Cardinals Criticized for Team’s ‘Most Boneheaded Decision of 2021’

Getty Images General manager Steve Keim looks on before a game in 2021.

Sitting at 9-2 with the bye underway, the Arizona Cardinals have little to nothing to worry about.

The most important area to improve for the club is to get healthy. The team has strung together despite losing key players in star quarterback Kyler Murray, All-Pro receiver Deandre Hopkins, running back Chase Edmonds, and Pro-Bowler J.J. Watt.

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It wasn’t easy. Many players throughout the season have come on and off the Reserve/COVID list. As of November 11, the Cardinals led the league in most players on the COVID list with 22. Even Head coach Kliff Kingsbury and GM Steve Keim were unavailable against their win against the Cleveland Browns in October.

Kingsbury and Keim have made a litany of smart game plans and decisions in 2021 to make the organization go from mediocre to a Super Bowl contender.

But even with the NFL’s best record, there is one Cardinals situation that is being scrutinized by the media.

Writer Blasts Draft Pick

Bleacher Report writer Brent Sobleski termed Arizona’s first-round selection of linebacker Zaven Collins as the team’s “most boneheaded decision” of the 2021 NFL campaign.

Rookie linebacker Zaven Collins could turn out to be a fine defender for the Arizona Cardinals. The issue isn’t necessarily with him as a player, though he needs to be more than a sub-package defender after being selected with the 16th pick. The positional value and resulting usage are the problems.

While the piece was written on November 18, his take rings even more true. Collins played 23 snaps against the Panthers. Against the Seahawks in Week 11, Collins played in zero snaps and was primarily assigned to special teams.

Defensive coordinator Vance Joseph spoke about his lack of playing time in Week 11.

“He was doing a good job and playing really well for us and he got nicked a couple of weeks ago,” Joseph said. “It kind of slowed him down a little bit.

While Collins sustained a shoulder injury against the Packers, he wasn’t on the injury report in Weeks 10 and 11. Before being put on IR, 26-year-old sixth-round pick Tanner Vallejo received more snaps than Collins.

“It kind of slowed him down a little bit,” Joseph spoke on Collins’ shoulder issue. “Tanner (Vallejo) obviously was playing good football for us. And during that time he played so well I didn’t want to change it back to Zaven.”

Joseph did hint at Collins getting more reps.

“He’s back and he’s working, and he’s looking forward to getting more reps next week,” Joseph said.

The situation is very reminiscent of Isaiah Simmons’ growing pains in 2020. Simmons didn’t have a snap percentage above 29% in the first nine weeks of his rookie season. But now with Simmons emerging and Jordan Hicks leading the team in tackles, it’s hard for Collins to be a fixture.

Writer Wanted Cards to Target CB’s

There’s still plenty of time for Collins to figure it out and develop. The 22-year-old still has the makeup of being a quality, athletic MIKE linebacker down the road.

Sobleski wrote on why Arizona could’ve sought after the cornerback position in the draft.

For years, the Arizona Cardinals failed to find a quality bookend to cornerback Patrick Peterson. The all-time great left the team during the offseason, and the Cardinals still aren’t settled at the position. Yes, the group is playing better than expected as the league’s eighth-ranked pass defense. But the unit doesn’t have a long-term answer at the position beyond Byron Murphy Jr.

Sobleski is right and wrong in this argument. Yes, the unit doesn’t have a long-term answer at the position beyond Byron Murphy Jr. Fourth-round rookie corner Marco Wilson has had an up-and-down season.

But with Robert Alford’s emergence, the Cards are completely settled at the position in 2021. Alford is one of the best outside corners in football at age 33.

If Collins wasn’t picked, Sobleski mentions three draftable corners in the first round.

Maybe the Cardinals weren’t comfortable with Caleb Farley’s injury history and passed on the eventual 22nd pick. That’s fine. Greg Newsome II (No. 26) and Eric Stokes (No. 29) were the next two cornerbacks off the board and they’ve thrived as rookies.

Farley tore his ACL in October and the injury history was already troublesome heading into the draft.

But Sobleski makes a good argument on Newsome II and Stokes, who were tied for the most forced incompletions for rookies before Week 11.

Keim has taken linebackers in back-to-back years. If you had to dissect his shortcomings in 2021, the Collins pick could be at the near top of the list so far. Luckily for Keim, the list is very short.

One of the longest-tenured GMs in the NFL currently, Keim has made the case for being Executive of the Year. He’s executed trades for Rodney Hudson and Zach Ertz, signing A.J. Green, James Conner, J.J. Watt and Colt McCoy and drafted Rondale Moore in the second round.

The team has rallied around the “maybe we’re just better” mantra made by Watt. Bringing in the veteran leadership and combining it with young talent has been Keim’s best achievement.

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