Every NFL season, players have breakout seasons that aren’t expected from the fans. The Arizona Cardinals, who have made it a priority to retain most of their free agents from last season, could use a few of those breakout performers.
Jalen Thompson’s emergence as a rookie supplemental draft pick is a perfect example. The free agent acquisition of Kelvin Beachum sliding over to right tackle is another.
Who are some candidates for a surprise breakout player in 2022?
OLB Dennis Gardeck
(AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)
Dennis Gardeck had an impressive 2020 season following the season-ending injury to Chandler Jones. He earned frequent playing time at the outside linebacker position and made the most of it with seven sacks.
While Gardeck would unfortunately suffer a season-ending injury that year, the Cardinals re-signed him to a three-year extension this offseason, believing he will return to form.
Following the departure of Jones, the Cardinals could use another leap from Gardeck. He has recently discussed how his injury from late 2020 is fully healed and he’s finally healthy.
With a thin edge rusher room, Gardeck’s presence will be a welcome return.
RG Will Hernandez
Former second-round draft selection Will Hernandez had a disappointing end to his Giants career. After a very promising rookie season, Hernandez wasn’t able to build off it and take that next step. He struggled in the past two seasons, earning a 55.9 PFF rating last year.
Hernandez was signed by the Cardinals with the hopes of returning to form under his college coach, Sean Kugler. Kugler has been instrumental in the offensive line progression in Arizona since joining the team in 2019. The likes of D.J. Humphries, Justin Pugh and Kelvin Beachum have all improved their play under Kugler.
The Cardinals could surely use a return to form for Hernandez with the continued question marks surrounding center Rodney Hudson. Protecting their soon-to-be highly paid quarterback is vital for the team.
RB Eno Benjamin
Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports
Many valley sports fans were ecstatic at the 2020 seventh-round draft selection of former Arizona State running back Eno Benjamin.
Benjamin had a sort of redshirt rookie season with the Cardinals but saw increased playing time in 2021, with a few highlight-worthy plays. He figures to be in competition for the No. 2 running back spot with the recently-acquired Darrell Williams.
Head coach Kliff Kingsbury has been very complimentary towards Benjamin of late. While it was initially assumed Williams would be the No. 2 back, that may not be the case come September. Benjamin has made strides in practice and will look to build upon that progress in training camp next month.
It would be a welcome sight to see a local product exceed expectations in his third year with the Cardinals.