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Arizona Cardinals: Hidden X-Factors

There are several players beyond the headline-grabbers that will have to produce for the 2021 Cardinals to be successful.

Every team has X-Factors. The players who can change the tide of a game just by their talent alone. The Arizona Cardinals have Kyler Murray, DeAndre Hopkins and J.J. Watt to name a few. Come game day, those players will not only have all eyes on them, but will make important plays.

But within every team are the hidden X-Factors. Players who do just as much but receive little fanfare or their production cannot be represented on a stat sheet. Some players remain hidden due to their lack of playing time such as an emerging rookie talent. The Cardinals have Murray, Hopkins and Watt, but they also have a handful of players who can make a difference for various reasons. You just have to look a little harder to find whose hidden in the roster.

Rondale Moore

X-Factor: Dynamic

Anyone that followed the Cardinals during training camp might not view Moore as a hidden X-Factor. If an MVP could be crowned for training camp, Moore might have earned it for Arizona. But among a talented wide receiver corps that includes Hopkins, A.J. Green and Christian Kirk, Moore could get lost in the shuffle for the normal fan.

Moore has impressive speed, but Arizona has plenty of that. Returning wide receiver Andy Isabella can offer that downfield speed. But Moore has a “quick twitch in space, sudden movement,” according to head coach Kliff Kingsbury. That speed and twitchy movement could see him separate from defenders, yet it can also be utilized in the kickoff return game as well. Along with running back Eno Benjamin and Kirk, Moore will be a part of the return game where his speed could be pivotal.

Moore offers a versatility that other wide receivers on the team don't. It’s in the run game. 

Kingsbury enjoys mixing it up with his play-calls and in the preseason Moore carried the ball three times. Against the Dallas Cowboys, Moore earned 16 yards on two carries. While this element is most likely not going to be his bread and butter, it is an example of how Moore offers versatility for an already versatile offense.

Jordan Hicks

X-Factor: In Case of Emergency Break Glass

Hicks is a respected player in the NFL as a Super Bowl champion with the Philadelphia Eagles and a consistent veteran presence. But that didn’t prevent him from losing his starting job to incoming rookie Zaven Collins. It's a mystery how Collins will do with the hefty role as the quarterback on defense. If Collins falters, Hicks provides a safety blanket for defensive coordinator Vance Joseph. Having a veteran leader replace a struggling rookie is a good solution to have.

If the bet on Collins works, Hicks most likely is not going to spend the rest of the season riding the bench. Hicks, Collins and Isaiah Simmons could see time on the field fairly often and at the same time. If all are hitting on all cylinders, the Cardinals could offer an intimidating linebacker crew.

James Conner

X-Factor: Red-Zone Power

Among the offseason additions of Green, Watt and retired-for-now cornerback Malcolm Butler, Conner has stayed under the radar. It’s understandable because an injury-filled tenure with the Pittsburgh Steelers didn’t earn him the highlights and accolades as the other additions. But he fills a vital need.

Conner is behind Chase Edmonds on the running back depth chart, but the duo have both earned RB1 designation from their head coach. Instead, they are considered RB1A and 1B. Edmonds provides the speed and pass-catching that fits this offense. But those dynamics often dampen once the red zone is entered. Here, Conner provides a much-needed role that the Cardinals lost in 2020.

Last season, Kenyan Drake joined Derrick Henry, Dalvin Cook and Alvin Kamara as a top scorer in the red zone. His nine red-zone touchdowns was sixth among running backs. Arizona lost Drake to the Las Vegas Raiders in the offseason, removing a vital player. Conner scored six touchdowns in the red zone last season on 29 snaps. 

Conner fills a hole that Arizona needs and if Conner returns to the level of play that earned him a Pro-Bowl appearance in 2018, then the Red Sea could have one of the best running backs in the league.

Marco Wilson

X-Factor: Confidence

Arizona lost Butler to retirement before he even played a snap for his new team. Stepping up to fill the void is the Cardinals' fourth-round pick. The rookie has practiced against some of the best wide receivers in the league and has received high remarks from his coaches.

"Marco's been obviously a good surprise for us. Being a younger player, later-round pick, so far, so good," defensive coordinator Vance Joseph said this week.

Until the balls start flying, we won't know much about how Wilson will do. He heads into the season with confidence from his coaches and impressive play in the preseason. Wilson could remedy the loss of Butler if he can play up to the expectations put in front of him.

Rodney Hudson

X-Factor: Veteran Presence

The veteran center is about to embark on his 10th season. A three-time Pro Bowler and second team All-Pro in 2019, Hudson is not only experienced but respected. This is an attribute that the Cardinals have not usually seen on their offensive line. Previous centers have had experience such as A.Q Shipley, but suffered injuries. Arizona has seen promising offensive lines torn down by injuries in the past few seasons. Meanwhile, Hudson has sustained a consistent career, missing only three games since 2013.

It’s no doubt the former Raider has seen almost everything there is to see on an offensive line. That can translate into leadership on the field and in the locker room. Along with D.J. Humphries, Justin Pugh and Kelvin Beachum, Hudson can provide a consistency on an offensive line that rarely has had it and be a calming presence next to right guard Josh Jones..