Sunday, October 25, 2020

What to expect from Christian Kirk in 2020

With the draft and silly trade rumors behind us, let’s take a look at the Christian Kirk situation with the Arizona Cardinals. The third-year receiver is coming off a difficult end to the season but showed enough earlier in the season to get excited about. So what should we be expecting in 2020?

The return of Larry Fitzgerald and the addition of DeAndre Hopkins give Kirk some great receivers to continue learning his craft from. Kyler Murray will also be back in year two of Kliff Kingsbury’s offense, and Kenyan Drake will be the feature back for the entire season.

Christian Kirk's 2019 tailed off in the latter weeks
Christian Kirk’s 2019 tailed off in the latter weeks

Should Christian Kirk stick to the slot?

Around about the middle of the season, week 9 to be precise, Christian Kirk’s role in the offense flipped and he went from being primarily a slot guy to lining up wide. At the same time, he became more likely to be lined up against the other teams CB1, and unsurprisingly his production dropped off some.

In the games where Kirk played more slot, his catch% 72.7% to 65.5%, and his yards per snap played 1.06 to 0.80, and his yards per target 7.30 to 7.05 were all higher. However, his yards per completion were higher lined up wide 10.78 to 10.03.

Christian Kirk's slot snaps changed dramatically from week 9
Christian Kirk’s slot snaps changed dramatically from week 9

The addition of DeAndre Hopkins will likely see him will one of the wide receiver slots, leaving Fitzgerald and Kirk splitting time in the other. Fitzgerald has declined in each of his last four seasons according to PFF grades, and this trend is likely to continue and the rise of Kirk as a viable outside option is a boon for the offense.

Playing Kirk wide will allow other opportunities in the slot such as Isabella, Butler, and Johnson, but I think in an ideal world Christian Kirk would be best left in the slot. He lacks the physicality and size to be a true wide receiver.

While Kliff Kingsbury’s offense is not predicated on the same notions as a more traditional offense, lining Kirk up wide will negate some of his more dynamic traits. PFF handed Kirk his worst grades of the season when he was lined up wide, in fact, five of the six games where he graded under 60 were games where he lined up wide.

So what does 2020 hold?

You can clearly see why the Cowboys were said to be interested in Christian Kirk. His 4.47 speed and 7.3 yards per target are ideal numbers for a slot receiver. His dynamic playmaking, elusiveness, and 4.4 yards after contact per catch make him an asset in any offense.

The addition of Hopkins will see him line up in the slot more this season I believe, assuming that Fitz has enough left in his legs to pose a through wide, which I believe he does. The emergence of one of the other receivers on the roster would make Kirk even more of a matchup nightmare.

We should expect an increase in catch %, assuming a return to the slot, likely breaking through the 70% mark, and potentially hitting 75%. Couple that with his first 1,000-yard season and topping 5/6 touchdowns. 2020 should be a bright year for Christian Kirk.

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