The Cardinals make their 2021 preseason debut Friday against the Dallas Cowboys. As with all preseason games, no contests mean more at the moment than to those hoping to make the team.
With that in mind, here are five Cardinals players to keep an eye on when the lights turn on in State Farm Stadium.
LB Isaiah Simmons
Surprised this isn’t about Zaven Collins? Of course, attention will be on him; he is the first draft pick the Cardinals made this year. But for as much as Collins has to prove as an expected starter, so does Simmons in his second year.
Admittedly, Simmons may not be in for the whole game, but he’s still somebody who can grow into a formidable player as he was during his Clemson days. After 54 tackles in 2020 plus a timely Week 7 interception against Seattle in overtime, Simmons’ rise towards his ceiling starts anew.
RB Eno Benjamin
Arizona State fans and alumni have been first-hand witnesses to the greatness of Eno Benjamin. After being selected in the seventh round during the 2020 NFL Draft, many hoped he’d climb his way into a manageable position behind Chase Edmonds and Kenyan Drake.
That still hasn’t happened, and it’s tougher now with such loaded depth at the position. Jonathan Ward plus the newly-signed Ito Smith and Tavien Feaster all stand in Benjamin’s way. Not to mention that even with beating all of them out, he’ll still be behind James Conner and Edmonds. Nevertheless, Benjamin is a runner who can make a big case for himself with strong reps against Dallas.
CB Tay Gowan
When watching Gowan play at UCF, it’s quite impressive what he was able to do in just one full season of play. Opting out of 2020 played a large factor in his ultimate draft selection as a sixth-rounder. Nevertheless, here he is in a loaded secondary that needs stability following Patrick Peterson’s departure.
Gowan is sitting behind established veteran Malcolm Butler and Robert Alford, who has barely played any snaps for Arizona due to injuries. The young corner has a large gap to begin closing, his knack for staying in tight coverage can go a long way into making the cut.
WR JoJo Ward
JoJo Ward showed great potential with Hawai’i, coming up exactly a yard short of 2,000 career receiving yards as a senior. It’s a shame he had to wait until the draft was over for someone to call him. Thankfully, Ward is someone who could ideally serve the Cardinals well.
His speed is his most outstanding feature and should likely land him in a comfortable position on the roster. Especially when he averaged 17.2 yards a catch as a Rainbow Warrior. Not to mention his 11 touchdowns as a senior led the Mountain West in 2019. Ward’s got a chance to prove himself Friday with Rondale Moore and Christian Kirk questionable.
LB Evan Weaver
Weaver is coming into his second year in the league and is much more capable than his position on the depth chart looks. In his 2018 junior year at California, he led the entire nation in tackles (158) and became the third Golden Bear to become a unanimous All-American in 2019.
Being bunched in with Zaven Collins, Isaiah Simmons and Jordan Hicks leaves a difficult hole to get out of. Weaver is likely going to be back up this entire season. But to whom he’ll be the right-hand man to begins with this game.