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The Cardinals’ biggest player surprises of 2023

The Arizona Cardinals struggled through 2023 en route to a 4-13 finish. The record was roughly what people expected but, along the way, there were both surprises and disappointments.

Some things were surprising. Some players performed better than expected.

Below are the players who performed better than expected, at least in stretches.

QB Josh Dobbs (for a stretch)

(Photo by Norm Hall/Getty Images)
(Photo by Norm Hall/Getty Images)

In the end, Dobbs wasn’t good, but after a bad season opener, he had three straight games against the Giants, Cowboys and 49ers where he had a passer rating of at least 99. People actually started wondering if he could be the starter moving forward.

The trade for Dobbs was a surprise to begin with and him playing at a solid starter level for multiple games was a surprise.

It was not a surprise when his play went bad quickly.

RB Emari Demercado

 Jamie Sabau-USA TODAY Sports
Jamie Sabau-USA TODAY Sports

Demercado was an unheralded undrafted rookie this past season. He had no particularly special physical traits or skills. However, from Day 1, he showed he could handle the little things that a back-of-the-roster running back should handle — special teams play, blocking, receiving.

He carved out a nice role as a third-down back and passed other backs to be a starter when James Conner was out.

Hjalte Froholdt

(Photo by Norm Hall/Getty Images)
(Photo by Norm Hall/Getty Images)

When the Cardinals signed Froholdt to a contract last offseason, we all waited for the other move at center, the one where they brought in an established veteran starter.

When they didn’t, many (included myself) wondered loudly how they could roll with “a Hjalte Froholdt”, but he started every game, play over 99% of the snaps and, unlike other center options for much of the last several seasons, was solid.

Playing at a capable starting center level was a huge surprise and a huge find by GM Monti Ossenfort.

Early-season Victor Dimukeje

(Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
(Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

Dimukeje looked really solid early in the season. He had 2.5 sacks in the first three games and looked good in a rotational basis both as a rusher and run stopper.

The production slowed and he finished with four total sacks on the season, including none after October, but his early-season production was a massive surprise.

CB Starling Thomas

(Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images)
(Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

Thomas was claimed off waivers from the Detroit Lions after final cuts before the season.

He was an undrafted rookie.

He worked his way into the starting lineup, playing in 12 games and starting seven. He broke up five passes but did allow five touchdown passes.

The fact that he earned playing time was a surprise.

TE Elijah Higgins

Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Higgins was claimed off waivers after getting cut by Miami before the season. He was a sixth-round rookie and spent the first half of the season inactive every week. By the end of the year, he showed some potential.

If this were a normal year and had Trey McBride not exploded as a top tight end, fans would be raving about the potential of Higgins moving forward as has been done in years past for tight ends like Dan Arnold, Ricky Seals-Jones and Darren Fells.

P Blake Gillikin

Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

His signing was a surprise to start with after Nolan Cooney blew away Matt Haack in preseason and offseason competition. However, Cooney struggled a bit, which led to the signing of Gillkin.

Gillikin set franchise single-season records with a 50.6-yard average per punt and a 43.6 net average.

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Story originally appeared on Cards Wire