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Cardinals' youth among tops in NFL

7/24/2014

There’s a youth movement going on in Arizona, and people are starting to take notice.

In their annual list of the Top 25 NFL players under the age of 25, ESPN NFL Insider Mike Sando and Draft Insider Mel Kiper included two Arizona Cardinals on this year’s list. But, in my opinion, there should've been three.

Cornerback Patrick Peterson was ranked fifth on the list, behind No. 1 Andrew Luck, No. 2 Robert Quinn, No. 3 Luke Kuechly and No. 4 Muhammad Wilkerson. Based on last year’s production, it’s a fair assessment, especially since Peterson’s return numbers have been declining each season since 2011. Sando and Kiper noted that and mentioned that “his play at cornerback has yet to become consistent. You won't find a better all-around athlete, however.”

When evaluating Peterson, Sando and Kiper rated him on future potential saying Peterson has “the size, speed, athletic ability, recovery speed and versatility to be great over the long haul.” With the decision by Arizona head coach Bruce Arians to reduce Peterson’s punt returns, Peterson will have more time to focus on becoming a better cornerback.

At No. 23, Sando and Kiper chose wide receiver Michael Floyd. While Floyd had a breakout season in 2013 with 1,041 yards, he still flew below the radar playing for the Cardinals and in the wings of Larry Fitzgerald. An interesting question was raised in Floyd’s description: How much longer will Fitzgerald be the “unquestioned” best receiver on the Cardinals? In his shadows is Floyd, who’s entering his third season in the league. In his first year working with quarterback Carson Palmer, Floyd earned his trust quickly, especially on 50-50 balls, as Sando and Kiper noted.

Two other Cardinals were considered for the list: guard Jonathan Cooper and safety Tyrann Mathieu. Cooper has yet to play an NFL down since suffering a broken leg in last year’s preseason. But Mathieu should’ve been included on this list, in my opinion.

Despite missing the final three games because of ACL and LCL injuries, Mathieu established himself as one of the top young safeties in the league. His nose for the ball and big plays led him to be a starter for 11 of the 13 games he was healthy for. The only other free safety on the list is San Francisco’s Eric Reid and even though he played an entire season, his impact wasn’t as great as Mathieu’s. One aspect of the rankings was potential, in which Sando and Kiper included health concerns. While Mathieu's knee is a reason for concern currently, as they noted, Reid's concussions might be of bigger worry for the future.