The Arizona Cardinals fell short of the playoffs last season; however it was still a great year for some individual players. Many players grew and several players stepped up in a big way, leaving fans with high hopes for the 2012 campaign.
Heading into the season, Arizona has all of the tools to be a playoff team and all they have to do is execute. Outside of the desert, not many people are giving the Cardinals a chance and several players are being overlooked.
Over the next few slides, we will take a look at five players who will exceed their expectations and help lead the Arizona Cardinals to the playoffs in 2012.
One player that has had a rough career so far is left tackle Levi Brown. Since being drafted by the Cardinals back in 2007, he has struggled to find his way, despite being named a Pro Bowl alternate in 2009.
Arizona took Brown with the fifth overall pick, ahead of running back Adrian Peterson. On top of that, he signed a six-year contract worth $62 million ($18 million guaranteed). These three things have heavily contributed to the 28-year-old being looked at as a bust.
At this point in his career, the expectations for Levi Brown are not as high as they used to be. Despite allowing only one sack in the second half of 2011, he was signed to a much-cheaper contract then he was set to make.
Not many people took note of Brown’s performance during the final eight games of 2011 so it will surprise some people when he helps drastically improve the Cardinals' offensive line this season.
Former first-round pick Dan Williams has spent two seasons with Arizona and while he hasn’t been terrible, he hasn’t exactly lived up to the first-round pick status, either.
The 25-year-old started 10 games for the Cardinals in 2011, before suffering a broken arm that forced him to miss the final six games of the year.
After struggling early on with weight issues, it appears that Williams is turning things around. He has been working hard with strength and conditioning coach John Lott and looks like he is in a better mental and physical state.
With a lot of attention put towards Calais Campbell and Darnell Dockett, a healthy Dan Williams could jump in and steal some attention this season.
With Ryan Williams returning from injury and the addition of Michael Floyd, the Arizona Cardinals are loaded with offensive talent. One position that may be overlooked because of this is tight end.
Arizona did well addressing the tight end position last offseason, adding Todd Heap, Jeff King and Rob Housler. When Heap went down to injury, Housler had the opportunity to start two games.
Throughout the year he used his size and athleticism to get open downfield. He is currently being overlooked, but if he can develop some chemistry with one of the quarterbacks this offseason, then he has the potential to be a huge part of the Cardinals offense.
In two professional seasons, linebacker Daryl Washington has been great for Arizona, recording 185 tackles, six sacks and three interceptions in 25 starts.
The 25-year-old led all middle linebackers in sacks this past season and has the potential to become one of the best in the league at his position.
He is in a great spot right now as the primary focus for this defense is on players like Adrian Wilson and Calais Campbell as opposed to him.
Washington does not need to have and is not expected to have a great season in 2012; but he will anyway, leading the Cardinals defense to a top-10 finish.
One player who is a massive sleeper this season is outside linebacker O’Brien Schofield. The 25-year-old has not done anything overly special in his career; in fact, he has not started a game yet in two seasons as a pro.
Schofield will have a chance to start this season, but his expectations are not nearly as high as a lot of the players around him.
Last year he had 37 tackles, 4.5 sacks and two forced fumbles as a rotational player. Now that he has had a full offseason to become familiar with the Cardinals system, it is scary to think of what he can do as a starter.