riddick as a pass rusher, and the team would be wise to keep him and train him as a third down specialist. Okpalaugo doesn't play with the necessary consistency to contribute much, but he's far more developed than Riddick right now. Because Josh Mauro has practiced at outside linebacker, though, we could envision a scenario where the Cardinals cut both Okpalaugo and Riddick, use Mauro as the fifth outside linebacker, and add an extra cornerback or defensive tackle. 

Cornerback

Patrick Peterson Brandon Williams
Harlan Miller Justin Bethel

We wrote earlier this week that Justin Bethel's successful return from injury aids Harlan Miller's quest to make the Cardinals' roster, and we could find out much more about Miller's prospects over the next five days. If Miller plays with the second unit against the Texans on Sunday and at least comes close to matching the performance of Cariel Brooks, the team could be more inclined to keep Miller because it allows the Cardinals to hang onto a draft pick. However, if Brooks is clearly the best option and the team isn't worried about giving up a draft pick, then we will add Brooks to our final roster projections in place of Miller. At this point, the Cardinals appear destined to keep five safeties, including two players in Tyrann Mathieu and Tyvon Branch who are more than capable nickel corners, so the overall impact of a fourth cornerback is mitigated to some degree by their presence.

Safety

Tyrann Mathieu Tyvon Branch
Tony Jefferson D.J. Swearinger
Marqui Christian

As a fifth round draft pick, Marqui Christian had to compete and perform well during fall camp to put himself in consideration for a roster spot, and though Christian's skill set is raw, he has demonstrated more than enough potential to secure a roster spot. Christian isn't ready to compete on an every down basis just yet, but as the Cardinals' fifth safety, he'll more than likely spend the year learning from a knowledgeable group of veterans and contributing on special teams. As for the first four safeties listed, only D.J. Swearinger entered the preseason with questions regarding his roster status, but Swearinger has taken so many first team reps during camp that it would be hard to imagine the Cardinals cutting him before the regular season. 


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