As the Arizona Cardinals begin their quest to cut the team’s roster size from 90 to 53 by the end of the preseason, we’re taking a look at every player at each position group and determining their odds of making the final cut.
Player: James Summers
Position: Running back
Contract status: 2017-$465,000, 2018-$555,000, 2019-$645,000
2016 season quick review: After transferring into East Carolina from Hinds College following the 2015 season, Summers began his career as a backup tailback for the Pirates before ascending into a starting role as a senior. During his lone campaign as a starter at the college level, Summers rushed for 869 yards on 162 attempts for an average of 5.4 yards per carry. Summers finished the season with seven rushing touchdowns, and also added a receiving touchdown as he finished the year with 19 catches for 109 yards.
Projected roster status: Even though the Cardinals have just four other running backs on the depth chart ahead of Summers, it’s going to be difficult for Summers to claim a roster spot considering the team will likely keep just three or four tailbacks on its 53-man roster. Arizona has expressed interest in veteran free agents, but the Cardinals haven’t yet pulled the trigger on one this offseason. If the team does wind up adding a back, then Summers’ odds will decrease and he could find himself in a competition for a practice squad job.
Projected depth chart status: As the lone undrafted free agent running back the Cardinals signed following this year’s draft, Summers has an uphill road to climb the depth chart from his current spot as the team’s fifth tailback. Three of the backs ahead of Summers have been with the team for at least one season, while the other player, North Carolina product T.J. Logan, was one of the team’s fifth round draft choices this year. It’s hard to imagine Summers will climb above the fifth slot on the depth chart this fall, but he can help his cause if he shows Arizona’s coaching staff he’s a viable contributor on special teams.
CardinalsSource.com analysis: Though CardinalsSource hasn’t had an opportunity to evaluate Summers in person yet, he’s got a tough road to make the team’s 53-man roster because Arizona is already high on the backs ahead of him and he’s still learning the nuances of the position. Summers was a quarterback at the junior college level at Hinds College, and didn’t earn a high volume of reps at the running back position until last year. When we turn on Summers’ film, he has a decent initial burst and keeps his legs churning upon contact, but he runs with a high pad level which isn’t atypical of players who attempt to transition away from the quarterback position to another skill position role. At this point in his development, Summers is more of an athlete attempting to play running back as opposed to a running back with great athleticism, and that could make his push for a roster spot a significant challenge. The best case scenario in our estimation for Summers is to spend the season on the Cardinals’ practice squad, learning from the likes of Freddie Kitchens and new assistant coach Terry Allen who can continue to help mold him into a more complete tailback.
Overall value: There’s no risk in the Cardinals bringing in an undrafted free agent, especially at a position where the team doesn’t have considerable depth built up behind starter David Johnson. If Summers makes the team, the Cardinals will be able to capitalize on his minimum contract, and if not, Arizona will be able to move on without having to worry about salary cap complications.