Being a first-year head coach is never an easy task, especially when you’re trying to win in a division that includes three teams that have have made a combined five trips to the Super Bowl since 2012. Despite the formidable competition, along with a six-game losing streak that essentially ended any hope of the franchise’s first winning season since 2015, first year coach Kliff Kingsbury’s team was able to end the season on a high note. Arizona, led by Offensive Rookie of the Year Kyler Murray, All-Pro linebacker Chandler Jones and Pro Bowl safety Budda Baker, won two of its final three games that included a win over the Seahawks, the team’s only victory against a fellow NFC West team in 2019.

While the competition hasn’t gotten any easier, the Cardinals are better equipped to deal with the challenges that lie ahead in 2020. In the draft, Arizona was able to select former Clemson standout Isaiah Simmons, a linebacker/safety hybrid who was among the top performers at this year’s NFL combine. The Cardinals also picked Houston tackle Josh Jones, one of the top-rated offensive linemen in the draft, as well as Utah defensive tackle Leki Fotu, LSU defensive lineman Rashard Lawrence, Cal linebacker Evan Weaver, and Arizona State running back Eno Benjamin. Each player is expected to play a significant role on the Cardinals in 2020.

Arizona also made a splash in free agency, acquiring All-Pro receiver DeAndre Hopkins from the Texans. Hopkins will get a chance to play alongside Larry Fitzgerald, who will be fitted for a gold jacket as soon as he is eligible.

With Week 1 just around the corner, here are three bold predictions for the Cardinals’ 2020 season.

1. Murray rushes for over 1,000 yards en route to first Pro Bowl selection

The 2018 Heisman Trophy winner made the most of his offseason. With the help of his longtime trainer as well as Cardinals strength and conditioning coach Buddy Morris, Murray added somewhere between 7 and 9 pounds onto his 5-foot-10 frame with the hopes of being more durable this season. Murray also worked to improve his flexibility and range of motion.

Murray worked on increasing his speed by doing a series of tempo runs that he hopes will help him be just as strong in the fourth quarter as he is in the first.

“He’s obviously put on some mass, and so he’s bigger, thicker,” Kingsbury said of his quarterback, via ESPN’s John Weinfuss. “I think he understood it’s a long season, you’re going to take a bit of a pounding, and he wanted to bulk up in that area.”

A bigger, faster Murray may possibly lead to more rushing yards after toting the rock just 93 times last season. Murray, who rushed for 1,001 yards and 12 touchdowns during his final season at Oklahoma, could possibly join Michael Vick and Lamar Jackson as the NFL’s only 1,000-yard rushers.

“He’s a weapon that can be utilized more, there’s no question,” Kingsbury said, via the team’s official website. “There is that fine line of walking it because we know how talented he is and what he means to this team, so we want to limit his exposure to getting hit as much as possible – but when he takes off, he can be electric and he can get us going and he can make big plays with his feet.”

2. Fitzgerald, Hopkins, and Kirk each eclipse 1,000 receiving yards

Murray has already begun thinking about making this bold prediction a reality. Kingsbury, when asked about the possibility of having three 1,000-yard receivers in 2020, didn’t rule it out, either.

“Those are three guys that I think on any team can be a No. 1-type player, even Fitz going in Year 17,” Kingsbury said. “He is so effective at getting open, so savvy in his route running, such an intelligent player that he’s going to get his catches and get his yards each and every week.

“We feel like Christian is really an ascending player. He was having a really big year and got banged up a little bit last year. And then Hop, his numbers and production speaks for itself. … If we got into a deal where we’re throwing it a bunch, yeah, I mean, anything could happen.”

While Fitzgerald and Hopkins’ exploits are well documented, Kirk, a second-round pick in the 2018 draft, could be another receiver on the rise. Last season, Kirk caught 68 passes for 709 yards and three scores. And while Hopkins will likely take some of his targets away (he had 108 of them last season), Kirk should still have the opportunity to make plays, considering how much attention defenses will be paying to Hopkins and Fitzgerald. 

Speaking of Fitzgerald, Hopkins has relished the opportunity to play with one of the most productive receivers in league history. 

“I’ve had nothing but respect for Larry since I started playing football, since I knew I wanted to be a receiver and before that,” Hopkins said, via Sports Illustrated’s Mason Kern. “I have a lot of respect for Larry and the way he carries himself not just on the field, but off the field. And he’s a guy that I looked up to, someone that I called when I had issues with my contract on my previous team and he gave me great advice. And I listened to that advice and, obviously, it’s led me to help my career and be where I’m at now.”

3. Cardinals post best record since 2015

In 2019, the Cardinals got off to a surprising 3-3-1 start before losing six straight games. A large reason for the losing streak was lack of protection surrounding Murray (who was sacked a league-high 48 times last season) and a defense that gave up an average of 441 yards per game during that span. Overall, Arizona lost five games by seven points or less last season that included two extremely close games against the 49ers and Rams. While they finished the year with an underwhelming record of 5-10-1, the Cardinals, with better pass protection and more timely defensive stops, could have easily been a .500 team.

Arizona is hoping that Murray’s continued growth, along with the addition of Houston and veteran tackle Kelvin Beachum, will help cut back on Murray’s sack total. Defensively, the Cardinals should be considerably better than they were a year ago. Along with the addition of Simmons, the team also signed former Bills standout Jordan Phillips and former Falcons linebacker De’Vondre Campbell, who is coming off of a 2019 season that saw him record career highs in tackles (129), forced fumbles (three) and interceptions (two). The team recently went out and signed veteran cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick, who made 67 starts in eight seasons in Cincinnati. The Cardinals are also expecting a jump in play from Byron Murphy, a 2019 second-round pick who started in each of the team’s regular season games last season.

Another player who is expected to help take the Cardinals to the next level is Kenyan Drake, who was acquired via a trade with Miami midway through the ’19 season. In eight games with the Cardinals, Drake rushed for 643 yards and eight touchdowns while averaging 5.2 yards per carry. He also caught 28 passes while serving as a security blanket for Murray.  

While they are facing the eighth toughest schedule in the NFL, the Cardinals have the talent to weather the storm that is the NFL regular season. How well they can protect Murray, along with whether or not their defense can make enough big spots in critical moments, may determine whether or not the Cardinals will reach their potential. 

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