As the Arizona Cardinals begin their quest to cut the team's roster size from 90 to 53 by the end of the preseason, we're taking a look at every player at each position group and determining their odds of making the final cut.
Player: John Brown
Position: Wide receiver
Experience: 4th NFL season
Contract status: 2017-$1,932,725, 2018-Unrestricted free agent
2016 season quick review: The 2016 season marked the most challenging of Brown's career as the Pittsburg State product was diagnosed with sickle-cell trait early in the season. Though Brown was still able to compete, managing the pain, especially in his hamstrings, caused by sickle-cell trait was a significant challenge and led to a drop in production. Outside of a 10-catch, 144-yard performance in the Cardinals' week four loss against the Los Angeles Rams, Brown averaged fewer than two receptions per game and wound up finishing the year with the worst statistical output of his three-year career. Brown's drop off couldn't have come at a worse time for the Cardinals, either, as fellow outside receiver Michael Floyd was struggling through a dismal season marred by inconsistencies and dropped passes. One positive sign for Brown was that he and the Cardinals felt as though he was able to get his pain under control by the end of the season, and in week 15, he enjoyed his second best contest of the year as he nabbed five passes for 81 yards and a touchdown in Arizona's loss to New Orleans. This spring, Brown is starting fresh and multiple reports indicate he's prepared to return to the form he found during a breakout 2015 season.
Projected roster status: The Cardinals need Brown healthy, and as long as he's able to manage his pain and hit the practice field every day, Brown will find himself on the team's 53-man roster this fall.
Projected depth chart status: With Floyd now out of the picture and the Cardinals waiting until the third round of this year's draft to select a wide receiver, the goal for Brown and Arizona's coaching staff is that he emerges as the top outside threat on Arizona's roster. Even though Brown is just 5-foot-11 and weighs 179 pounds, he's a vertical threat who can stretch the field with his speed and assert himself as one of Carson Palmer's go-to targets. As long as Brown stays healthy this year, he has a great chance of finishing among the top two-to-three players on the roster in receptions.
CardinalsSource.com analysis: The Cardinals have prided themselves on finding steals in the third round of the NFL Draft under general manager Steve Keim and head coach Bruce Arians, and after the conclusion of Brown's sophomore season in the league, he looked like another brilliant pick by the organization's higher ups. In 2015, Brown gave the Cardinals' offense exactly what it was looking for: a deep threat who could stretch the field and open up opportunities for receivers like Larry Fitzgerald and Michael Floyd who didn't have the same vertical presence. The Cardinals capitalized on Brown's speed, as he nabbed 65 receptions for 1,003 yards and appeared poised to become one of the franchise's top skill position players. However, the setback caused by Brown's diagnosis of sickle-cell trait in 2016 has created serious concerns about Brown's long-term future, and the Cardinals are desperately hoping that the plan Brown and the team's medical staff has devised to manage his pain works. When Brown is at his best, he's able to run the full gamut of routes, cut on a dime, and find holes in zones thanks to impressive change of direction skills. When Brown is limited, he's a slightly built receiver who doesn't have the same burst of explosiveness, and therefore, the same value. Brown isn't going to be a possession receiver because he's not big or physical enough to compete for passes in tight quarters, so his game relies quite a bit on his ability to break down the back half of a defense. Fortunately for Brown, Arizona's offense gives him plenty of opportunities to do that, which is why when healthy, he's an excellent fit for the Cardinals' scheme.
Overall value: As a third round draft pick, Brown entered the NFL with high expectations and the assumption that he'd be able to provide the Cardinals offense with considerable production within the first few seasons of his NFL career. Because Brown was able to deliver during his first two seasons, he enhanced the value of the Cardinals' pick, and as a small school prospect, helped build up the reputation of Arizona's scouting department. Now, entering the fourth and final year of Brown's rookie contract, he'll need to return to the form he played with in 2014 and 2015 to ensure Arizona is getting the maximum value from a priority draft pick. Even though rookie contracts aren't much of a hit on an organization's bottom line, every NFL team needs its draft picks, especially early ones, to become contributors to have a chance to build out the rest of the roster in a thorough manner.