The Arizona Cardinals have traditionally kept six receivers on their roster during the regular season, and with a heated battle for roster spots during fall camp, it looked as if Bruce Arians was once again going to consider continuing that trend.
Veteran Brittan Golden battled with former practice squad player Jaxon Shipley and undrafted free agent Chris Hubert for much of camp for the right to call themselves the Cardinals' No. 6 option, but when Arizona finalized its 53-man roster, no member of the trio made the cut.
In a mild surprise, Arizona elected to move forward with just five receivers in a season where it looked as if at least seven players at the position were among the top 53 players in camp. However, both Golden and Hubert signed with the Cardinals' practice squad, so the team has multiple in-house options if a need does arise at the position.
Below are the receivers Arizona decided to keep, all of whom played for the Cardinals last season.
Larry Fitzgerald: After a few seasons of declining production and questions surfacing about Fitzgerald's potential retirement, the face of the Cardinals' franchise resurfaced last year with a career-high 109 receptions as the team's primary option out of the slot. Fitzgerald spent the vast majority of his career playing on the outside, but the move inside helped spark a remarkable improvement in production for a player in his early 30s.
Even if Fitzgerald doesn't come close to matching his production from last season, the emergence of Jaron Brown during fall camp should give the Cardinals another legitimate option for Carson Palmer and allow Arizona to use Fitzgerald in a blocking capacity that he thrives in. When ranking the best blocking receivers in the NFL, Fitzgerald's name is always in the conversation.
Michael Floyd: Floyd could be poised for the best season of his career production-wise because the Cardinals No. 2 receiver is entering a contract season in what should be considered the prime of his career. A former first round draft pick, Floyd has just one 1,000-yard receiving season in four years with the Cardinals, but he's always been relatively consistent.
That consistency will be monitored closely this season because Floyd will command a significant salary on the free agent market and the Cardinals will be faced with a difficult decision whether to re-sign him or let him walk.
John Brown: If Brown is able to build upon his breakout season from last year, he'll be hailed as one of the defining players of the Steve Keim-Bruce Arians era in Arizona because of what he represents. Brown was a third-round draft pick out of little known Pittsburg State, and he's the type of player Arizona never seemed to acquire during the organization's darkest days.
Nowadays, Brown is one of the models for the scouting and talent acquisition work the Cardinals have refined and developed, and his 65-catch, 1,003-yard season in 2015 is further proof the franchise is headed in the right direction. Brown did miss plenty of time during fall camp with a concussion, so the Cardinals will be keeping tabs on his health throughout the season.
Jaron Brown: The Cardinals' fall camp MVP, Brown couldn't be stopped during preseason practices and formed valuable connections with both Palmer and backup quarterback Drew Stanton. Brown's routes were much more crisp than he demonstrated last season, and his ball skills looked increasingly impressive as practices rolled along.
Still, there are important questions to consider when evaluating Brown. Can he maintain the consistency he brought to fall camp over a 16-game regular season? Can he perform as well against deeper, more talented secondaries? And are there even enough opportunities for Brown to see the field in a Cardinals' offense that uses so much 12-personnel?
J.J. Nelson: Arians is obsessed with speed, and that's especially apparent after watching the Cardinals develop Nelson's role last season. Even though the UAB product caught just 11 passes, he racked up 299 receiving yards because he's lauded as the team's best vertical threat. Nelson is almost always running deeper routes than his fellow receivers, with the goal of stretching defenses and allowing Palmer the opportunity to take shots over the top.
Will Nelson ever develop into more than a fourth or fifth option as a wide receiver? Probably not. Still, the Cardinals believe Nelson's presence serves a purpose in their offense, and there's no question they believe his speed is more valuable than the more advanced route running skills we saw from Golden and Shipley during camp.