Football is a team sport but sometimes individuals are the ones that make or break a season.
Often its easy to bottom line a team by the performance of their franchise QB, if they have one. In the Cardinals case, its not Kyler Murray that holds the key to the season as you'd expect.
Sure, Kyler is going to have an enormous influence on how the season goes but relative to the defense, the offense feels like a sure thing.
Instead its the defense that holds the key to 2022 for the Arizona Cardinals. I'd go one step further and argue its one player that holds the key to the defense which holds the key to the season.
Zaven Collins holds the key to the Arizona Cardinals in 2022.
Over the last two years, the Cardinals defense has ranked 6th and 10th overall in DVOA rankings, per Football Outsiders. They've been good but this year they've got many more questions than answers, including Collins.
The former first rounder is once again being silver plattered a starting job at inside linebacker. The Cardinals famously banned competition at ILB last year in order to ensure his success, only to be bailed out by Jordan Hicks when Collins wasn't ready for the job.
This year there is no Hicks and Isaiah Simmons has been moved, for the time being, to safety. Meaning its up to Nick Vigil and Zaven Collins to bridge the gap between an unproven pass rush and an unproven secondary.
Now this is where things get really interesting. To me, not only does Zaven Collins make or break the Cardinals season in 2022 but his rise or fall in Year 2 should determine the fate of General Manager Steve Keim.
If Collins succeeds, it will validate Keim's unconventional and lightly productive draft history over the last decade. Patience will have paid off and the much panned first round selection would not only succeed on the field but succeed off the field of justifying Steve Keim's Smartest Guy in the Room draft philosophy.
If Collins fails, it will be the culmination of over a decade of Steve Keim's failed draft day philosophy, If Collins fails, its a failure of Steve Keim's vision for building a successful football team.
I know he got the Kyler Murray pick right but its the first overall pick, its the bare minimum for a GM to get that pick right. He's also gotten many trades and veteran free agent signings right. Its his draft day philosophy that largely defines his decade tenure with less than impressive results. Year after year Steve Keim rolls the dice on players at critical positions of need: Jonathan Cooper, Robert Nkemdiche, Chad Williams, Troy Niklas, Brandon Williams, Josh Rosen, Andy Isabella. These aren't just draft misses, every GM has their fair share of those.
These are irresponsible picks at critical areas that define a team and a season
Despite receiving yet another contract extension in the offseason, Keim's grip on his job should be tenuous at best, all things considered.
All anyone can ask for in that position is a fair chance to sink or swim on their own.
Steve Keim gets Zaven Collins.
If Collins swims, Steve Keim fights to see another draft war room.
If Collins sinks, Steve Keim should sink with him.