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2012 Team Report: Arizona Cardinals

Quarterbacks

Starter: John Skelton
Backup(s): Kevin Kolb, Ryan Lindley [R]

Starting QB: John Skelton is the name to know here. Kevin Kolb entered the summer as the favorite to start because he was the Cardinals' big-ticket free agent signing in 2011. Last year, he managed nine starts with solid fantasy play against average or below average passing defenses, but struggled against the upper echelon opponents. In fact, second-year passer John Skelton was arguably as productive and better at getting the ball down field to Larry Fitzgerald. With the addition of rookie Ryan Lindley, a player with promising upside, the starting job in Arizona was opened for competition and Skelton has made more of his opportunities than Kolb. There are still whispers that the Cardinals might bring a veteran free agent into the fold if neither Skelton nor Kolb do enough to impress.

Backup QB: If Skelton falters, the Cardinals will turn to Kevin Kolb and Arizona becomes a quarterback carousel. In theory, Kolb has the fundamentals to become a good starting quarterback, but he hasn't demonstrated the skill under pressure in the pocket for the Cardinals to be sold on him. The true player to watch long term is Lindley, a big-armed passer with deep accuracy and the skills to make throws that rival any quarterback in this 2012 rookie class. Lindley had to learn two different offensive systems during his career at San Diego State, which included getting acclimated to playing under center. His fundamentals as a drop-back passer will continue to need work. Look for him to make an impact in 2013 or 2014 depending on his progress.

Running Backs

Starter: Chris Wells
Backup(s): Ryan Williams, LaRod Stephens-Howling, William Powell,
Fullback(s): Anthony Sherman

Starting RB: Last year, Chris Wells was regarded as a lame duck starter that couldn't stay healthy and with rookie Ryan Williams entering camp with a lot of fanfare, a lot of the talk of Wells being the Cardinals star seemed like lip service. Williams tore his patella tendon in the preseason, and Wells played fifteen games, posted a career-high 1,047 yards and 10 rushing touchdowns -- good enough for 17th among fantasy runners in 2012 -- including 14.3 fantasy points against the Ravens. Wells still dealt with injuries, but he played through them and often did so effectively. However, there's a good chance that Wells had microfracture surgery on his knee this offseason. The fourth-year runner has been tight-lipped about the situation and only lately has there been talk that Wells will see the playing field. Ryan Williams has shown that he is healthy enough to share the load if not earn the lead role. Prior to the injury, Williams was an explosive runner with good after-contact skills and surprisingly good hands for their limited use in at Virginia Tech. Williams does play with a punishing style to his body that is similar to Ahmad Bradshaw and Cadillac Williams, and each of those players have dealt with their share of chronic injuries.Williams is clearly the back to own in Arizona as a pick in the middle rounds.

Backup RBs: Wells' somewhat secretive knee procedure this offseason has landed him behind Ryan Williams on the depth chart. If he can prove that he's sufficiently recovered before the preseason ends, he might force a committee. However this is beginning to look like Williams' job to lose. LaRod Stephens-Howling has rare elusiveness, but he lacks the prototypical size for the Cardinals to use him in a traditional pro style running game. He's a return specialist and draw/screen player in Arizona. William Powell has been impressive this preseason, the rookie from Kansas State has been quick, elusive, and difficult to bring down with the first hit.

Fullback: The second-year Anthony Sherman isn't much of a fantasy factor. In 2011, the Cardinals gave him a single carry and threw to him nine times. Despite a respectable 9.0 yards per reception, Sherman averaged only half a fantasy point per game.

Wide Receivers

Starters: Larry Fitzgerald, Michael Floyd, Andre Roberts
Backups: Early Doucet, LaRon Byrd, Stephen Williams

Starting WRs: Despite the uneven play of his quarterbacking tandem of Kolb and Skelton, Larry Fitzgerald had his fifth top-five fantasy season as a receiver in his eight-year career. Unfortunately, his production was also somewhat uneven for a top-five receiver. The addition of rookie Michael Floyd should eventually provide the passing offense a physical, vertical option similar in style to Chiefs receiver Dwayne Bowe. However, Floyd's slow transition to the rigors of the NFL has landed him in the middle tier of the Carindals' depth chart. Third-year receiver Andre Roberts, who fits best in the NFL as a slot player, but has some Greg Jennings-like physical and skill potential, is the current No.2 The Cardinals still believe Roberts has the capability of becoming a special player because of his hands, speed, and skill after the catch. Look for Floyd and Early Doucet to earn time on the field, but the passing game is by and large Fitzgerald-centric.

Backup WRs: Early Doucet had a better statistical year than Roberts and is a bigger, better athlete. However, Doucet has been a slow learner as a route runner, and his hands are still lacking the level of consistency necessary to become a strong starter. Floyd has the natural skills to develop into an all-around threat, but expect him to earn only situational time this year unless there's talk that the light bulb went on during in-season practices. Stephen Williams impressed last year in training camp but disappeared after that. The former Toledo star still needs to learn how to channel his athleticism. LaRon Byrd is a former University of Miami starter with a strong build, solid quickness, and skill at adjusting to the ball in the middle of the field. He has performed well enough in camp to earn a chance to grow with the team.

Tight Ends

Starters: Todd Heap
Backups: Jeff King, Rob Housler, Jim Dray, Stephen Skelton, Martell Webb

Heap is the starter in name, but his fantasy game is injury. He's missed at least three games in a season five times in his 11-year career and 2006 was the last year where he was a consistent, top-five fantasy option at the tight position. If he cracks the Top 20, Heap had a healthy year. Jeff King is a veteran with his initial years spent with the Carolina Panthers. The former Virginia Tech star has good size, blocks well, and can work the short range of the field with some reliability as a receiver. However, he's not a go-to player as a pass catcher because he lacks great agility and acceleration. The second-year tight end Rob Housler is the fantasy prospect to watch. Housler has good speed and excellent hands but had to physically grow into the position while at Florida Atlantic. He had 12 catches in 12 games last year as a rookie. The former third-round pick will be regarded as the future primary option at the position this year or next. Jim Dray is much like King, a big option with solid hands, but best known for his skill in the run game. Stephen Skelton and Martell Webb will compete for special teams duty.

Place Kicker

Jay Feely : Kicker Jay Feely, an 11-year veteran, was re-signed by the Cardinals in March. He'll be working with the same co-specialists again this year -- long snapper Mike Leach was also re-signed and holder/punter Dave Zastudil remains. Feely's 2011 numbers were down somewhat from his 2010 results -- field goals were down from 88.9% to 79.2% (19 of 24) and his rushing TDs were down from one to zero. Scoring opportunities for the Arizona kicker have been sparse the past three years when the Cardinals ranked only 28th, 29th and 28th in attempted kicking points.

Kick and Punt Returners

Kick Returners: LaRod Stephens-Howling, Patrick Peterson, A.J. Jefferson, Andre Roberts

This year should look similar with RB LaRod Stephens-Howling receiving the bulk of the kick offs. WR Andre Roberts and CB A.J. Jefferson would be the players to look for in the event of an injury.

Punt Returners: Patrick Peterson, A.J. Jefferson, Andre Roberts

CB Patrick Peterson lived up to his special teams potential in his rookie campaign, finishing second in the league in average yards per punt return.

Offensive Line

Projected Starters: LT D'Anthony Batiste, LG Daryn Colledge, C Lyle Sendlein, RG Adam Snyder, RT Bobby Massie
Key Backups: T Jeremy Bridges, T Nate Potter, G Senio Kelemete, LT Levi Brown (inj), G rich Ohrnberger

UPDATE: With Levi Brown out for the year (triceps), even the coaches don't know what their lineup is going to be. Brown was never a world beater but this loss hurts the Cards badly. DJ Young was roasted against Tennessee in preseason, and the next move will likely be vet D'Anthony Batiste at left tackle. Rookie Bobby Massie from Ole Miss could be the right tackle, with Jeremy Bridges as the next man off the bench. Should this all transpire, the Cards plummet to 32nd in the offensive line rankings. Line coach Russ Grimm really his work cut out for him this year. PRESEASON OUTLOOK: Left tackle Levi Brown is playing out of position on the blind side. But the Cardinals re-signed him and did not find a legitimate alternative, so it's probably going to be Brown again (watch out Kevin Kolb). Seventh-round pick Nate Potter from Boise State could save the day with a super human preseason effort, but that's probably too much to expect this year from a non-combine invite, late-round pick with arm length concerns. Left guard Daryn Colledge is actually a very good run blocker, but he can be exploited in the passing game. Center Lyle Sendlein is the opposite of Colledge, a well above average pass protector who can be overwhelmed at the point of attack. Ryan Bartholomew, who was a workout warrior two years ago out of Syracuse, backs up Sendlein. Right guard Adam Snyder doesn't seem like a solution to any of the Cards problems, but he will likely get a starting job after being pursued in free agency. Fifth-round pick Senio Kelemete should backup both guard spots and possibly compete with Adam Snyder down the line. Right tackle Jeremy Bridges is not very good and could easily lose his job to fourth-round pick Bobby Massie out of Ole Miss. If there is a silver lining in the Cardinals' offensive line situation, it's line coach Russ Grimm. Grimm made the Pro Football Hall of Fame as a member of the Redskins' vaunted Hogs line of the 1980s.

Team Defense

Re-signing Calais Campbell keeps the very potent pairing of Campbell and Darnell Dockett intact much to the chagrin of offensive lines. The linebackers, led by Sam Acho, are good, though losing Joey Porter hurts a little. The big question is whether anyone will step up across from Patrick Peterson as well as whether Peterson will take the next step to fulfilling his tremendous promise. Adrian Wilson and Kerry Rhodes are fine safeties but there isn't a standout at cornerback, though all the reserves play hard. The hope is third rounder Jamell Fleming can step in over the course of the year and outplay his draft position.

Defensive Line

Starters: DE Darnell Dockett, DE Calais Campbell, NT Dan Williams
Backups: DE Ronald Talley, DE Ricky Lumpkin, NT Nick Eason

Starting DL: The Cards were middle of the pack in scoring defense at 17th (21.8 PPG), impressively tied-7th in sacks (42) but tied-11th worst with 11 forced fumbles. Dockett turns 31 in 2012, and isn't as explosive as he used to be (set the Florida St. season record for TFL - tackles for loss). Once one of the better 3-4 DEs in the league, he may be approaching the twilight of his career, and has seen diminishing sack numbers two years in a row (7-5-3.5 in 2009-2010-2011). The hulking, 6'8", 310 lb. Campbell just signed a richly deserved $55 million contract extension nearly as mammoth as his colossal, "Too Tall" Jones-like physical stature. He is what Dockett used to be, one of the top 3-4 DEs in the league, has been the team's best DL for a few years, and actually has upside as he turns just 26 this season. Campbell is a freakish physical specimen and athlete for his size, finishing near the top of NFL DL with 50+ solo tackles in 2011, along with 8 sacks, 1 INT, 2 forced fumbles and 3 blocked FGs (!). Like his predecessor, SEA DL Alan Branch, Williams has struggled with weight issues at times (6'2" and a generously listed 327 lbs.). He missed the last month and a half of the schedule with a broken left arm. When in shape and motivated, the 2010 first rounder has rare short area quickness and movement skills for a big man.

Backup DL: Talley saw some action after Williams went down, but the former UFA suffers in the comparison with Williams' rare combination of size, power, athleticism, quickness and agility. Lumpkin offers better size than Talley in a rotational capacity and depth role. Eason is part of the Pittsburgh exodus to the desert to be reunited with former Steeler coordinator Ken Whisenhunt (following a path already trod by OLBs Clark Haggans and Joey Porter). With the cap money freed up by extending Campbell, Arizona reportedly may bring back veteran DE Vonnie Holiday (as well as Haggans).

Linebackers

Starters: ILB Daryl Washington, ILB Paris Lenon, OLB Sam Acho, OLB O'Brien Schofield
Backups: ILB Stewart Bradley, ILB Quan Sturdivant, OLB Brandon Williams, OLB Antonio Coleman

Starting LBs: Arizona had the league's 12th worst rush defense (124.1 YPG), and were tied-7th worst by giving up 15 rushing TDs. The 2010 second round phenom Washington broke out in a stellar soph campaign, emerging as one of the most athletic and talented young ILBs in the game, filling up the box score by making plays all over the field (90+ solo tackles and a near top five finish overall, 5 sacks and 2 INTs). He has the kind of ability and multi-faceted skill set to be a potential future Pro Bowler. Lenon held off a challenge by former Eagle MLB/SLB Stewart Bradley last year, but saw a steep drop off, plummeting in tackle production relative to the prior season (94-64 from 2010-2011). The former UFA from Richmond has been a survivor in the NFL, but turns 35 this season and prospects are bleak on the upside and future development fronts. Acho had a very promising finish to his rookie season. Despite failing to notch a sack or forced fumble in the the first five games of 2011, he had at least one sack in six of the last 11 contests, and tied-second among LBs with 4 forced fumbles. With future development, double digit sacks could be well within his grasp. Schofield had 4.5 sacks and 2 forced fumbles in his second year. His abbreviated rookie season came after suffering a torn ACL before the 2010 draft, so he could become a more dangerous bookend to Acho if he regains burst and explosiveness another year removed from the knee injury. Updated 8/22: Lenon returned to practice this week after missing time with an ankle injury. Stewart Bradley has shown improvement and played faster during this window of opportunity and could emerge as the starter.

Backup LBs: Ex-Eagle Bradley looked like a future star in Philadelphia after moving from SLB to MLB, before his momentum was cut down by a knee injury. He didn't look like the same player in 2011, and after failing to dislodge Lenon as Washington's starting ILB sidekick as expected, he took about a 50% haircut on his 2012 salary (though he wasn't likely to recoup the $2.5 million he can still get in Arizona on the open market in a depressed market for LBs). Given his relative youth compared to Lenon at 28, and that he may have struggled in his first year of a new scheme, he still has a chance to resurrect and salvage a once promising career. It helps that he has the skill flexibility and positional versatility to shuttle between the inside and outside if circumstances dictate. After Bradley was signed last season, rookie Sturdivant's standing became marginalized and he was relegated to the practice squad. After former Cowboy fourth rounder Williams was cut by Dallas and he was stashed on the practice squad, he ended up being elevated to the roster after Joey Porter went on IR. He signed a one year tender in the off-season and should get an opportunity to see what he can contribute as a pass rusher.

Defensive Backs

Starters: SS Adrian Wilson, FS Kerry Rhodes, CB Patrick Peterson, CB William Gay
Backups: FS Rashad Johnson, S James Sanders, CB Greg Toler, Michael Adams, CB A.J. Jefferson, CB Jamell Fleming [R]

Starting DBs: The Cards fielded the league's 13th worst pass defense (250.6 YPG), but were tied-fifth best in giving up just 17 passing TDs (though this could speak to how easy it was to run against the Cards). The secondary underwhelmed in the big play department, tied-sixth worst with 10 INTs. Like Dockett, Wilson is a respected team leader with diminishing productivity that could be in the twilight of his career. Since he had five sacks in 2006 (following up the historic 2005 season, in which he broke the late Dave Duerson's NFL season record for a DB with 8 sacks), he hasn't cracked the three sack mark. In fairness to Wilson, he gutted out a painful and debilitating torn biceps injury. A return to health of Wilson and Rhodes (along with NT Dan Williams and CB Greg Toler) could bode well for a unit that had a torrid second half of last season. Peterson was even better than advertised, with a brilliant, Pro Bowl rookie season as a punt returner, breaking a league record with nearly 700 yards, and tying another with four TDs (also held by legendary former Bronco Rick Upchurch and active return ace Devin Hester)... including yet another record, a 99 yard game winner against the Rams. He was instrumental in helping a team frequently outgunned on offense improbably win seven of their last nine games in a furious close to the 2011 season. Toler could line up across from Peterson if sufficiently recovered from a torn ACL that caused him to miss all of last season. Updated 8/22: Free agent William Gay is expected to start across from Peterson. Greg Toler (starter in 2009-2010) has experienced compensation-type complications associated with his knee injury recovery.

Backup DBs: Johnson and Sanders represent dropoffs from their starting counterparts, but could be pressed into action if Wilson or Rhodes break down (again). Jefferson ended up starting after Toler went down, and could surpass his predecessor if he fails to return to form. Adams is dimunitive, but helps compensate for his physical limitations by being feisty and competitive. Gay also comes courtesy of the Pittsburgh pipeline, and he could play a valuable role by reprising his nickel CB role with the Steelers. Fleming is a rookie third rounder with the intriguing physical tools, athleticism and skills to eventually be a factor in coverage.

Last modified: 2012-09-02 15:18:53

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