Dan Arnold isn't quite a household name -- unless you, the reader, are a fan of semi-obscure tight ends.
(If you're in the mood for pieces on such football figures, we also wrote about Anthony Firkser today, which you can find here.)
After all, when folks thought of the Arizona Cardinals in 2020, Arnold's name wasn't coming to mind before, you know, DeAndre Hopkins, Kyler Murray or Larry Fitzgerald. Arnold probably wouldn't have landed among the first 10 Cardinals mentioned last season, yet he did finish among the top three in receiving for Arizona, catching 31 passes for 438 yards and four touchdowns.
That was ahead of Fitzgerald's 54 catches for 409 yards and one score (albeit in less games). Arnold's 2020 totals accounted for career-high marks in every notable category. It was a relative breakout season for a player who was previously an afterthought, and one that earned him a new opportunity elsewhere.
Now wearing Panther blue that pairs nicely with his own frosty eyes, Arnold is prepared to take another big step in 2021, his first in Carolina.
"I'm just ready to take on a bigger role, I guess," Arnold said, via the team's official site. "Having the opportunity to start becoming a good player and a guy who can make a difference on this team, I'm most excited for that.
"I feel like I've done my time; I'm ready to go out and make plays consistently."
Playing in Arizona was far from institutional confinement for Arnold, but he could in fact be on the verge of enjoying a new freedom in the Panthers' offense. Coordinated by wunderkind Joe Brady, Arnold might end up being a key piece of the Panthers' passing attack. Last year, Carolina made progress by targeting its trio of receivers (Robby Anderson, D.J. Moore and the since-departed Curtis Samuel) and largely overlooking the tight end position.
That won't be the case in 2021 if Brady has his way.
"The tree that I grew up in, the tight ends are the most important position on the field, the matchups that they create, and everything," Brady said. "It's been a point of emphasis this offseason, just trying to get those guys going in the passing game. And I think those guys have kind of taken and ran with it."
Arnold began his career in New Orleans, where he played for the same staff under which Brady cut his teeth. The tree Brady mentioned is headed by Saints coach Sean Payton, and it didn't take long for Brady to take what he learned in the Big Easy and turn it into an NFL opportunity of his own.
Arnold is hoping he follows a similar trajectory after working his way from undrafted receiver-turned-tight end to notable offseason addition for a team looking to improve at the position. He's not alone in this pursuit, either -- Arnold is joining an offense featuring another player, quarterback Sam Darnold (insert your Darnold to D. Arnold jokes here), who is trying to turn his career toward success.
"We have a lot of young guys on this team who are waiting for their shot to really make a difference," Arnold said. "When you have a bunch of guys like that, and they all start clicking, that's when you can become dangerous. Obviously, we're going to surprise people because they think we're young and inexperienced and all that, but at the same time, that doesn't mean anything.
"Guys are working their butts off, ready to make a difference. That's what matters in the NFL. Work hard, grind each and every day; they're not going to stop. That's the most important thing. Experience has something to do with it, but if you have a guy who's hungry waiting for his chance versus a guy who has experience and is kind of biding his time, the former is going win every time."
It might sound idealistic, but if Arnold, Darnold and Co. can produce, folks won't be scoffing much longer.