Since the Steve Keim-Bruce Arians era began in Arizona in 2013, the Cardinals have been widely recognized as one of the top franchises in the NFL for their talent acquisition, scouting, and player development work.
Keim and Arians have rarely made questionable decisions, but this offseason, the organization's handling of the team's cornerback depth came under scrutiny because of a decision to let returning starter Jerraud Powers walk in free agency.
While Powers wasn't considered a top-flight corner by any means, he was serviceable opposite superstar Patrick Peterson and didn't command a long-term deal in free agency.
To replace Powers, the team extended special teams asset Justin Bethel and selected Texas A&M product Brandon Williams in the third round of April's draft. The Cardinals made those decisions with the goal of having either Bethel or Williams materialize into a starter-caliber option at the position, but after the conclusion of the preseason, the team still faces a world of uncertainty at the position.
Keim attempted to shore up the team's depth at the position by signing veterans Mike Jenkins and Alan Ball, but both players suffered injuries during camp that thwarted their chances of making the roster.
Finally, Keim made one last acquisition through a trade with Kansas City to bring in Marcus Cooper, who will attempt to help Arizona get its current situation under control early in the season.
Patrick Peterson: It's hard to imagine the Cardinals have questions about their cornerback depth when they boast one of the NFL's top players at the position on their roster. Peterson is as dynamic of a play-making threat as there is among NFL cornerbacks, and his ability to shut down an entire side of the field, even against elite receivers, makes the Cardinals defense so difficult to pass against. In the last 80 regular season games the Cardinals have played, Peterson has lined up as a starter which highlights his impressive durability and the franchise's commitment to keeping him on the field. If Peterson plays out his current contract at the same All-Pro level he's demonstrated so far, he has the potential to earn the type of admiration Larry Fitzgerald has garnered from the Cardinals' faithful.
Brandon Williams: From the outset of fall camp, the Cardinals have insisted that Williams' future in the league is as bright as any of the team's recent draft picks. While his athleticism is off the charts, Williams is still new to the cornerback position as he played the spot for just one season at Texas A&M after transitioning from running back. At one point during camp, Arians said the starting job opposite Peterson was Williams' to lose, but by the time Bethel was healthy enough to return, Williams had yet to lock down the starting job. Williams looked completely overwhelmed during his first two preseason games, but improved enough during games three and four that he could be the Cardinals' best week one option. On Wednesday, Arians confirmed the Cardinals believe he's the best option, as he named Williams the starter for the team's season-opener. Brandon Williams, meet Bill Belichick.
Justin Bethel: The Cardinals have been grateful for everything the perennial special teams Pro Bowler has offered the franchise, but starting last season, Arizona wanted Bethel to offer the team more production out of a roster spot it simply had to use on him. Bethel's role began to expand from emergency defensive back to part-time corner last season, and when Powers went down with an injury, the team called upon Bethel to start. The results were mixed, but he performed well enough to convince the team he had at least earned the opportunity to compete for a starting role in 2016. Unfortunately for Bethel, he missed much of camp with an injury and when he returned, he struggled to remain in phase against receivers in preseason competition, leaving questions about his overall capabilities at the position.
Marcus Cooper: The Cardinals have attempted to spin the addition of Cooper to suggest the Kansas City Chiefs were flush with defensive backs and couldn't find a spot for him. While that may be true, it's hard to tell exactly where Cooper will fit into Arizona's scheme because the big-bodied corner was transitioning to safety in Kansas City and in all likelihood, was due to miss the final roster. Keim didn't sacrifice much to acquire Cooper, so he could turn into a low-risk, high-reward option if the team ultimately likes him ahead of Bethel and Williams. However, it's likely Cooper is destined to be a depth option for Arizona this season, as the team commits to overseeing the growth of Bethel or Williams who both have plenty of room to improve.null