QB Kevin Kolb
Entering 2010, the future looked bright for Kolb after the Eagles jettisoned Donovan McNabb in order to make room for Kolb in the starting lineup. The decision to go with Kolb was based largely on his production in a pair of 2009 starts, where he threw for 718 yards, four touchdowns, and three interceptions. That production, along with a solid supporting cast in terms of skill position players and the offensive line, made Kolb a darling for fantasy pundits, many of whom were expecting him to have a breakout season. The hype lasted two quarters into the season before Kolb went down to injury, losing his starting position to Michael Vick in the process. With his trade to the Cardinals in the offseason, Kolb gets another chance to start, albeit not with the same weapons that exist in Philadelphia. Kolb was schooled in the West Coast offense and is an accurate passer on short patterns, but he hasn’t shown the same accuracy on deep passes. With no proven starting wide receiver opposite Larry Fitzgerald and with an aging Todd Heap at tight end, expecting Kolb to be a consistent fantasy producer is a stretch. He’s a QB2 for 2011.
RB Beanie Wells
Wells has been a big disappointment for the Cardinals since they took him in the first round of the 2009 draft, but he figures to get a chance at redemption in 2011 simply because there’s nobody left to share the load with him. After using a second-round pick on Ryan Williams, the Cardinals shipped Tim Hightower to the Redskins, only to watch Williams suffer a season-ending knee injury in the preseason. That leaves Wells as the team’s starter by default, with only LaRod Stephens-Howling around to steal touches. While Wells gets a great opportunity to solidify a starting spot this season, there is little evidence to suggest that he’s capable of being productive over a full 16 games. And that’s why you can expect the Cardinals to bring in a veteran runner as insurance. Although Wells has only missed three games in two years, he has been banged up on a consistent basis, averaging 4.1 yards per carry for his career while showing little as a receiver. Even with Hightower and Williams out of the picture, Wells rates as no better than an RB3 in 2011.
RB LaRod Stephens-Howling
Stephens-Howling was expected to be an afterthought in the Cardinals rushing attack when training camp started, but he is now suddenly the team’s top backup to Beanie Wells. With the Cardinals’ decision to trade Tim Hightower to the Redskins and with Ryan Williams’ season-ending knee injury, Stephens-Howling figures to get plenty of use as a third-down and chance-of-pace back. However, at just 5’9” and 180 pounds, he lacks the necessary size to handle the lead-back role, and it remains to be seen whether the Cardinals will bring in a veteran back to help Wells share the load. But as of now, Stephens-Howling shapes up as a sleeper pick for 2011. He is worth grabbing in all leagues.
WR Larry Fitzgerald
With a new eight-year, $120-million contract, Fitzgerald enters 2011 as the league’s highest paid wide receiver and, based on his production in 2010, he’s worth every penny. With Kurt Warner having retired and his expected replacement, Matt Leinart, released in the preseason, Fitzgerald was left to catch passes from the erratic Derek Anderson and a pair of rookies. No matter, as Fitzgerald still managed to haul in 90 passes for 1,137 and six touchdowns. While that was a far cry from his production with Warner at the controls, there is hope with Kevin Kolb at quarterback that Fitzgerald can return to the double-digit touchdown production he had in four of the five years prior to 2010. Kolb isn’t an elite deep passer, but Fitzgerald’s leaping ability, sure hands, and skill at adjusting in the air to badly thrown balls will help make up for that. He shapes up as a solid WR1 in 2011 with an outside chance of finishing the season as a top-five fantasy wideout.
WR Andre Roberts
With Steve Breaston having left for the Chiefs via free agency, the Cardinals go from having one of the top groups of wide receivers in the league in 2009 to a depth chart full of question marks behind Larry Fitzgerald. The front-runner to fill the gaping hole opposite Fitzgerald is Roberts, a 2010 third-round pick who didn’t even play major college ball. He did play reasonably well as a rookie, however, catching 24 passes for 307 yards and a pair of touchdowns, but his playing time was as much to do with injuries to other players as it was with his own performance. Roberts has better-than-average speed and decent size but his route running needs work, and he caught just 49 percent of his targets a year ago. Expecting him to step up to the 800-yard mark isn’t realistic considering how raw he was coming out of college. Look for Roberts to split time opposite Fitzgerald. He is not worth owning other than in dynasty leagues.
WR Early Doucet
Doucet has disappointed in the desert since being taken in the third round of the 2008 draft. He is a physical player with decent size at 6’0” and 212 pounds, but he has been a tease, not yet able to put together a solid season. Injuries have been the main problem, with Doucet dressing for just 26 out of a possible 48 regular-season games and never playing in more than ten in any one season. A hip injury slowed him down last year as he caught just 26 of 59 targets for 291 yards and a touchdown. He will battle with Andre Roberts and possibly Stephen Williams for a starting spot, but Doucet needs to take a big step up in production in order to be a worthy of a roster spot on your fantasy team.
WR Stephen Williams
Williams was the darling of the Cardinals’ training camp in 2010, having a great preseason and earning a roster spot as an undrafted free agent. He followed that up with a dud of a regular season, with the 6’5”, 208-pound Williams catching only nine of 21 targets for 101 yards and no touchdowns. The Cardinals like Williams, but the Toledo grad is likely a year away from being a serious contender for significant playing time. Consider him waiver wire material, but keep your eye on him to see if his playing time increases around the midseason mark.
TE Todd Heap
In what qualified as one of the first major shocks of the preseason, the Ravens unexpectedly axed both Heap and wide receiver Derrick Mason, tossing both players into the free agent pool. Despite reports indicating that the Ravens were interested in re-signing Heap at a reduced price, he signed on with Arizona and will open the season as their starter in 2011. He looked good at times in 2010, displaying some big-play potential while averaging a career-high 15.0 yards per catch. Unfortunately, he missed most of one game and all of three others when he was injured in Week 13 against Pittsburgh, bringing back the injury concerns that plagued him earlier in his career. To be fair, he has played 16 games in four of the past six seasons, so the injury issue isn’t as big as it is made out to be. In Arizona, Heap enters a great situation, playing for a quarterback in Kevin Kolb that loves to throw to the tight end and for a team that doesn’t possess a clear-cut No. 2 wide receiver. Consider Heap an upper-tier fantasy backup for the coming season.
TE Robert Housler
If you’re looking for a tight end prospect for your dynasty league, Housler just might be your man. At 6’5” and 248 pounds, the rookie out of Florida Atlantic possesses solid size and was the fastest tight end at the combine, running the 40 in 4.55 seconds. While Todd Heap was signed to start for Arizona this year, he will be 32 by the beginning of the 2012 season and is entering his tenth year in the league, having missed most of two seasons with significant injuries. The Cardinals have committed long-term to quarterback Kevin Kolb, who likes to dump it off to tight ends, making Housler an intriguing fantasy prospect.