Cardinals CB Justin Bethel Devleoping Into Elite Special Teams Ace


August 17, 2013; Phoenix, AZ, USA; Dallas Cowboys wide receiver Tim Benford (16) catches a pass ahead of Arizona Cardinals cornerback Justin Bethel (31) during the second half at University of Phoenix Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

It’s always fun to go back and look at what some former NFL Draft “sleepers” have made of their careers, but a lot of times, their contributions go largely unnoticed.

Thanks to the work of the guys at Pro Football Focus, nobody’s on-field work goes unaccounted for.

One of those particular draft sleepers is a former safety/cornerback hybrid who has made the transition to the cornerback position in the NFL: former Presbyterian DB Justin Bethel. Bethel was picked up in the sixth round by the Arizona Cardinals, something of an afterthought and in the exact range of the draft when you expect guys will have to make the team by making an impact in the third phase of the game, special teams.

To say Bethel has made an impact on special teams might be a gross understatement.

“When you look at offensive players and defensive players and determine they are difference-makers, that is where you start saying, ‘This guy is a core piece of our team,’ ” General Manager Steve Keim said. “Justin Bethel, he is an absolute difference-maker on special teams. He is a guy with a unique skill and unique ability to change games on special teams. He is a guy we feel is a core member of our team.”

As far as national hype, the Cardinals are getting none (compared to other teams), so it’s no surprise that Bethel hasn’t gotten a ton of credit by outlets like ESPN for his contributions to the Cardinals, but he’s a key reason why this team is 7-4 (REALLY?!) and contending for a playoff spot.

Pro Football Focus puts together one of my favorite ranking lists, giving comprehensive overviews of every top special teams player in the league.

Bethel has been named Special Teams Player of the Week by PFF three times already this season. No other player has been picked more than once.

Back in week 10, PFF said that in Bethel’s third ST’s player of the week award that he played the best they have “ever seen” having graded positively on 11 of 19 special teams plays.

Bethel is obviously a huge reason why the Cardinals are where they are at, blocking kicks and pinning teams deep in their own territory on punt coverage. This guy can really do it all.

Sometimes draft gems aren’t the guys making game-changing interceptions or scoring go-ahead touchdowns. Sometimes those draft gems are guys who can play on your team for 8-10 years as a special teams ace and an invaluable backup. That’s where Bethel appears to be heading and the Cardinals have to be ecstatic about him.