Linebacker Named ‘Most Underappreciated’ Cardinals Player

Markus Golden

Getty A veteran OLB is the Cardinals' "most underappreciated" player.

The Arizona Cardinals lost a star name along the front seven when edge-rusher Chandler Jones joined the Las Vegas Raiders in free agency. Jones was the big-play pass-rusher opposing teams feared and his loss is expected to be felt since the Cards are yet to replace him via the veteran market.

Fortunately for the Cardinals, there’s still one edge defender on the roster who can wreck offenses. He’s an experienced and versatile outside linebacker who has been highly productive during two spells in Arizona, although he’s never earned the league-wide fanfare Jones received.

One analytics expert believes this team leader is the most underappreciated player on the roster, but he’ll take on even more importance this season.

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Unheralded Veteran Expected to Carry Pass Rush

In her article listing the most underappreciated player on each team, NFL Network’s Cynthia Frelund named Markus Golden as the Cardinals player nobody should overlook.

Frelund placed Golden’s value in the context of Jones’ departure: “With Chandler Jones signing in Las Vegas this offseason, Golden will be asked to play an even bigger role than he did last season, when he led Arizona in sacks (12) and hurries (25). Golden’s pressure rate dipped from 17.8 in 2020 to 11.5 in 2021, but that was partly related to how often the Cardinals blitzed — and how often they stuck to blitzing even when it wasn’t working. Arizona blitzed at the third-highest rate last season (35.1) but allowed the most TDs in the NFL when blitzing (18).”

It’s hard not to respect what 31-year-old Golden has put on the field during his time with the Cardinals. He logged 19 sacks in four seasons from 2015-’18 before joining the New York Giants the following year.

Golden returned to Arizona midway through the 2020 season, after the Cardinals traded a sixth-round draft pick to bring him back. It looked like an inspired move when Golden led the team in sacks in 2021.

While Golden couldn’t match Jones’ natural athletic talent and penchant for explosive plays, he consistently finished sacks with graft. Like on this play against the Cleveland Browns in Week 6, highlighted by former Kansas City Chiefs general manager Scott Pioli:

Golden also put together Jones-esque games at crucial moments of the season. While Jones logged five of his 10.5 sacks last season against the Tennessee Titans in Week 1, Golden recorded the first three-sack game of his career eight weeks later against the San Francisco 49ers:

The Cardinals will need more games like this from Golden in 2022.

Replacing Jones No Easy Task

Big games like the one Golden enjoyed against the Niners were often possible because of the attention Jones commanded. More blockers are likely to look Golden’s way this season, especially if those tasked with replacing Jones don’t measure up.

Thankfully, the Cardinals are going to rely on several sources for pressure in the post-Jones era. Among them are rookies Cameron Thomas and Myjai Sanders, both drafted in the third round.

Thomas registered 10.5 sacks for San Diego State in 2021, while Sanders made 13.5 QB takedowns during four seasons at Cincinnati. Those numbers lack a wow factor, so the Cardinals will need some of Golden’s fellow veterans to pick up the slack.

That will require a bounce-back campaign from J.J. Watt. He started only seven games and posted just a single sack last season, thanks to bicep and rotator cuff injuries.

Watt’s 33, but he can still be disruptive when healthy:

Watt isn’t the only player who needs to rebound. Devon Kennard can bring heat off the edge, but the 30-year-old hasn’t notched a sack since 2020.

There are enough moving pieces for defensive coordinator Vance Joseph to scheme a credible pass rush without Jones. Yet, the job will be easier if one member of the group collapses the pocket at a prodigious rate.

Golden is the closest thing the Cards have to a proven and regular game-wrecker off the edge. If he maintains his production without Jones, Golden won’t stay underappreciated for long.

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