Arizona Cardinals' Early Review: Position Analysis and Draft Predictions
Until a couple of weeks ago, the quarterback situation seemed murky at best. Kurt Warner was testing Free Agency to see what offers were around and it looked as though there might be a chance that Matt Leinart would be our starter next season.
But that thought was squashed last week when Arizona re-signed Kurt Warner to a two year contract. That, along with the re-signing of third string quarterback Brian St. Pierre, it looks like the quarterback position is set for next season.
With J.J. Arrington going to Denver in free agency and the likelihood that Edgerrin James will be released sometime this off-season, there is going to be a big void left at running back until the draft.
Tim Hightower is a good running back but would be most effective as a short yardage running back.
I am guessing that the Cardinals are going to take a running back with their first or second round pick, depending on who they like in the draft and where he is projected to go. If they feel that they need some veteran presence in the backfield, they might keep Edgerrin James or look for a cheaper alternative.
It all matters whether James is willing to accept a lesser role with the team again next season.
The Cardinals have two fullbacks already on their roster in Justin Green and Tim Castille. Justin Green is the more experienced of the two and has started before with the Baltimore Ravens.
Tim Castille played last season as a back up to Terrelle Smith, but never really played more than a couple snaps a game. Both are good blockers but don’t really offer anything more than that.
Ken Whisenhunt may be looking to upgrade with a late round draft pick or late veteran signing to help open up the backfield more.
Everything is pretty much set here. Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin are the two top receivers, followed by Steve Breaston as the third wide receiver and finishing off with Jerame Urban and Early Doucet fighting for the final fourth spot.
The only thing that might slow things down here is Anquan Boldin. He has said repeatedly that he wants more money and if he doesn’t get that then he wants to be traded. But he also stated this before the Cardinals made it to the Super Bowl.
Maybe after coming within a touchdown of winning it all he will start to soften up and look at the big picture. Only time will tell.
What might be the only position keeping this team’s offense from becoming the best in the NFL, the tight end position is a position that has really never been a strong point. Although in the playoffs, Ben Patrick and Stephen Spach both had big roles in the Cardinals good play.
Stephen Spach got the big catch at the end of the game to seal the win against the Atlanta Falcons and Ben Patrick got a big touchdown catch during the Super Bowl to get the Cardinals back into the game.
But both are not capable of starting for the Cardinals because both are blocking tight ends.
The Cardinals have bigger issues to address at other positions, but don’t be surprised if the Cardinals spend a draft pick on the tight end position.
Two years ago, this position was completely bare and you would not be able to name one player on this line.
Now, the players may not be the best in the NFL, but the position does have some experience under its belt. Levi Brown was a first-round pick three years ago, and even though he hasn’t lived up to the expectations he was given, he is still a good enough tackle to start in the NFL.
The other starting tackle, Mike Gandy, was hot and cold all season. Whenever he faced an All-Star quality defensive tackle, he looked over matched and out of place. He is a decent starter but the Cardinals eventually need to upgrade to protect Warner’s blind side.
Depth wise, the Cardinals should try and get another potential body to add depth. Kelly Butler has had starting experience in the NFL but is about as good as Gandy. Look for the Cardinals to maybe spend a late draft pick to help fill that void.
Surprisingly this position is not bad. Deuce Lutui is a solid player who can only get better and Reggie Wells is a pretty good guard as well. Both are not amazing at playing guard but they both get the job done. Elton Brown is a solid guard who has starting experience and can fill in either starting guard position.
After that, there is an inexperienced Brandon Keith who has no experience and will have trouble sticking with the team if the Cardinals decide to draft or sign another guard. Overall the team is pretty good here.
This is also a position that is not amazing, but good. Lyle Sendelin is a good center who can keep most defensive tackles from getting to the quarterback. Arizona could improve at this position, but they have a lot of other needs that need to be addressed before this position.
As for the backup position, the job is currently filled by Ben Claxton, but I don’t think it will be for long. He has no experience and I have a feeling that Arizona will sign a veteran or draft a center in the later round of the draft to take his place.
The position that probably lost the most, the Cardinals had to let go two starters in Bertrand Berry and Antonio Smith to free agency. Bertrand Berry was getting old and the position needed to get younger while Antonio Smith was demanding too much money.
The only real starter that is still left for the defensive end position is Travis LaBoy, who is a solid pass rusher but is not the strongest on stopping the run. The Cardinals still have a backup in Kenny Iwebema, but besides that the cupboard is really bare.
I have a feeling that the Cardinals will draft a defensive end with one of their higher draft picks and also maybe even sign a veteran player as well.
Like most of the Cardinals defense, there are no really flashy players at his position. Bryan Robinson came to the Cardinals from the Cincinnati Bengals as a defensive end and was converted to a defensive tackle with good success.
Darnell Dockett has been with the team for the past five seasons and even though he is a little under-sized for a defensive tackle, he makes up for it with a lot of heart and plays really well. They also have a monster in the making with Calais Campbell, who stands at a massive 6'8" 286 pounds.
He has the potential to be a monster defensive lineman in the NFL and will be a solid replacement for the aging Bryan Robinson in the future. Lost to free agency was Gabe Watson, so expect a late draft pick or a signing to the defensive tackle position.
Outside linebacker was in serious doubt for a while but by putting the franchise tag on Karlos Dansby, they secured the best linebacker the Cardinals have had in the past ten years. He is a potential Pro Bowl player that is the best defensive player on this team other than Adrian Wilson.
Chike Okeafor will man the other side of the linebacker group and is a good but not great player. The only issue with this team is depth. The Cardinals let go Clark Haggans this offseason and only have a late season signing in Victor Hobson whose health is questionable at best.
This position needs some youth so look for the Cardinals to spend a mid-level draft pick on a linebacker.
This position has been getting progressively stronger every season thanks to the development of Gerald Hayes. He started off the first three years of his career as an injury case.
Ever since though he has been getting better and better every season and last year showed as he helped anchor and lead the defense.
Hayes' backup Monty Biesel, who had that memorable touchdown against the Cowboys on a blocked punt, has been let go so now last year’s draft pick Ali Highsmith takes the reigns as the backup idle linebacker.
The Cardinals might have enough faith in Ali Highsmith to back-up Gerald Hayes but if not, will look to add to the position by adding a free agent.
Has always been the Achilles heel of the Cardinals, the cornerback position finally got a stud this season in Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie. He showed in the playoffs that he can handle the starting position and excel at it.
He has tremendous speed to make up for any mistakes he might make. After that, the second starting position gets murky. The Cardinals did sign two cornerbacks this offseason.
Bryant McFadden was signed from the Pittsburgh Steelers and brings not only loads of experience, but two Super Bowl rings as well. He should be right there with Roderick Hood competing for the other starting position.
Both are very capable players that can get the job done, just not make too many plays either. The second person brought in is Keith Lewis from the 49ers. He will bring some more experience to the secondary while creating some depth as well.
With these two signings, the cornerback position looks like it is pretty full and I doubt that unless somebody amazing becomes available, that nobody will be picked up at this position.
Last season, Ken Whisenhunt decided to experiment and move Antrel Rolle from cornerback to the free safety position because of his awareness and big hitting ability.
Ken Whisenhunt made the right choice because Rolle went from a good player to a great player in only one season. He and Adrian Wilson proved to become a huge threat in the backfield because they both had the ability to make the big play and stop big plays from happening.
Behind Antrel Rolle, Matt Ware is an experienced defensive back who is kind of like the utility guy and can play any position well. This position seems to be pretty solid for years to come so don’t expect any moves to be made at this position either.
Probably the most solid player on the Cardinals defense, Adrian Wilson is the heart and soul of this defense. He has been a playmaker throughout his entire career and I don’t see a stop coming to that anytime soon.
Aaron Francisco is a very solid backup who has starting experience under his belt.
He can fill in for either safety position and play well enough where you don’t notice him on the field. I really don’t see Arizona making any moves at this position either. They have a Pro Bowl safety and a capable backup with experience.
Do not expect any changes being made here any time soon.
Neil Rackers is a Pro Bowl calibre kicker who is able to make kicks from anywhere. He rarely misses and barring injury this position will stay the same. Last season, Dirk Johnson was the punter for the Cardinals and did an ok job until he got injured within the last four weeks.
The Cardinals then signed Aussie punter Ben Graham who came in and punted so well for the Cardinals that they decided to keep Graham over Johnson, who got signed by the Washing redskins shortly after.
If both can play as well as they were in the playoffs, look for the Cardinals special teams to have no problems this coming season.
Draft Predictions (by position)
First Round – Running Back
Easily the first position that needs to be filled, expect the Cardinals to take a running back that will complement Tim Hightower well.
Second Round – Defensive End
This is a position that needs to be addressed, both depth wise and youth wise. The Cardinals should take a defensive end who is a great pass rusher.
Third Round – Tight End
Both tight ends that the Cardinals have right now can already block really well so look for the Cardinals to pick a solid offensive tight end.
Fourth Round – Outside Linebacker
The team needs to find a player here who can not only provide depth, but who might also have starting potential as well.
Fifth Round – Offensive Guard
Simple decision. The team has good starters but they have no backups. They need to get a guard who can fill in if there is an injury.
Sixth Round – Defensive Tackle
Once again, this position lost one of their depth players in Gabe Watson and needs somebody to fill that spot. Should probably be looking for someone who can take up space and stop the run.
Seventh Round – Offensive Tackle
Was originally thinking they would take a fullback here but they can sign a veteran easily from free agency. There line needs more depth and you can never go wrong with an offensive lineman.
This team can only get better because they still got all of their key players that helped them get to the Super Bowl. The only thing I can see stopping this team from making the playoffs is the fact that both the San Francisco 49ers and Seattle Seahawks both made big moves and look like contenders again.
If the Cardinals can win against their division rivals then I can see another playoff appearance in the future.
Standings Prediction: 10-6
Overall Grade: B
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