STATE OF THE FRANCHISE
It's a year later, but the same questions linger in the desert that did before the 2011 season and the Cardinals are still searching for an answer to the biggest question of all: Can Kevin Kolb finally prove he's the right guy in Glendale or will John Skelton defy the odds and take over the reins of the franchise?
For a team that started 1-6 and looked completely out of sync for the first half of the season, going 7-2 over the final nine games and finishing 2011 with an 8-8 record is impressive, but that mark still left a bitter taste in the mouths of Cardinals' supporters. Watching the team's playoff hopes sail over the tip of Early Doucet's outstretched fingers in the end zone against Cincinnati in Week 16 perfectly summed up the team's 2011 campaign full of missed opportunities.
What if John Skelton and his 6-2 record had replaced Kolb, who dealt with both a foot injury and concussion, earlier? Folks like to say that Tim Tebow "just wins," but how about Skelton? The sophomore quarterback engineered five game-winning drives, including three in overtime, in his seven starts. Kolb, meanwhile, enters the offseason with a 2-6 record while wearing an Arizona jersey.
Despite the thrilling wins during the second half of the season, the Cards finished with pedestrian numbers across the board, ranking 17th in both passing offense and defense, and falling off slightly to 24th in rushing yards and 21st in run defense.
While Beanie Wells answered the bell, playing through a knee injury en route to a record-setting season, questions still remain outside the quarterback position. The offensive line needs to find its groove and the Cards hope that fourth-round pick Bobby Massie will solidify the need at right tackle. The secondary, which battled injuries for much of the season, should get a boost from the return of Greg Toler and added a possible starter with the selection of Oklahoma CB Jamell Fleming in the third round.
Neither Early Doucet nor Andre Roberts were able to prove that they're deserving of claiming the No. 2 wide receiver slot opposite Larry Fitzgerald, but the offseason addition of Notre Dame WR Michael Floyd should provide an immediate boost to the team's passing game.
If the Cardinals are able to get consistent play out of their quarterback - whoever it is in 2012 - and Floyd complements Fitzgerald, the Cards could boast one of the league's most potent offenses for the first time since the Kurt Warner era.
Michael Floyd, WR, Notre Dame (Round 1, 13th overall)
There's no reason for him not to secure the starting role opposite Larry Fitzgerald if he can keep the off-the-field issues at bay.
Jamell Fleming, CB, Oklahoma (Round 3, 80th overall)
At worst, he adds depth to the CB position, but is also expected to compete for the starting role alongside Patrick Peterson.
Bobby Massie, OT, Mississippi (Round 4, 112th overall)
Considered a possible sleeper pick and could be the steal of the draft for Arizona.
James Sanders, S (Falcons)
Provides a capable and experienced backup at strong safety for Adrian Wilson.
Adam Snyder, G (49ers)
Versatility along the offensive line allows him to fit where needed; he will likely replace Rex Hadnot, who signed with Chargers in free agency.
Ryan Lindley, QB, San Diego State (Round 6, 185th overall)
Has a strong arm and great size (6-4/226 lbs) for a quarterback, but struggled with accuracy issues with the Aztecs. Don't be surprised if he beats out Richard Bartel for the third-string job.
Deuce Lutui, G (Seahawks)
Promising career with the Cards was marred by weight issues; lost starting role to Rex Hadnot in 2011.
Rex Hadnot, G (Chargers)
Started all 16 games for Arizona in 2011; will be replaced by Adam Snyder along offensive line.
WHO'S THE QUARTERBACK?
With Kevin Kolb going 2-6 and John Skelton posting a 6-2 record, the numbers suggest that there isnt much of a quarterback controversy brewing in the desert: Skelton should be the guy. But a closer look at the numbers tells a different story. Though Kolb mustered just two wins, he posted better stats across the board: 81.1 passer rating, 57.7 completion percentage and nine touchdowns to go with eight interceptions, compared with a 68.9 passer rating, 54.9 completion percentage and 11:14 touchdown-to-interception ratio from Skelton. Kolb's also the player the Cards gave up a second-rounder and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie to acquire. That investment alone gives him a leg up on Skelton, but how long can the Cards afford to give Kolb chances to prove he’s cut from a starting QB-caliber cloth?
If the Cardinals do end up starting the season with Kolb under center, the former Eagle is fast running out of excuses. The Cards should boast a solid defensive unit, Beanie Wells has taken the run game to a new level and with Michael Floyd running routes opposite Larry Fitzgerald, the wide receiver corps is the best it has been in a long time in Glendale. With the team throwing its name into the Peyton Manning sweepstakes, it's clear the Cardinals aren't quite sold on either option as a long-term solution.
NO. 2 RECEIVER WOES SOLVED?
Former Notre Dame receiver Michael Floyd represents an immediate upgrade over Andre Roberts and Early Doucet, both of whom did little to seize the wide-open opportunity to prove that they are viable No. 2 receiving options, something which should have been made easier with opponents focusing defensive attention on Larry Fitzgerald. Enter Floyd. If - and this may be a big if - Floyd can keep it together off the field, there's little reason to think he won't take advantage of his opportunity. The lack of legitimate competition and attention to Fitzgerald running routes across the field should make life easier for Floyd and his fantasy owners.
CAN BEANIE HOLD UP?
By all accounts, Beanie Wells overachieved in 2011. Thought of as both fragile and not worthy of his high draft status for much of the beginning of his career, Cards fans had to have been thinking "here we go again" when Wells suffered a knee injury Week 7 against Pittsburgh. With Ryan Williams already sidelined, the Cards' run game appeared to rest on the shoulders of LaRod Stephens-Howling until Wells proved doubters wrong and played through the knee injury en route to a record-setting season. Was Beanie's performance enough to permanently shake his fragile label? With Ryan Williams returning from injury, the Cards' backfield receives an immediate boost and should be one of the team's strengths heading into 2012.
RISING: Michael Floyd was drafted into an excellent situation without pressure to be the No. 1 receiver as a rookie and should have every opportunity to succeed.
DECLINING: Early Doucet/Andre Roberts: Doucet will likely man the slot, while Roberts could find himself as a rotational guy on the outside looking in.
SLEEPER: Ryan Williams will return from a season-ending knee injury and should help take the load off Beanie Wells' shoulders.
SUPERSLEEPER: While Jeff King caught some surprise touchdowns (three, to be exact) from Kevin Kolb, Rob Housler is the Cards' tight end with the most offensive upside.
Calais Campbell, DE
Recorded career-highs in tackles (72) and sacks (8.0) in 2011 as the Cardinals switched to a 3-4 defensive scheme.
Patrick Peterson, CB
Explosive return man set franchise-record with four special teams touchdowns as a bonus to IDP owners.
Jamell Fleming, CB
Oklahoma rookie could earn his way to a starting spot
RotoWire Rank: 17