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Cardinals' 90-man roster analysis: Defensive line

The Arizona Cardinals are hoping the play of 2016 first round draft choice Robert Nkemdiche will be able to offset the loss of veteran Calais Campbell, who left the organization in free agency.

Tier Key

1: Players who, barring a significant setback or injury, will make the Cardinals' 53-man roster this season

2: Players who must compete for a spot on the Cardinals' 53-man roster this season

3: Players who are likely to be cut by the Cardinals prior to the team finalizing its 53-man roster this season

Defensive line

Tier 1: Robert NkemdicheJosh MauroRodney Gunter

Analysis: Following the departure of nine-year NFL veteran Calais Campbell to Jacksonville via free agency, the Cardinals' defensive line has taken on a completely different look heading into the 2017 season. A unit that was once considered the strong point of Arizona's defense could wind up being its weak link, as the Cardinals don't have a standout player at any of the three positions along their defensive front. While Arizona lacks star power, the franchise has quietly collected a group of players who are solid, if unspectacular, and perfectly capable of holding together a defensive front that doesn't necessarily need to be great. The hope for the Cardinals this season is that second-year lineman Robert Nkemdiche enjoys the type of sophomore season 2015 first round selection D.J. Humphries did, because a breakout campaign could help ease the team's concerns regarding Nkemdiche's motor and passion. While Nkemdiche will certainly have a spot on the Cardinals' roster, we believe only two other players are essentially guaranteed jobs this season, even though at least three or four, and potentially all five of the tier two players could start the year on the Cardinals' 53-man roster. Josh Mauro has played himself into contention for a starting job after beginning his career as an undrafted free agent, while Rodney Gunter has demonstrated the type of positional flexibility the Cardinals value on their defensive front. Though neither player is going to catch much attention for their play, both are fine options along the defensive line who have proven themselves as capable run-stoppers during the early going in their careers. 

Tier 2: Corey PetersFrostee RuckerOlsen PierreEd StinsonXavier Williams

Analysis: Though veterans like Corey Peters and Frostee Rucker should theoretically find themselves on the Cardinals' opening week roster, both players will still have their work cut out for them in fall camp. Peters is an aging nose tackle with a larger contract and a history of injury issues that could make him a candidate to become a cap casualty, while Rucker is in the twilight stage of his career and may not have the juice to have a considerable role in Arizona's rotation anymore. If Rucker and Peters show up to training camp and prove they can produce, both players will likely end up on the roster. However, the Cardinals have been encouraged by the play of some of their younger linemen, namely Olsen Pierre and Xavier Williams, who were both undrafted free agents who carved out a spot with the team last season. The Cardinals believe Pierre has plenty of upside but is still too raw, while the team likes Williams' motor and thought enough of him to make him a backup nose tackle. A wildcard is Ed Stinson, who was a bit slow at the line of scrimmage last season and doesn't project as a starter. Do the Cardinals still feel like Stinson adds value? Or do they want to go in a different direction? Time will tell for the Alabama product as training camp unfolds.

Tier 3: Pasoni Tasini

Analysis: The lone undrafted free agent along the defensive line from the class of 2017 still on the roster after the first rookie minicamp, Tasini is a high-motor player who might have as good of a chance to make the Cardinals' 53-man roster as any tier three player on the 90-man roster. Tasini received excellent technical coaching at Utah, and he reminds us a bit of Mauro because he came from a Pac-12 school, was overlooked during the draft, and could wind up becoming a solid player for a Cardinals team that is always in search of extra depth along the defensive line. While Tasini's road to the opening week roster will undoubtedly be a difficult one, Arizona kept nine defensive linemen on the active roster last year and the team hasn't exactly prioritized adding depth via free agency during the offseason. 

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