In addition to more time in the system, Murray’s increased confidence almost certainly stems from the team’s commitment to upgrading the protection and playmakers around him this offseason. The Cardinals signed D.J Humphries to a lucrative deal (three years, $45 million) that kept the left tackle from hitting the open market. And the team drafted Joshua Jones in the third round to shore up the right side of the line. As for adding weapons, no team made a bigger splash than Arizona, when it traded for DeAndre Hopkins to give the team a No. 1 receiver opposite Larry Fitzgerald. The three-time All-Pro, who will be just 28 at the start of the season, is a sure-handed pass catcher with exceptional ball skills. He will expand the strike zone for Murray.
“To have a young quarterback, a guy you’re trying to build things around and bring in a piece like [Hopkins] is huge,” Kingsbury told reporters shortly after the trade, via the team’s website. “Everything I have ever heard about the guy has been top notch, his work ethic, his toughness. To add him to the roster, we couldn’t be more pleased.”
With Fitzgerald still regarded as one of the most dependable pass catchers in football, and Christian Kirk ideally suited to fill a WR3 role, the Cardinals have assembled a diverse set of playmakers on the perimeter to enable Murray to play like a pass-first point guard from the pocket.
Last season, Murray thrived as a quick-rhythm thrower, posting the 12th fastest time-to-throw average (2.73 seconds) and the eighth-fewest intended target yards (7.1) in the NFL, per Next Gen Stats. Those numbers reflect Murray’s ability to thrive executing a dink-and-dunk offense designed to neutralize the pass rush (and protect the offensive line) by getting the ball out of his hands and into the mitts of his playmakers.
That said, he still finished with the sixth-most passing yards on passes of 20-plus air yards despite pushing the ball down the field on just 11.5 percent of his throws (37th-fewest). Hopkins’ ability to come down with 50-50 balls, particularly on alley-oops along the boundary, could add a vertical dimension to the offense that leads to more explosive plays and, most importantly, points.
Plus, Kenyan Drake’s return gives the Cardinals some sizzle at running back. The fifth-year pro amassed 814 scrimmage yards in eight games (seventh-most among running backs during that span) after being acquired in a midseason trade. Drake displayed electric playmaking ability as a hybrid out of the backfield for Arizona.
Defensively, the Cardinals should be a stingier unit in their second season under coordinator Vance Joseph. The defense appeared to click down the stretch, holding opponents to 22.8 points per game over the final four contests as a young nucleus became more comfortable with the scheme.
With Chandler Jones, Patrick Peterson, Budda Baker and first-round pick Isaiah Simmons poised to enjoy banner years in a unit that should find itself regularly playing with a lead — and thus, in ideal positions to create big plays — the Cardinals’ defense should deliver better results in 2020.
The last two MVPs came out of nowhere to claim the award during their sophomore seasons. Each saw their team use the offseason between Years 1 and 2 to tweak (or build) an offense around their unique skill sets while upgrading the surrounding talent. With the Cardinals taking a similar approach with Murray, I expect the reigning Offensive Rookie of the Year to add some more hardware to his collection at the end of the season.