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2014 Team Report: Arizona Cardinals
QuarterbacksStarter: Carson Palmer
Backup(s): Drew Stanton, Logan Thomas [R] Starting QB: Carson Palmer, the first overall pick by the Bengals in the 2003 draft, was a stellar fantasy quarterback early in his career, but the last time he finished in the top ten at his position was 2007. He's entering his second year with the Cardinals, after having spent the prior two years with the Raiders, and is a lock to start for the team in 2014, but his contract voids in 2015, so this season could be his last in Arizona. Palmer has some outstanding targets on the outside in Larry Fitzgerald and Michael Floyd, but his lack of recent statistical success makes him only a mediocre fantasy QB2 prospect. If the offensive line gels with the addition of left tackle Jared Veldheer and return of 2013 #7 overall pick Jonathan Cooper, Palmer could exceed expectations. 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 last offseason before they signed Carson Palmer. The battle to watch will be for the third spot. Rookie Logan Thomas probably has the edge over Ryan Lindley. Thomas has prototypical size and an outstanding arm. He also has decent mobility. He lacks accuracy, however, and is viewed as a developmental project. Lindley did not attempt any passes last season, but was rather unimpressive when he got a chance in 2012.
Running BacksStarter: Andre Ellington
Backup(s): Stepfan Taylor, Jonathan Dwyer, Robert Hughes
Fullback(s): Starting RB: Rashard Mendenhall got the most snaps in Arizona last season, but Andre Ellington was by far the team's best running back, both as a rusher and as a receiver. Mendenhall is gone, but Ellington's workload may not increase as much as his fantasy owners would like. The Cardinals do not want him to wear down or get injured, so he'll be spelled more often than many NFL starting RBs. Ellington is a skilled receiver who can split out wide on occasion, and is an electrifying runner in the open field. Backup RBs: Stepfan Taylor and Jonathan Dwyer will compete to be the primary backup. 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. Jonathan Dwyer slid to the sixth round in the 2010 NFL draft until he was selected by the Steelers. He has had moderate success as a backup in Pittsburgh, but with the tendency to gain weight during the offseason. He is not a lock to make the Cardinals' final roster, but if he shows up to camp in shape, he will compete with Taylor for the number two job. Alfonso Smith is a fine pass-blocker, but is otherwise replaceable. Fullback:
Wide ReceiversStarters: Larry Fitzgerald, Michael Floyd
Backups: Ted Ginn, Jaron Brown, John Brown [R], Walt Powell Starting WRs: In his ten NFL seasons, Larry Fitzgerald has gone over a thousand yards receiving six times (just missing last season with 954), 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 has become less adept at beating double coverage over the past couple seasons, but the development of Michael Floyd has attracted attention away from Fitzgerald. In fact, Floyd has become an outstanding receiver in his own right, going over 1,000 yards last season while averaging 16.0 yards per catch. Floyd is a physically imposing wide receiver with surprising speed for his size. Backup WRs: Ted Ginn was the ninth overall pick in 2007, but has generally been more productive in the return game than on offense. His quickness makes him well suited for the slot position, but in his stints with the Dolphins, 49ers, and Panthers, he has made an impact as a fantasy WR, and there's no reason to expect the pattern to change with the Cardinals. Jaron Brown was an undrafted free agent last year, but his impressive training camp earned him a roster spot over Kerry Taylor and Mike Thomas. He got little playing time as the team's fourth receiver, and will have to fight once again to make the roster in 2014. Third-round pick John Brown has functional deep speed, and has been compared to the Colts' T.Y. Hilton. He will likely battle Ted Ginn for slot duties.
Tight EndsStarters: Rob Housler
Backups: Troy Niklas, John Carlson, Darren Fells The Cardinals got very poor production from their tight ends last season. Jim Dray and Rob Housler got the most playing time, but were each poor as both blockers and receivers. In limited action, Jake Ballard may have been the most effective tight end as a receiver, but he was atrocious as a blocker. Dray is gone, and Housler returns atop the depth chart heading into training camp, but rookie Troy Niklas could end up beating Housler out as the starter by week one of the regular season. Niklas is a physical blocker. He lacks the speed to regularly get downfield as a receiver, but he has good athleticism, and could develop into fine outlet receiver. He is somewhat inexperienced as a receiver with plenty of potential for improvement. John Carlson shined in his first two seasons with the Seahawks, but wasn't featured as a receiver in his two years with the Vikings. Housler has potential as a receiver, but if he doesn't start living up to it, Niklas and Carlson could become the team's one-two punch at tight end.
Place KickerChandler Catanzaro: Coming off 30 of 36 field goals in 2013, kicker Jay Feely was re-signed in March to a one-year deal. Like last summer, he competed to keep his job. This year he lost out to undrafted rookie Chandler Catanzaro (Clemson). Catanzaro will be working with veteran co-specialists Ė long snapper Mike Leach and holder/punter Dave Zastudil, who was re-signed to a 2-year deal. After four years near the very bottom of the rankings, the Cardinals jumped up to 9th place in attempted kicking points last year.
Kick and Punt ReturnersKick Returners: J.J. Nelson [R], John Brown With last season's returner Ted Ginn returning to Carolina, the Cardinals have two speedsters to compete for the return duties in 2015. Rookie J.J. Nelson may be the favorite as he was the fastest player at the combine this year, and Cardinals General Manager Steve Keim has referred to Nelson's return skills as "tremendous". Receiver John Brown served as backup last season and should offer Nelson a challenge. 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, but has yet to return an NFL kick. Punt Returners: J.J. Nelson [R], John Brown, Tyrann Mathieu, Patrick Peterson Safety Tyrann Mathieu suffering a pair of torn ligaments on a punt return two seasons ago caused coach Bruce Arians to rethink the use of starters like Patrick Peterson in the return game. Though either defensive back could be in the mix, expect the Cardinals to prefer finding a starting returner from the same players competing for the kick returner job, J.J. Nelson and John Brown.
Offensive LineProjected Starters: LT Jared Veldheer, LG Jonathan Cooper, C Lyle Sendlein, RG Paul Fanaika, RT Bobby Massie
Key Backups: G Earl Watford, T Bradley Sowell, C Ted Larsen, T Nate Potter The Cardinals get a brand new left side of the line this year; the Raiders let Jared Veldheer hit free agency and Jon Cooper comes back from a broken leg that forced him to miss his rookie season. These two players have a ton of potential, expecting Pro Bowl honors for one or both would not be totally unreasonable. While these honors arenít perfect indicators and often depend on the overall success of the team, the fact remains that few units are getting this level of overhaul, especially a team that won 10 games in 2013. C Lyle Sendlein remains an underrated performer, steady as anyone at the center position. The right side of the line is fairly wide open at this point, and that uncertainty impacts the current ranking. Right guard will be a battle between vet Paul Fanaika and second year man Earl Watford, and itís pretty much a pick-em. Watford has the upside but itís unclear if heís ready for prime time. Last seasonís right tackle starter Eric Winston remains a free agent and it looks like a free-for-all at that position between Bobby Massie, Bradley Sowell and Nate Potter. I am picking Fanaika and Massie at this early point based on games started but thereís honestly not a lot of conviction in that prediction. Nate Potter is especially interesting name as he could play lights out and start or he could play awful and be cut outright. Itís a huge preseason for this player in particular and the right side of the line in general.
Team DefenseThe Cardinals used their first round draft pick to improve an already strong secondary unit. Deone Bucannon will join Patrick Peterson, Tyrone Matthieu, and Antonio Cromartie in what could be one of the most talented young units in the league. Up front Calais Campbell and Darnell Dockett have a long history of getting to the quarterback. The one question mark on this team may be at linebacker. Karlos Dansby was a big loss for this unit, and it's unclear who will fill the void especially with the year-long suspension of Daryl Washington. John Abraham put good pressure on the quarterback last year, but he's entering his 15th year in the league so the team needs to be thinking about who will fill his shoes soon.
Defensive LineStarters: DE Calais Campbell, DE Darnell Dockett, DT Dan Williams
Backups: DE Kareem Martin (R), DE Frostee Rucker, DE Ronald Talley Starting DL: Campbell has had at least 6 sacks every year since he became a starter in 2009. He puts up respectable tackle numbers for a defensive end and has 22 passes defensed in the last 3 seasons. Darnell Dockett was once a feared disruptor but at 32 years old his past is much more impressive than his present. He only has 9.5 sacks in the last three years combined and is now more of a situational pass threat. Dockett moves all over the line in the Cardinals 3-4 scheme. Dan Williams is a 5th defensive tackle out of Tennessee that just recorded his first sack in 2013. Williams role is to take on blockers and let the linebackers behind him make plays, he is no threat to penetrate. Backup DL: Martin was the team's 3rd round pick out of North Carolina that could see work at both defensive end and linebacker in his rookie year. At 6'6" he reminds a lot of people of Campbell, but he has a long ways (and a lot of weight) to go before he's ready to replace the team's best pass-rushing defensive lineman. Rucker is a rotational player that started one game in 2013. Rucker's best two seasons came in Cleveland, when he racked up 8 sacks from 2011-2012.
LinebackersStarters: OLB John Abraham, OLB Matt Shaughnessy, ILB Kevin Minter, ILB Larry Foote
Backups: , OLB Marcus Benard, OLB Alex Okafor, ILB Lorenzo Alexander, Starting LBs: Abraham is a 14 year veteran with 133.5 career sacks. Some people thought he was done after his 2012 season in Atlanta but Abraham responded with 11.5 sacks in his first year in Arizona. Despite the fact that he's 36 years old, Abraham has shown no signs of slowing, with 44 sacks in his last 4 seasons. On the other side is Matt Shaughnessy, who spent the first four years of his career in Oakland before joining the Cardinals in 2013. Shaughnessy had 7 sacks in 2010 the Raiders but has never approached that number since. Washington had a spectacular 2012 campaign with 108 solo tackles and 9 sacks. Last year he missed the first four games of the season due to suspension and then played alongside Dansby when he returned. The Cardinals are hoping second-year linebacker Kevin Minter can step up to fill the void left by Daryl Washington. The second round draft pick out of LSU played sparingly in 2013 but has an excellent opportunity in a wide open competition. Foote is an 11 year veteran that was brought in from Pittsburgh. Foote has experience with Bruce Arians, which means Arians will lean on his veteran leadership with the team's sudden lack of talent at inside linebacker. Backup LBs: Okafor was a 4th round pick out of Texas that played only 3 games as a rookie. He's a former defensive lineman that the Cardinals hope can help spell Abraham at outside linebacker. Benard and Alexander are both rotational players that provide more value on special teams than they do on defense.
Defensive BacksStarters: CB Patrick Peterson, CB Antonio Cromartie, FS Tyrann Mathieu, SS Deone Bucannon (R)
Backups: SS Tony Jefferson, CB Jerraud Powers, CB Justin Bethel Starting DBs: Peterson is simply one of the top cover corners in the game and an equally exciting playmaker. He has 12 interceptions in his 3 years in the league but he has seen his tackle numbers go down each year as teams avoid him more in the passing game. Cromartie was brought over from New York in the offseason to be the veteran presence in the secondary. Cromartie has had at least 3 interceptions every year since 2009 and has posted double digit passes defensed in 4 of those 5 years. Mathieu started 11 games as a rookie and made an instant impact with 65 solo tackles and 3 interceptions. He's small for the NFL at 5'9" but his tenacity and balls skills more than make up for it. Bucannon was the team's first round pick out of Washington State. Bucannon is a big hitter that excels in run support but also had acceptable cover skills. Backup DBs: Tony Jefferson will be the starting strong safety if Bucannon isn't ready for the challenge of the NFL. Jefferson played in all 16 games and earned 2 starts as a rookie. Jerraud Powers and Justin Bethel will play in nickel and dime packages. Powers started all 16 games last season but his size (5'10") makes him better suited to cover the slot receiver. Bethel enters his third year in the league without a start or interception under his belt. Last modified: 2015-05-03 18:50:27