STATE OF THE FRANCHISE
The Cardinals have won back-to-back NFC West titles, but their nest will have a very different look in 2010. Most importantly, the franchise lost two of its most potent offensive players this offseason. Potential Hall of Fame quarterback Kurt Warner retired, and Anquan Boldin, a perennial Pro Bowl candidate at receiver, was traded to Baltimore. Plus, Arizona's already shaky defense took a hit when two key starters . safety Antrel Rolle and linebacker Karlos Dansby . signed with the Giants and Dolphins, respectively. The Cards' modest offseason moves weren't shiny enough to immediately satisfy their suddenly impatient fan base. After decades of dismal performances, Arizona raised expectations by winning three playoff games in 2008 and another in .09.
Arizona's 2010 success will depend in large part on its new starting quarterback, Matt Leinart, who hasn't played much since his mediocre rookie season (2006). The team believes that the one-time party boy has matured on and off the field, and hopes that he can eventually be Steve Young to Warner's Joe Montana. Receiver Steve Breaston, who will replace Boldin, has made a significant impact as Arizona's No. 3 receiver in each of the past two seasons. He will need to progress even further in order to help fill Boldin's shoes.
Head coach Ken Whisenhunt's offensive philosophy trends more towards the run, however, he smartly emphasized the pass in his first three years in Arizona, given the Cardinals' talent at quarterback and receiver. Now that Warner and Boldin are no longer around as weapons, Whisenhunt will probably seize the opportunity to deploy a more substantial ground game. Arizona ran an NFL-low 38 percent of the time during the 2009 regular season. The Cards should be much closer to a 50/50 split in 2010. Whisenhunt likes a two-back system, and the Cardinals have two respectable options in second-year player Chris “Beanie” Wells and third-year man Tim Hightower.
Wells established himself as the leader of the time-share during the second half of the 2009 season. He averaged 14.1 carries and 67.0 rushing yards per game in Weeks 9-16, and six of his seven touchdowns came in those eight contests. He's a hard-nosed runner who could eventually become an every-down back. That shouldn't happen in 2010, though, because Hightower is a better receiver (he ranked third on the team with 63 catches last year), and he excels in short-yardage situations (he has 18 touchdowns in
Arizona's last 32 regular-season games).
In short, how the Cardinals fare this season, in both real and fantasy terms, rests largely on how well the team adjusts to life without the likes of Warner, Boldin, Rolle and Dansby, but the nucleus is there to move forward, assuming Leinart comes through.
Round, Overall, Player
3. (88) Andre Roberts, WR, Citadel-Projects as a slot wideout who should help immediately in the return game.
4. (130) O’Brien Schofield, DE, Wisconsin-Could have gone much higher if he hadn’t torn his ACL during Senior Bowl practice.
6. (201) Jorrick Calvin, CB, Troy-Slots in as a reserve cornerback/specialteamer.
7. (233) Jim Dray, TE, Stanford-Mostly a blocking tight end, assuming he can stick.
Derek Anderson, QB (Browns) Veteran is currently Leinart’s backup but can start if needed.
Joey Porter, LB (Dolphins) Double-digit sack threat eases losses of three of the Cardinals’ top five linebackers.
Kerry Rhodes, S (Jets) New starting free safety is talented but has doubters after being benched in 2009.
Kurt Warner, QB (Retired) Potential Hall of Famer won two NFL MVP awards, completed 65.5 percent of passes.
Anquan Boldin, WR (Ravens) Injuries and attitude were a problem, talent will be tough to replace.
Karlos Dansby, LB (Dolphins) Compelling player, but Cards didn’t want to overbid since he’s never been a Pro Bowler.
CAN NO. 7 BE A TRUE NO. 1?
Leinart waited his turn for the past three seasons behind Kurt Warner, and now that Warner has retired, it's time for the Cardinals to find out if the former Heisman Trophy winner has what it takes to become their long-term answer under center. Arizona signed veteran Derek Anderson . a 2007 Pro Bowler who later fell out of favor in Cleveland . as insurance in case Leinart struggles or gets hurt. Whereas Warner averaged 34.2 pass attempts per contest in 2009, the 2010 Cardinals probably want to attempt 30 or fewer passes per game in an effort to achieve greater offensive balance. Arizona's passing game would have been better off if Anquan Boldin had stuck around, but the Cards still have enough talent to be successful through the air.
WILL LARRY BE LONELY?
Some observers fear that Boldin's departure will allow opposing teams to stifle Arizona's No. 1 receiver, Larry Fitzgerald. Over the past two seasons, however, Fitzgerald averaged 6.1 receptions, 101.3 receiving yards and 1.4 touchdowns per game in the eight regular-season and playoff contests that Boldin missed due to injuries. Fitzgerald is so good that even double teams can't stop him. He caught 97 passes for 1,092 yards and a career-high 13 touchdowns last season, although his yards per catch (11.3) was the lowest of his six-year NFL career. In addition, it's worth noting that players like Steve Breaston, Early Doucet and third-round pick Andre Roberts should give Fitzgerald some help in the passing game. Breaston in particular is a good bet to pick up the slack, since he totaled 77 receptions for 1,006 yards and three touchdowns as a third receiver in 2008. Doucet didn't do much in the regular season last year, but he came alive in the playoffs and posted a highly respectable stat line of 14 catches, 145 yards and two touchdowns in two games.
Arizona allowed a whopping 90 points in its two playoff games last season. That marked a disappointing finish for a defense that actually improved by a wide margin in 2009. Last year's Cardinals allowed 20.3 points per game (down from 26.6 in 2008), and they ranked sixth in the NFL with 43 sacks (up from 31 the year before). The losses of Antrel Rolle, Karlos Dansby and key linebackers Chike Okeafor and Bertrand Berry have created big question marks heading into 2010. The Cardinals will rely on newcomers Joey Porter and Kerry Rhodes (a pair of up-and-down players that wore out their respective welcome with the Dolphins and Jets), as well as younger guys like third-year defensive end Calais Campbell (who tied for the team lead with seven sacks in 2009 in his first campaign as a starter).
RISING: Steve Breaston is Arizona’s new No. 2 receiver following Boldin’s departure, and he should be in line for his second 1,000-yard season in three years.
DECLINING: Tim Hightower does some things well (receiving, blocking and converting in short-yardage situations), but he doesn’t have nearly as much short- or long-term upside as his backfield mate Chris Wells.
SLEEPER: Derek Anderson is waiting in the wings behind Leinart and, if he gets a chance to play, he could recapture his past glory.
SUPERSLEEPER: Three touchdowns in his final four 2009 games (including the playoffs) could illustrate that Early Doucet is on the rise despite minimal 2008 production.
DOMINIQUE RODGERS-CROMARTIE, CB Went from four INTs to six in his second NFL season and has more room to improve.
ADRIAN WILSON, S Well-rounded nine-year vet set a new career high with five picks in 2009.
Darnell Dockett, DT Led NFL defensive tackles with seven sacks last season.
RotoWire Rank: 19