Mark J. Rebilas/USA Today Sports

Cardinals' 90-man roster analysis: Cornerback

The Cardinals lost starter Marcus Cooper to free agency, and now it appears the team will move forward with a competition between Justin Bethel and Brandon Williams for a starting role.

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

Cornerback

Tier 1: Patrick PetersonBrandon Williams

Analysis: The Cardinals return Patrick Peterson, the team's first round draft pick in 2011, for his seventh season and have committed to building their secondary around the perennial All-Pro. Peterson is simply one of the league's best cover corners, and if he continues to play at an incredibly high level, Peterson will have no trouble walking right into the Hall of Fame five years after he calls it quits. The Cardinals know the immense value Peterson brings to their defense, and they also know that regardless of who the team starts opposite of him, opposing quarterbacks will always target Arizona's "other" cornerback. Last season, the other cornerback was Marcus Cooper, who drew criticism for his inability to stick with players in man coverage, but ultimately wound up serving as a Pro Bowl alternate. Cooper cashed in on his 2016 campaign, signing a three-year contract with the Chicago Bears that once again leaves the Cardinals searching for a competent counterpart to pair with Peterson. So far, the Cardinals appear content letting second-year corner Brandon Williams battle with veteran Justin Bethel for the starting job in a competition that features two players who will have a tough time matching Cooper's level of play from a season ago. CardinalsSource opted not to include Bethel as a tier one player because if Williams runs away with the job during training camp, Bethel's contract is such that he could become a cap casualty, but still, the odds of that happening are slim. In all likelihood, this is a battle that will play out deep into training camp as Arizona wants to ensure it feels completely confident in the player it does trot onto the field in the team's season opener.

Tier 2: Justin BethelJohnathan "Rudy" FordJumal RolleSojourn Shelton

Analysis: As we stated, Bethel is extremely likely to make the Cardinals' 53-man roster, especially because he agreed to some team-friendly language in his contract this offseason that makes him a much more affordable option for Arizona in 2017. Behind Bethel, though, a trio of three players will likely battle for the right to play behind and learn from Patrick Peterson, including two rookies, Rudy Ford and Sojourn Shelton. Even though Ford was the Cardinals' sixth round draft pick, that won't necessarily guarantee him a roster spot as Arizona placed last year's sixth round pick, Harlan Miller, on the team's practice squad. Ford is also transitioning from safety to cornerback, so how he takes to the position will largely determine whether he ends up on the team's 53-man roster. Shelton will likely enter camp a step ahead of Ford because he was a four-year starter at the position for Wisconsin, and was reportedly the Cardinals' highest priority undrafted free agent signing. It would not come as a surprise if Shelton made the active roster, but he'll probably have to outperform Jumal Rolle, a veteran, for the job. Rolle was an under the radar signing for Arizona who could help the team as a nickel corner or as a depth option, and he's technically the third most experienced cornerback on the Cardinals' roster, which shows how comfortable head coach Bruce Arians is with taking the "Patrick Peterson and then everybody else" approach with this position group. 

Tier 3: Elie Bouka, De'Chavon HayesRyan Lewis, Ronald Zamort

Analysis: It's hard to imagine a tougher road to the active roster for tier three players than at the cornerback position, where Arizona will likely keep four or five players and already has six combined options floating around in tier one and tier two. One of the advantages, though, for these tier three players is that outside of the top three corners on the roster, no cornerback has a contract or draft status that would compel the Cardinals to keep a player when they otherwise might not consider doing so. What that means is that Arians and his coaching staff will be thoroughly evaluating who the best man-to-man coverage players are, because it's those players who will find themselves on the opening week roster. Additionally, Arizona had injury issues with its defensive backs a season ago, so a spot on the Cardinals' practice squad could be a coveted one at the cornerback position. 


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