By Carly Syms
STATE OF THE FRANCHISE
There's a buzz in the Valley of the Sun that hasn't been felt since Kurt Warner led the Cardinals on a 2008 Super Bowl run and subsequent playoff push in 2009. The post-Warner era hasn't been nearly as kind to the Cards as the championship quarterback was, and with 2010 featuring a revolving door of Matt Leinart, Derek Anderson, John Skelton, and Max Hall, Arizona found itself left with a disappointing 5-11 record.
Enter Kevin Kolb. After a firestorm of speculation about potential landing spots for Michael Vick's backup, Kolb comes riding into the desert on what fans hope is his white horse. With just seven career starts (and more interceptions (14) than touchdowns (11), Kolb's ability to be a franchise quarterback may be a bit uncertain, but it's hard to argue that he won't represent an upgrade over last season's signal-calling experiment. Kolb is a welcome sight for fans spoiled by the superb passing offense orchestrated by Warner and his Pro Bowl wideout Larry Fitzgerald and will at least give the Cardinals a shot at finding a respectable aerial attack after a 2010 campaign that offered little in the way of optimism.
Of course, Kolb isn't the only piece of the puzzle that needs to be glued into place in Glendale. A stagnant running game needs to find its spark, a reliable No. 2 receiver must emerge, and a secondary that ranked 23rd in the NFL has to find its stride in the wake of losing key playmaker Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie. Beanie Wells has yet to turn into the prolific back he was drafted to be. Tim Hightower and his slippery hands have departed for the nation's capital, leaving the former Buckeye with the opportunity to prove his doubters wrong and turn the league's worst rushing attack (86.8 ypg) in 2010 around. With Steve Breaston running routes in Kansas City, the Cards have more question marks than proven commodities at wide receiver. As of now, they plan to rely on Andre Roberts as a No. 2, hoping that his stellar end to 2010 was a sign of things to come. Early Doucet figures to be in the mix, but his inability to remain healthy for more than 10 games in a single season sparks concern that there are no reliable weapons outside of Fitzgerald.
A defense that allowed 27.1 points and 228.4 yards per game isn't going to be saved by its own Kevin Kolb, but first-round pick (No. 5 overall) Patrick Peterson's role becomes even more important with the departure of Rodgers-Cromartie. Safety Adrian Wilson suffered a torn biceps in training camp and will attempt to play this season, but his health makes him more of an unknown at this point. If the Cards' defense can't lock down its opponents (and we probably shouldn't expect them to), look for plenty of come-from-behind offense from what coach Ken Whisenhunt hopes will morph into a potent passing game.
Round, Overall, Player
1. (5) Patrick Peterson, CB, LSU
Needs to make an immediate impact with the departure of Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie.
2. (38) Ryan Williams, RB, Virginia Tech
Wasn't drafted 38th overall to sit on the bench.
3. (69) Rob Housler, TE, Florida Atlantic
Pass-catching TE's role will diminish with addition of Todd Heap.
4. (103) Sam Acho, LB, Texas
Should push for playing time at OLB.
5. (136) Anthony Sherman, RB, Connecticut
Adds fullback depth, but won't make a fantasy impact.
6. (171) Quan Sturdivant, LB, North Carolina
Character concerns caused the Tar Heel to slip down draft boards.
6. (184) David Carter, DT, UCLA
Will shift from tackle to end.
7. (249) DeMarco Sampson, WR, San Diego State
Over 2,000 receiving yards and 16 touchdowns in his final two seasons with the Aztecs.
Kevin Kolb, QB (Eagles)
63 million reasons to turn around 2010's 31st-ranked passing attack.
Todd Heap, TE (Ravens)
Gives the Cards a glimmer of fantasy relevance at the TE position.
Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, CB (Eagles)
Strongest playmaker departs 23rd-ranked secondary.
Alan Faneca, G (Retired)
Fixture will leave hard-to-replace hole on the O-line.
Steve Breaston, WR (Chiefs)
Leaves behind a bunch of unknowns at the position.
CAN BEANIE BOUNCE BACK?
If you listen to Beanie Wells, he's in the best shape of his life and more explosive than ever, but his 2010 numbers paint the grim picture of a running back unable to live up to expectations. The Cards haven't given up on the former Buckeye, after he played much of last season on a bum knee, but with rookie Ryan Williams breathing down his neck for playing time, it's tough to know exactly what to expect from Beanie in 2011. The Cardinals will give the former first-round pick the green light in Week 1, but don't think coach Ken Whisenhunt will hesitate to pull the trigger and deploy Williams. The departure of Tim Hightower to the Redskins should afford Beanie some leniency from the coaching staff and as long as he's healthy, the Cards will keep him on the field in hopes of seeing the spark that prompted his selection at No. 31 overall.
WILL KOLB TAKE FLIGHT?
For a guy with just seven career starts under his belt, Kolb found himself at the center of a whirlwind of trade rumors with several franchises rumored to be sweet-talking the Eagles into parting with their backup signal caller. Arizona came out on top in the Kolb sweepstakes but had to pay dearly, parting with Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and a 2012 second-round pick. Kolb's numbers in Philadelphia aren't eye-popping, but the Cards hope that by giving him weapons like Larry Fitzgerald and the speedy Andre Roberts along with the confidence that he won't be yanked for Michael Vick at a moment's notice, he'll be well worth the price. It's easy to get swept away with visions of what the Arizona passing game used to be, but it's likely that Kolb, at least in his first season as a full-time starter, will be a solid but not necessarily spectacular signal caller.
WHO'S BEHIND LARRY?
When you've got Larry Fitzgerald running routes, it's hard to call the wide receiving corps a potential weakness, but apart from Fitz, the Cards don't have much in terms of proven weapons at the position. Andre Roberts is penciled in as the second receiver, but apart from an explosive finish to the 2010 season, Roberts struggled for much of last season. Early Doucet and Stephen Williams will also be looked to in an effort to solidify the position, but with the oft-injured Doucet never seeing time in more than 10 games in a single season and Williams catching nine passes for 101 yards in 2010, the Cards have reason to be concerned heading into 2011. They'll need at least one of their lesser-known receivers to step up and develop a strong rapport with Kevin Kolb if the Cards $63 million gamble pans out.
Rising: Kevin Kolb should benefit from having Larry Fitzgerald running routes. The Arizona secondary gave up 27.1 points per game last season, so it's not unreasonable to expect the Cards to have to throw and throw often.
Declining: Though Todd Heap will undoubtedly bring a pass-catching element to the desert, temper your expectations for the former Raven in Arizona's TE-unfriendly offense.
Sleeper: Ryan Williams wasn't drafted 38th overall to cool his heels on the bench. With nine touchdowns as a Hokie in 2010, he could become a prominent feature of the Arizona offense if Beanie Wells suffers another injury or doesn't perform well.
Supersleeper: Early Doucet has the ability, he just lacks durability. He'll be given every opportunity to prove himself worthy of No. 2 duties if he can stay on the field.
Rashad Johnson, S
43 tackles and one interception as the third safety last season; should start as long as Adrian Wilson is out.
Daryl Washington, LB
Washington will look to capitalize on his rookie success (78 tackles, one sack, one pick).
Stewart Bradley, ILB
60 tackles and one sack with the Eagles last season; named a starter at ILB for the Cards.
RotoWire Rank: 15