StrategyAugust 17, 2009

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Daily Preview: Arizona Cardinals

By Tom Docherty

The 2008 Arizona Cardinals were a Cinderella story. QB Kurt Warner came out of nowhere for a 4,500-yard, 30-TD season. Rookie RB Tim Hightower scored 10 TDs. WR Steve Breaston had a 1,000-yard season. Fueled by a late-season surge, the Cards won the NFC West and rallied with three playoff victories over Atlanta, Carolina and Philadelphia before finally falling to the Steelers in Super Bowl XLIII. Despite their success, there have been significant changes in Arizona this offseason, and fantasy owners will need to pay close attention to how the offense will pan out in 2009.

QB: Kurt Warner, Matt Leinart, Brian St. Pierre
RB: Chris Wells, Tim Hightower
WR: Larry Fitzgerald, Anquan Boldin, Steve Breaston, Jerheme Urban
TE: Leonard Pope, Dominique Byrd
PK: Neil Rackers

Quarterback: For fantasy owners, the first burning question for this team is: can Kurt Warner repeat his 2008 numbers? The simple answer is yes. With an outstanding receiving corps of Fitzgerald, Boldin and the improving Breaston, the Cardinals’ passing attack is formidable. The offensive line is constantly improving under the coaching of blocking guru Russ Grimm — Warner should have ample time to throw without getting hammered. Consider Warner a top-five fantasy QB again for 2009. However, the backup job will not necessarily be handed to Matt Leinart. There are rumblings head coach Ken Whisenhunt is still down on Leinart and is giving journeyman Brian St. Pierre a shot at unseating Leinart. If St. Pierre performs well, he may be the insurance policy to Warner owners, and Leinart could get cut. This is definitely a scenario to watch in Cardinals camp this summer.

Running Back: The trickiest proposition for fantasy owners has been trying to figure out which Arizona RB will start in 2009. The Cards released Edgerrin James after the season despite his playoff surge. Arizona looked to have lucked out as Chris “Beanie” Wells fell to them in the NFL draft at pick #31. Wells’ health and desire had come into question at Ohio State. The early days of camp were no help, as Wells injured his ankle his first day of reporting and sat out a week. Wells’ competition for the starting duties is the aforementioned Hightower. Last year’s fifth rounder was a definite surprise in 2008, but his 10 TDs were tempered by a dismal 2.8 yards-per-carry average. Hightower displaced Edgerrin James as the starter in Week 10 last year, but couldn’t hold onto the job — James returned to the scene for the Cards’ playoff run and was integral to their playoff success. I think Wells is the man to target in this mess. His durability may come into question, but he has all the intangibles; size, speed, and he played top competition at Ohio State. The Cards are a pass-first team, but Whisenhunt longs to establish a ground attack like he had in Pittsburgh, and Wells has infinite potential. Both the Cards’ backs are outside the top 20 in fantasy, but both could be considered inside the top 35. Once you draft Wells, take Hightower with your next pick to have the duo.

Wide Receiver: What can you say about the receiving group? There clearly is not a more imposing trio than Larry Fitzgerald, Anquan Boldin and Steve Breaston. Fitz should be the first WR taken in standard drafts — if you are picking late in the first round, consider him rather than a RB. He’s a virtual lock for 1,200 yards and 10 TDs, with a much higher ceiling. Fitzgerald is knocking on the door of greatness, and we may soon be mentioning his name in the same sentence as greats like Jerry Rice and Michael Irvin. Boldin plays second fiddle to Fitz, but he’s almost as solid a choice. Despite missing three games and playing hurt in many others, Boldin was still a top-10 fantasy WR, and was the best based on points-per-game. Because of his penchant for injury, Boldin should be downgraded in drafts, and should be taken as the seventh-to-tenth WR off the board. Breaston benefited from Boldin’s absence, but his 1,003 yards shouldn’t be discounted. He doesn’t get a lot of end-zone looks, but Breaston is still an excellent third WR for your fantasy team. Jerheme Urban is a decent WR, and did grab four TDs last year. But he’s a waiver claim, not a draft pick.

Tight End: Despite the great offense, the tight end position in Arizona is a fantasy wasteland. Leonard Pope and Dominique Byrd would be the top two tight ends in camp. Pope had nine receptions and zero TDs in 2008, and Byrd did not play at all. Don’t touch either of these guys in drafts. If one of them emerges as a fantasy candidate as the season progresses, they might have some value as a bye-week pickup if you’re desperate.

IDP: The Cardinal defense has improved dramatically under Whisenhunt. Some of the IDP players to target here are the team’s leading tackler, LB Karlos Dasby, DT Darnell Dockett, safeties Adrian Wilson and Antrel Rolle, and the emerging youngster, CB Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie.

Overall, the Cards are a great team to target in your draft; just don’t reach too early for Wells, Hightower or Breaston and avoid the tight ends. It might be a safe bet to grab the backup QB to stash on your bench if you get Warner, because no starting QB over age 35 has ever had two consecutive NFL seasons of 16 starts, and Warner did start all 16 games in 2008, so beware.

Tom is from Toronto, Ontario, Canada and attended Ryerson University's Journalism School. After two years working for Hockey Night in Canada after graduation, he decided to go into the private sector for employment. He still has a passion for sports, and he's completely hooked on Fantasy Football.
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