Kliff Kingsbury can usually count on the wide receiver position to be the strength of the Arizona Cardinals’ offense. Things look a little different in 2022, thanks to DeAndre Hopkins being suspended for six games and Christian Kirk leaving during free agency.
Those factors mean the Cardinals will need other wideouts to step up. Fortunately, there’s a strong veteran presence after general manager Steve Keim re-signed A.J. Green and traded a first-round draft pick to the Baltimore Ravens for Marquise ‘Hollywood’ Brown.
Green and Brown will be expected to carry the load, particularly in the absence of Hopkins, but things will be better if Rondale Moore takes a step forward. The second-year man was a roving weapon as a rookie, but Kingsbury has outlined a more streamlined and specific role for Moore this season.
ALL the latest Cardinals news straight to your inbox! Join the Heavy on Cardinals newsletter here!
It’s arguably the most important role in Arizona’s passing game.
Moore Ticketed for the Inside
Kingsbury explained the differences between how Moore was used as a rookie and what he’ll be asked to do this year, per Bob McManaman of the Arizona Republic: “We utilized him in different ways than we will this year. We kind of got it to him in space and did some things and used him on some check downs, but he’s a dynamic route runner. I think that’s what people are going to see. He’s really good getting out of his cuts, good at the top of routes, so I think people are going to see a different side of him.”
As to exactly how and where the Cards will deploy Moore, McManaman said “the 5-foot-7 Moore is pegged to be Arizona’s primary slot receiver.”
That means Moore isn’t the obvious replacement for Hopkins, but the natural pick to emulate what Kirk did for Kingsbury’s offense. What Kirk did was be highly productive from the slot, per PFF ARZ Cardinals:
Kirk finished last season with career-highs for catches, 77, and yards, 982 before joining the Jacksonville Jaguars in March. As his 12.8 yards per reception average showed, Kirk was no mere short-range target between the numbers. He was a legitimate big-play threat over the middle.
That extra dimension to the traditional slot role is something Moore will be expected to emulate.
Moore Needs Vertical Opportunities
To properly replace Kirk, Moore will need plenty of opportunities to attack defenses vertically. He wasn’t afforded many of those as a rookie, according to Establish The Run co-founder Adam Levitan:
Many still see Moore as primarily a horizontal target, including ESPN analyst Matt Bowen. He told his colleague Josh Weinfuss how Moore can still be used on gadget plays: “You can scheme (for Moore) horizontally as a manufactured touch player to get the ball in his hands in jets and bubbles and wide receiver screens like they’ve done in the past.”
That’s not what Kingsbury has in mind, and it makes sense to expand Moore’s responsibilities in this passing game. He’s probably the most sure-handed wideout on the roster:
His efficiency can be even greater from the slot because throws between the numbers are generally easier to complete than low-percentage heaves to the sideline where the windows are smaller.
Moore is also somebody quarterback Kyler Murray is comfortable targeting. McManaman noted how Moore tied “Hopkins for fourth on the team in total targets (64).”
Moore’s core numbers will improve the more he grows into the role Kirk once occupied. Nobody will expect Moore to replicate what Hopkins can do on the outside, not when Green and Brown are around to take the top off of defenses.
Instead, Moore will be the speed mismatch on inside routes. Kingsbury can expand those routes to force defenses to vacate the underneath zones and leave extra room for tight ends Zach Ertz and rookie Trey McBride.
Sending Moore deep from the slot will make the middle of the field Murray’s go-to focus for moving the chains and earning yardage in chunks.