It’s only been a three-game sample size, but the Arizona Cardinals have shown improvements in a ton of areas from a season ago. The wide receiver position has been electric. The linebackers have been in sync with Vance Joseph’s schemes.
There is one thriving position group that was often looked like an area of weakness.
The corner group.
Uncertainty and chatter about the position group were made by many media pundits before the season. It got even more troubling when free-agent signing Malcolm Butler made a sudden retirement in late August. While the Cardinals added some bodies to their practice squad at defensive back, they never found a capable starting corner.
They’ve chosen the in-house route. So far, it’s worked.
But on September 28, according to NFL insider Ian Rapoport, the Cardinals signed free agent defensive back Quinton Dunbar. He was previously with the Seattle Seahawks in 2020 before being with the Washington Football Team for five seasons.
Dunbar was expected to be the starter of the Detroit Lions, who signed him in the offseason. Unfortunately due to personal reasons, he left at the start of training camp. The Lions proceeded to release Dunbar and has since tried out for the Buffalo Bills and Cardinals on September 28.
He put up an underwhelming Pro Football Focus grade of 47.7 in 2020 for the Seahawks. This will be a depth signing to the practice squad that makes a ton of sense. He’s likely better than Luq Barqoo, who was inactive against the Jaguars.
But for the long haul, this is a move to assure bodies to the defensive back room. The downside for Dunbar is his struggle to stay healthy in his career. He’s yet to play a full season and missed 10 games in 2020 following knee surgery.
Cardinals’ beat reporter Johnny Venerable does mention that Dunbar had a borderline elite season just two seasons ago.
In the meantime, Dunbar should be getting his legs ready for any possible scenario on the practice squad for the next couple of weeks. Fortunately for the Cardinals, the corner room has improved to the max and it starts with a Week 3 performance from a certain stud.
Byron Murphy’s Emergence
Byron Murphy was drafted 33rd in 2019 and had his fair share of ups and downs in his first two seasons. The 23-year-old from Washington has finally shown what his talent can truly be.
Murphy has been great as a slot corner in 2021. His two interceptions against the Jaguars, including a pick-six, has definitely warranted being in the NFC defensive player of the week discussion.
“I knew a shot was gonna come,” Murphy said. “So, I was like, I can’t give up another one. I saw the ball in the running back’s hand, he pitched it back and I just turned my head and ran.”
Murphy’s also the fifth-highest graded Cardinals according to PFF.
Murphy is always trying to be the difference-maker for Arizona.
“That’s always my goal to make a play for the defense,” said Murphy. “I’m trying to go out there and dance and have fun. So once I was able to go out there and make a play, I kind of felt the guys’ energy keep coming so I was just thankful I was able to do that.”
Alford and Wilson on the Outside
It’s been one heck of a journey for Robert Alford, who’s missed the last two seasons due to injury. But Alford has been a great contributor to Joseph’s defense. He’s only given up 10 catches in the first three weeks with a 58.8 completion percentage when targeted.
Coach Kliff Kingsbury was adamant about Alford’s abilities heading into Week 3.
“Physically he looks great. I mean, the skill set is definitely there.”
As for rookie Marco Wilson, he played the best game of his young NFL career. Wilson recorded six tackles and one pass breakup and a forced fumble in the Cardinals’ win. Wilson’s tackling grade on PFF was 80.6, which was easily the best on the team.
Wilson does not have a lack of confidence or a sense of not belonging at all in the NFL. It’s amazing how the fourth-round CB has made the jump to the NFL.
You can criticize GM Steve Keim for past decisions. But so far, the 2021 draft class looks to be a sensation.