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2014 Team Report: Arizona Cardinals

Quarterbacks

Starter: Carson Palmer
Backup(s): Drew Stanton, Ryan Lindley

Starting QB: The Cardinals have overhauled the quarterback position this offseason. Kevin Kolb and John Skelton are gone, replaced by Carson Palmer and Drew Stanton. Carson Palmer, who spent the last two seasons with the Raiders, was named the starter immediately after the Cardinals traded for him. He will be the seventh quarterback to start in Arizon since Kurt Warner retired after the 2009 season. Palmer spent his first seven seasons in Cincinatti, where it appeared that his arm strength had regressed in his final seasons there. In his two seasons with the Raiders, however, he still showed good velocity on his throws, and was comfortable throwing deep. Palmer's fantasy prospects will depend on improved pass-blocking by the offensive line this season. The Cardinals gave up a league-worst 58 sacks in 2012.

Backup QB: Drew Stanton will be the primary backup. The former Lion, Jet, and Colt is more physically talented than most backup quarterbacks, and was viewed as the Cardinals' possible starter before they signed Carson Palmer. He knows Bruce Arians' system from his time in Indianapolis last season. Ryan Lindley was rather unimpressive last year. Lindley is not eligible for the practice squad, but he is cheap and has a strong arm, which may allow him to overcome his poor rookie season to retain a roster spot in 2013.

Running Backs

Starter: Rashard Mendenhall
Backup(s): Ryan Williams, Stepfan Taylor [R], Andre Ellington [R], Alfonso Smith
Fullback(s):

Starting RB: The Cardinals' running game will have a different look this season, headed by former Steeler Rashard Mendenhall. The Cardinals struggled with injuries and ball-security problems last season, and Mendenhall has struggled with those exact same issues, so he will not turn things around by himself. When he is healthy, Mendenhall is a tough, inside runner. He has a couple thousand-yard seasons under his belt, and should give his best effort this season playing under a one-year contract.

Backup RBs: Ryan Williams, a second-round pick in 2011, is a talented runner who hasn't been able to stay healthy. He missed his entire rookie season after suffering a knee injury during the preseason, and played in only five games last year before missing the rest of the season with a shoulder injury. Williams was inconsistent before being injured last season, at times looking like an effective one-cut runner, but at other times appearing to lack run-vision or power. Unfortunately, Williams has already missed several training camp practices in 2013 after experiencing soreness in his surgically repaired knee. Rookies Stepfan Taylor and Andre Ellington are the favorites to secure the other two roster spots at RB, assuming the Cardinals keep four. Taylor is a complete back: he can run with power inside, has excellent hands out of the backfield, and is solid picking up blitzes in pass protection. He doesn't have blazing speed, but he has just enough burst to be effective in the open field. Andre Ellington has decent speed, excellent lateral quickness, and solid balance. He should be a good fit for Bruce Arians' offense because, like Taylor, he is a versatile back with skills as a runner, receiver, and blocker. William Powell and Alfonso Smith will have an uphill battle to make the final roster.

Fullback:

Wide Receivers

Starters: Larry Fitzgerald, Michael Floyd
Backups: Andre Roberts, Ryan Swope [R], Javone Lawson [R], LaRon Byrd, Kerry Taylor

Starting WRs: Larry Fitzgerald is a stud, but he was hampered by poor quarterback play last season. In his nine NFL seasons, however, he has gone over a thousand yards receiving six times, and has finished as a top-five fantasy WR five times. He lacks blazing speed, but he has excellent hands and body control and a huge catching radius. He is fantastic bringing down jump balls. He was less adept at beating double coverage in 2012, but the continued development of Michael Floyd should help attract attention away from Fitzgerald. After a slow start, Floyd picked up steam over the second half of his rookie season, culminating in an eight-catch, 166-yard game in week 17. Expect Floyd to line up on the outside across from Fitzgerald this season, with Andre Roberts operating out of the slot.

Backup WRs: Andre Roberts is one of the better third wide receivers in the league. He started a number of games outside last season, but is probably better suited to play the slot position. With Floyd maturing and Early Doucet having been released, it looks like the slot is exactly where Roberts will fit in. Like all Cardinals receivers last season, Roberts was hurt by poor quarterback play, but he generally runs good routes and has decent hands: he is not a standout NFL receiver, but can be a solid component part of the overall passing game. After Roberts, however, the rest of the Cardinals wide receivers are completely unproven. Ryan Swope is likely to win the fourth spot. His a true burner: he ran a 4.34 forty-yard dash at the combine. He also has decent size and was very productive in college. He fell to the sixth round because he has a history of concussions, making him somewhat of a risk. As long as he can stay healthy, however, he can be an immediate deep threat, and over time should get a wider variety of routes to run. Javone Lawson, LaRon Byrd, and Kerry Taylor are also in the mix for a roster spot.

Tight Ends

Starters: Rob Housler
Backups: Jeff King, D.C. Jefferson [R], Jim Dray

The tight end unit of the Cardinals has not changed much from last year. Todd Heap is gone, but he didn't play beyond week two of last season anyway. Rob Housler is a fantasy prospect to watch. Housler has good speed and excellent hands, and led the Arizona tight ends last season with 45 catches. The former third-round pick will enter the season as the starter, and his athleticism gives him some upside potential as a pass-catcher. Jeff King is a veteran who spent his initial years 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 lacks great agility and acceleration, and will therefore never be a featured member of the passing game. D.C. Jefferson, a seventh-round pick, is a project. Jim Dray is much like King, a big option with solid hands, but best known for his skill as a blocker.

Place Kicker

Jay Feely: Jay Feely, a 12-year veteran, remains the kicker. He held off a very brief challenge from Dan carpenter during preseason. His field goal percentage rebounded last year (89.3%, 25 of 28) after having dipped in 2011 (79.2%, 19 of 24). The same two co-specialists are back again this year - long snapper Mike Leach and holder/punter Dave Zastudil. Scoring opportunities for the Arizona kicker have been very sparse the past four years when the Cardinals ranked only 30th, 28th, 29th and 28th in attempted kicking points.

Kick and Punt Returners

Kick Returners: Ted Ginn, John Brown [R]

Kick returns for Arizona are likely to be handled by a pair of newcomers to the team. Receiver Ted Ginn is sixth amongst active players in career yards per kickoff return and should get the primary return duties. There may be competition for his backup, but rookie receiver John Brown has a good chance to land the job. Brown had 93 punt returns for a 12.7 yard average and three touchdowns, and 81 kickoff returns for a 26.2 yard average and another three scores while playing Division II football at Pittsburgh State.

Punt Returners: Ted Ginn, John Brown [R]

Tyrann Mathieu suffering a pair of torn ligaments on a punt return last season has coach Bruce Arians rethinking the use of starters like Patrick Peterson in the return game. With the addition of veteran receiver and returner Ted Ginn there is little reason to risk Peterson. As with kickoff returns, Ginn's backup is likely to be rookie receiver John Brown though there may be competition for the job.

Offensive Line

Projected Starters: LT Levi Brown, LG Daryn Colledge, C Lyle Sendlein, RG Jonathan Cooper, RT Bobby Massie
Key Backups: T Nate Potter, T Earl Watford, G Chilo Rachal, G Mike Gibson, C Scott Wedige

The Arizona Cardinals offensive line is a work in progress, but there are some positive signs. Getting left tackle Levi Brown back from injury should be a nice boost to their talent level. Brown, a former high first round pick, isn't considered a top notch left tackle, but he can be solid, especially in the run game. Left guard Daryn Colledge is another solid player, who has spent his entire seven year career at the same position. As a result, first round selection Jon Cooper is likely to be slotted in at either right guard or center, instead of his natural college position of left guard. Lyle Sendlein is another decent player but coming off of a knee injury, might not be ready for Week 1. Cooper is an elite athlete who can instantly contribute at any interior line position and is comfortable snapping the football. It will be interesting to see if Cooper has a better pro career than fellow first round guard Chance Warmack, who was picked three slots later. Cooper is certainly a more versatile and gifted athlete, and that could be why they picked him at seven overall in the first round. All signs point to former Ole Miss Rebel Bobbie Massie being the right tackle of the present and future, as the team reportedly really liked how he ended the season. In general both Brown and Massie are size players that can be exploited in pass protection but are destructive in the running attack. Swing tackle Nate Potter was forced into action at left tackle last season but was obviously overmatched. Potter could be a scrappy player in a less high profile position. Small school draft pick Earl Watford and former Bears free agent Chilo Rachal will be in competition for depth spots along the Cardinals bench. Watford is a tremendous athlete but technically raw coming out of James Madison. Backup guards Mike Gibson and Senio Kelemete might be on their last chances with the team, and will need to have a strong preseason to maintain their roster spots. The offensive line coach position is downgraded as Larry Zierlein replaces the retired Hall of Famer Russ Grimm. Overall this line could make a move up the rankings if Sendlein gets healthy and the young guys in Cooper and Massie continue to develop.

Team Defense

The biggest news here is the loss of defensive coordinator Ray Horton. Horton was fairly close to getting the head coaching gig in the offseason, but he was passed over in favor of Bruce Arians. After the snub, there was no chance the Cardinals would be able to retain Horton, and he was off to Cleveland. Left behind is a talented group led by Pro Bowl linebacker Daryl Washington. Washington, however, won't be on field for the first four games after being suspended under the NFL's substance abuse policy. He could also miss additional time after a May arrest on a domestic abuse charge. His absence will not help the Cardinals improve upon a bottom-five run defense which was often battered by opposing running backs. On the other hand, Arizona was fifth best in pass defense in 2012. That secondary has been completely retooled, however, as starting safeties Adrian Wilson and Kerry Rhodes have been replaced by Yeremiah Bell and Rashad Johnson. This is not an improvement. Bringing in Todd Bowles from Philadelphia is a bit of a head-scratcher. With the Eagles in 2012, Bowles' defense was far from impressive. Fantasy speaking, this group is not a defense you want to count on every week - even most weeks. At best, they will be a marginal fantasy starter and could easily regress a good deal in 2013.

Defensive Line

Starters: DE Darnell Dockett, DE Calais Campbell, NT Dan Williams NT
Backups: DE Matt Shaughnessy, DE Frostee Rucker, DE Ronald Talley, NT David Carter

Starting DL: The conclusion of the 2012 season also represented the twilight of the fading Ken Whisenhunt era. With the franchise hitting the reset button, 2013 marks the beginning of the incoming Bruce Arians regime. He had a lot of success as an interim head coach for the Colts last year, going 9-3 while Chuck Pagano was undergoing medical treatment. When the head coaching job didn't go to incumbent defensive coordinator Ray Horton, a decision was made to part ways. Arians hired replacement Todd Bowles from Philadelphia (Horton made a lateral move to Cleveland). The Cards were again middle of the pack in scoring defense at 17th for the second year in a row (22.3 and 21.8 PPG in 2012 and 2011, respectively) and just outside of the top 10 in sacks with 38. The hulking, 6'8" and 310 pounds, "Too Tall" Jones-like Calais Campbell is one of the top defensive ends in the game, and incredibly could still have upside as he turns just 27 this season. Campbell is a freakish physical specimen and athlete for his Kodiak bear size, finishing second among NFL defensive linemen with 50+ solo tackles in 2012 (for the second year in a row), along with 6.5 sacks. Darnell Dockett turns 32 in 2013, and appears to be close to riding into the desert sunset. He has seen diminishing sack totals three years in a row (7, 5, 3.5 and 2 since 2009) and solo tackle numbers two years in a row (45, 35 and 23). Perhaps he can be rejuvenated in the reportedly more aggressive and attacking new scheme. Nose tackle Dan Williams is a 6'2" and 327 pound man mountain. When in shape and motivated, the 2010 first rounder has rare short area quickness and movement skills for a big man.

Backup DL: Free agents Matt Shaughnessy (career high 7 sacks in 2010) and Frostee Rucker have been starting caliber players during previous stints with the Raiders and Bengals/Browns, respectively, but primarily from a 4-3 front. Shaughnessy may have the athleticism to alternate as a stand up edge rusher in some alignments. Both signed one year contracts and upgrade defensive line depth (replacing the outgoing Vonnie Holiday and Nick Eason). Shaughnessy is a few years younger at 26, should be entering the prime of his career, and is more likely to be groomed as a long term solution if he plays well. Rucker turns 30 during the season.

Linebackers

Starters: ILB Daryl Washington, ILB Kevin Minter [R], OLB Sam Acho, OLB O'Brien Schofield
Backups: ILB Karlos Dansby, ILB Jasper Brinkley, ILB Lorenzo Alexander, ILB Reggie Walker, OLB Alex Okafor [R], Zach Nash OLB

Starting LBs: Daryl Washington had a Pro Bowl season in 2012, setting new personal marks almost across the board, with 108 solo tackles, 9 sacks and 2 FFs (the sack number for an inside linebacker roars off the page). As sensational as last season was, the off-season could hardly have been more disastrous. After receiving a four game suspension for violating the league's substance abuse policy, early in May he was charged with two counts of aggravated assault in an alleged domestic dispute. It is too early to speculate on how this recent episode might impact on his standing for the remaining 12 games of the 2013 season, but additional penalties can't be ruled out. Second rounder Kevin Minter is a highly regarded All American from LSU. At 6'0" and 245 pounds, he is a thumper with good movement skills for his size, and was one of the top inside linebackers in the draft. Minter will be plugged into the spot formerly occupied by ex-Cardinal Paris Lenon (who played at a high level for a few years, but his skills were eroding at 35). Acho failed to build on the promise of a strong rookie campaign which saw him get at least one sack in six of his last eleven games, finishing with just 2.5 sacks in a soph slump season. Schofield missed seven games with an ankle injury. The 2013 season could be an extended audition for both young outside linebackers given a new staff without ties to previous personnel. Arizona was bottom five against the run (137 YPG).

Backup LBs: Former second rounder Dansby played six years in Arizona before a three year stint with Miami. His career has come full circle as he returns to the desert (convenient as he still resides there). Reportedly of interest to several teams, Dansby represents critically important insurance for Washington's post four game suspension further legal complications. Ex-Viking Jasper Brinkley and former Redskin Lorenzo Alexander will provide depth on the inside. Okafor is a talented rookie fourth round defensive end from Texas, with a resume including prep and collegiate All American awards. He will be reunited with fellow former Texas Longhorn Sam Acho, who was coincidentally also selected #103 overall in his draft. Similarly, the pass rusher is expected to be converted from a hand on the ground, 4-3 defensive end to a stand up, 3-4 outside linebacker.

Defensive Backs

Starters: SS Yeremiah Bell, FS Rashad Johnson, CB Patrick Peterson, CB Jerraud Powers
Backups: FS/CB Tyrann Mathieu [R], Justin Bethel FS, Javier Arenas CB, Jamell Fleming CB

Starting DBs: The Cards fielded the league's fifth best pass defense (200.8 YPG), were fourth in the league in turnovers (33) and second in the league in INTs (22). Another kind of turnover is the result of a blown up secondary. Starting safeties Adrian Wilson (now a Patriot) and Kerry Rhodes are both gone, as well as sometimes starting/nickel cornerbacks Greg Toler and William Gay. Long time Dolphin strong safety Yeremiah Bell has been one of the most prolific tacklers among defensive backs for the past half decade. This season will mark a decade of NFL service, and at 35, he is actually older than the player he is replacing, Wilson. Like his predecessor, at this stage of his career, Bell is better against the run than the pass. Former Alabama third round safety Rashad Johnson has patiently waited four years for this opportunity, though it wouldn't be a surprise if playmaking ex-LSU rookie third rounder Tyrann Mathieu emerges. Lone incumbent starter Peterson has the tools to become one of the best cornerbacks in the game, and is already a Pro Bowl returner. Former Colt third rounder Powers flashed ability when healthy, but has missed a lot of time in his first four seasons.

Backup DBs: Third round cornerback Tyrann Mathieu was one of the more polarizing figures in the 2013 draft. There are many similarities to 2012 star rookie CB Janoris Jenkins, who had first round talent but fell to St. Louis in the second round due to multiple off field incidents. Both Jenkins (Florida) and Mathieu (LSU) were dismissed from their respective collegiate squads. In the third round, the Arizona front office and coaching staff found his compelling upside outweighed the attendant risk (before imploding, Mathieu had once been a Heisman finalist). Part of the Cardinals thought process was that Mathieu could be mentored by close friend and fellow LSU cornerback Peterson, somewhat mitigating the risk. The plan is to convert him to free safety, as well as deploy him in coverage against slot wide receivers. Former Chief Javier Arenas can play nickel corner, and has return ability, if the team wants to reduce the irreplaceable Peterson's special teams role.

Last modified: 2014-05-15 13:26:25