Every year the fantasy football gurus of The Sports Cannon come together to give you the best fantasy football rankings, cheat sheets, sleepers, busts and handcuffs. This year, we are giving you an in-depth look at each team with our Fantasy Football Team Previews. In our third installment of a 32-team series, we bring you the Arizona Cardinals.
You can read all of our NFL Team Previews here.
The Cardinals went in to the 2010 with massive uncertainty at the quarterback position. Kurt Warner helped to bring the team to its first Super Bowl and helped them erase their NFL laughing stock stigma.
When he left, however, he left a gaping hole that no combination of Derek Anderson, John Skelton or Max Hall could certainly fill. Quarterback was the scapegoat for the Arizona fans and media, but in reality there were many positions that underperformed and added to the Cardinals’ woes
The Cardinals are led by Head Coach Ken Whisenhunt who is regarded as one of the best offensive minds in the game. Last year things fell apart for the Arizona offense, as they ended the year ranked 31st in scoring. We can’t imagine that Whisenhunt’s running attack and passing attack could be as poor with Kevin Kolb under center, however.
Officially, Mike Miller is the Offensive Coorindator in Arizona, but he will share play calling duties with Whisenhunt. Miller has seen some very good years with Arizona as their passing game coordinator and will likely get the Arizona offense out of the bottom this year.
New Defensive Coordinator Ray Horton may be the final piece in creating a Pittsburgh-South feel on defense. The former secondary coach with the Steelers will surely bring much more daunting blitz packages to help the Cardinals turn the corner on defense.
So unless you have been living under a rock for the entire NFL lockout, and it was boring so we wouldn’t blame you, you would know that it was almost written in stone that Kevin Kolb was destined to be a Cardinal.
The Cardinals traded a second round pick, and a very good young corner back in Dominique Roders-Cromartie to the Eagles in exchange for their new franchise quarterback. Once officially traded, the Cardinals took no time to extend Kolb’s contract to tune of five-years and $63.5 million. Including $21.5 million guaranteed, so it is obvious that the Cardinals expect big things from Kolb.
You should expect reasonable things from Kolb too. There is a lot more negativity surrounding Kolb than there is optimism. We understand that Kolb hasn’t had that much success in his very short career but it is just that – short.
Kolb at least has had the privilege of being under Andy Reid’s tutelage. Know what other quarterback learned from Andy Reid? Brett Favre. Reid has also made Donovan McNabb look like an elite quarterback and has done wonders with Michael Vick. So we trust that Kolb is as prepared to play quarterback in the NFL as he ever could.
Did we also mention that, despite their woes on offense, the Cardinals had the 11th most pass attempts in 2011. Kolb will get his chance to shine in 2011. For now, it is too soon to call Kolb anything more than a backup on regular fantasy team. In a two quarterback league however, if paired with a consistent QB, Kolb could be a very strong addition to your team.
It is unsure to this point who will be the primary running back for the Cardinals, Beanie Wells or rookie Ryan Williams. In recent history coach Whisenhunt has shown that rookies take a back seat in their first years, learning from the veterans ahead of them.
This year, it doesn’t appear the Cardinals will have that luxury. After trading Tim Hightower to the Redskins, the Cardinals now have Wells, Williams and LaRod Stephens-Howling on the roster. Stephens-Howling is only used as a return specialist, so there is reason to believe the Cardinals will split their carries primarily between Wells and Williams.
There are even more rumors that Williams could find himself as the opening day starter for the Cardinals. The team had Williams ranked in their top-15 prospects available int his year’s draft, and passed up on the opportunity to ad help on defense and presumably draft a franchise quarterback in the second round to take Williams.
Beanie Wells has been a disappointment in Arizona and has had his toughness questioned from fans to coaching staff since. Many feel that the starting gig is already Wells, while comments from his coaching staff say otherwise. Coach Whisenhunt has made comments along the lines of, “Wells is ready to take the #1 spot.” That doesn’t mean he has it, he just has a chance.
The Cardinals have one of the best wide receivers in football. Larry Fitzgerald has had unbelievable consistency throughout his career. Despite having no real quarterback throwing to him last season, Fitz was still able to record 90 catches for over 1,100 yards. The down side to his game was that he only scored six touchdowns, his career low. That will no doubt change as he will finally have some consistency under center.
We will get more in to it in the next segment, bot don’t forget about what the impact of Todd Heap will be on this offense. At the very least, it will help to take some pressure off of Fitzgerald and give him some more opportunities to exploit man-to-man coverage.
The Cardinals parted ways with oft-injured Steve Breaston this past season. While some may see this as a downgrade for the Cardinals’ offense, we have to point out that Breaston’s role was overstated because of how accustomed we have become to high octane offenses in Arizona.
Likely starting opposite of Fitzgerald will be Andre Roberts. In his rookie season Roberts showed flashes of being a very good compliment to Fitzgerald. He came on strong at the end of the season and it is expected he will make a big jump this season. We don’t foresee Roberts being anything more than bench player filling in for injury or bye weeks on your roster, however.
On paper, it looks great that the Cardinals went out and signed Todd Heap. They may finally end up throwing to a tight end this season! We will believe it when we see it, in fact, we totally see Heap running routes regularly, but it will be more to help divert attention from Fitzgerald.
There is some reason to believe that Heap could be a decent tight end for the Cardinals. In Kevin Kolb’s time as a starter for the Eagles last season, he utilized tight end Brent Celek often. The two connected 12 times for two of Celek’s four touchdowns on the year. That was in a four game span with a tight end not half as good as a pass catcher as Heap.
Heap is a gamble however, and not worth a draft pick. Heap alternates injury plagued seasons and will come to Arizona at age 31. If he can bring in his regular 5-6 touchdown grabs however, it will be more than all the Arizona tight ends combined last season.
The Arizona Cardinals’ defense could be much improved, and darn near fantasy relevant this season. The revamped defense will likely make the complete change to a 3-4 set under new DC Ray Horton and that means run stuffing Nose Tackle Dan Williams will now get to play regular minutes. The Cardinals will have to create more of a pass rush this season if they want to be effective however.
Currently, the OLB spots are held by Clark Haggans and Joey Porter. Both of whom had strong years in Pittsburgh’s 3-4 scheme when Whisenhunt called the offense in the Steel City. Both are aging and have lost a step. There will no doubt be a push from Will Davis, O’Brien Schofield and even rookie DE-convert Sam Acho. Don’t forget about Acho this year. A converted defensive end, Acho is in the LaMarr Woodley mold, and we all know how that worked out.
In the secondary, the Cardinals may have actually gotten stronger despite losing Rodgers-Cromartie. Patrick Peterson was the most gifted athlete in the draft and will no doubt be a force this season. Across from him his Richard Marshall, formerly of Carolina. Marshall is perfectly suited for Horton’s defensive scheme, as he can react to whats in front of him quickly and will mix it up in run defense; a staple of this 3-4 defense.
Jay Feely will return as the team’s kicker and had a good year in fantasy. He won’t miss all that often, and when he does it is usually from long distances.
Ryan Williams – So many assume that Beanie Wells is the man in the desert. But you know better! Pick up Williams later on in the draft and let him sit on your bench for the first few weeks, eventually the team will turn the reins over to Williams, if they haven’t by week one.
Kevin Kolb – He learned from one of the best offensive coaches, Andy Reid, and is now the starter in a semi-pass happy offense also commanded by a great offensive mind, Ken Whisenhunt.
Beanie Wells – Don’t believe the hype, Wells is on his way out of Arizona, using the same door Matt Leinart used.