QB Kevin Kolb
After suffering through their first season without Kurt Warner in 2010, the Cardinals chose to beef up the quarterback position by acquiring Kevin Kolb from Philadelphia in return for cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and a 2nd round pick. That trade proved to be a disaster, with the Cardinals signing Kolb to a $63 million contract ($21 million in guarantees) and then watching him flop badly as the team’s starter. The Cardinals flirted with the idea of attempting to sign Peyton Manning but instead chose to pay Kolb a $7 million roster bonus and retain him as their starting quarterback in 2012. He will battle John Skelton for the starting position in training camp. While the Cardinals would prefer that Kolb win that competition, Skelton was the more impressive player in 2011, leading the Cardinals to a 6-2 record which overshadows Kolb’s less than stellar 2-6 mark. Losing offseason and training camp time hindered Kolb’s ability to pick up the Cardinals offensive scheme and he struggled with turnovers, coughing up eight interceptions and three fumbles in half a season. Look for Kolb to open the season under center for the Cardinals and for him to emerge as a lower tier QB2 provided he can get comfortable with Arizona’s offensive scheme and reduce his turnovers.
QB John Skelton
For the second consecutive year, the Cardinals turned to Skelton to lead their offense after watching a veteran struggle to lead the team. In 2010, it was Derek Anderson, with Skelton winning two of his four starts but failing to top 200 passing yards in any game. Last season, Kevin Kolb struggled with injuries and inconsistency and Skelton finished the season with a 6-2 record while throwing for 1,913 yards with 11 touchdowns and 14 interceptions. He led the team to a number of fourth quarter comeback wins but struggled early in games and with his accuracy, completing just 54.9% of his passes. While Skelton threw for more yards per game in 2011, he was a risk taker resulting in a high interception total. In 2012, he will battle Kevin Kolb for the team’s starting position but Kolb has the upper hand in that battle due to his superior accuracy and the commitment the team has made to him. Even if Skelton wins the job, his fantasy prospects aren’t great
RB Beanie Wells
After struggling in 2010 to build upon his impressive work as a rookie, Wells put together a career-year in 2011 as he emerged as a workhorse back for the Cardinals. The trade of Tim Hightower to the Redskins and rookie 2nd round pick Ryan Williams’ season ending injury in the preseason left Wells to carry the load. Despite struggling with a knee injury in Week 6 and missing two games, Wells ran for 1,047 yards and ten touchdowns on 245 carries, finishing the season as the 17th ranked fantasy running back. Consistency was an issue as he ran for 62 yards or less in eight games and amassed 60.6 of his 169.9 fantasy points in just two games. Wells entered training camp on the PUP list due to his slow recovery from off-season knee surgery but the team has indicated that they expect him to be ready for Week 1. The condition of his knees and Williams’ ability to recovery from a torn patella tendon are the two risks of Wells not repeating his strong performance from last season. However, the Cardinals failed to address the running back position in the off-season so we can assume that they are confident in his recovery. Consider Wells a high-end RB3 or low-end RB2 with upside in 2012 and drop him lower in PPR leagues due to his lack of ability as a receiver (just 27 receptions in three seasons).
RB Ryan Williams
Despite having Beanie Wells and Tim Hightower in the backfield, the Cardinals drafted Williams in the 2nd round of the 2011 draft and traded Hightower in the preseason once they were confident that Williams could replace his production. However, a torn patella tendon caused Williams to miss his entire rookie campaign and he will enter 2012 stuck behind Beanie Wells on the depth chart. While Williams is the shiftier of the two backs as well as being the better receiving option, he lacks breakaway speed and cannot match Wells’ size and power in short yardage. Williams appeared to have a chance to unseat Wells as the Cardinals primary threat at running back entering 2011 but the odds of that happening this season appear to be non-existent barring a Wells injury. Of course, Wells hasn’t been a bastion of good health since entering the league in 2009. Williams has some upside but a tore patella tendon is a significant knee injury and he shapes up as a solid handcuff with upside in 2012 and possibly a decent flex option if he can steal a decent number of carries from Wells.
RB LaRod Stephens-Howling
Entering his 4th year in the league, Stephens-Howling has displayed plenty of big play ability in limited touches with the Cardinals and was given his most extensive playing time in 2011. By extensive, we mean 43 rushes and 13 receptions. He took two of those receptions to the house, scoring on 73- and 52-yard pass plays but those plays didn’t convince the team’s coaching staff to use him more, even with Ryan Williams on the shelf for the entire year due to injury. Since the coaching staff doesn’t seem to give the diminutive Stephens-Howling any love, you shouldn’t either.
WR Larry Fitzgerald
Fitzgerald was the wide receiver equivalent to running back Maurice Jones-Drew in 2011 – highly productive despite playing in an offense with several significant issues. Despite subpar play along the offensive line and at quarterback from Kevin Kolb and the accuracy challenged John Skelton, Fitzgerald still managed to catch 80 passes for 1,411 yards and eight touchdowns, averaging a career-high 17.6 yards per reception and finishing the season as the 5th ranked fantasy wide receiver. After averaging 98 receptions for 1,313 yards and 11.7 touchdowns during the 2007-2009 seasons, it is safe to say that Fitzgerald has failed to attain the levels of production that he had when Kurt Warner was at the helm of the team’s offense. Nonetheless, he has remained highly productive, averaging 85 receptions for 1,274 yards and seven touchdowns over the past two years. With Warner gone, Fitzgerald’s touchdown production has declined and that is the biggest reason for the decline in his fantasy production from 13.1 FPts/G to 10.6 FPts/G. Entering 2012, Fitzgerald remains a solid, low risk WR1 although another 1,400-yard season will be a challenge given the return of Kolb and Skelton at quarterback and the marginal upgrades made along the offensive line.
WR Andre Roberts
While the fantasy football world seems to have penciled in rookie 1st round pick Michael Floyd as the Cardinals starting wide receiver opposite Larry Fitzgerald, it appears that Arizona’s management and coaching staff failed to get that memo. Offseason reports indicate that Roberts will enter training camp in the starting lineup and that the coaching staff expects him and Early Doucet to be key cogs in the team’s passing attack in 2012. The team’s 2011 4th round pick, Roberts played little as a rookie but stepped into the starting lineup last season and played reasonably well, catching 51 passes for 586 yards and a pair of touchdowns. Considered a raw prospect coming out of The Citadel, Roberts has plenty of room for improvement but given the depth of the Cardinals receiving corps, his 2012 fantasy prospects aren’t great. While a breakout season is possible, another 600-yard, 3-4 touchdown performance seems more likely. Keep your eye on Roberts in the preseason.
WR Michael Floyd
Given his combination of size (6’3”, 225 pounds), speed and production in at Notre Dame, Floyd was considered the wide receiver prospect with the most upside coming out of this year’s draft. However, character concerns caused him to be drafted behind Justin Blackmon and he was selected 13th overall by the Cardinals. While Arizona’s plan is to eventually pair Floyd with Larry Fitzgerald giving the team a pair of big, talented wide receivers, it appears that plan will not take hold by opening day. While Floyd may have the most upside of any of the challengers to start opposite Fitzgerald, off-season reports indicate that he has struggled to learn the team’s playbook and is likely to enter the season behind Fitzgerald, Andre Roberts and Early Doucet on the depth chart. If that happens, Floyd will be worth monitoring on the waiver wire in redraft formats. In dynasty leagues, Floyd is an outstanding prospect whose only issues would be playing alongside a top five receiver in Fitzgerald and the team’s issues at quarterback.
WR Early Doucet
What to make of Early Doucet? When he is healthy (not frequently enough) and in the game plan (more frequently in 2011), the Cardinals 2008 third- round pick has looked good. Witness his performance in the 2009 playoffs when he caught 14 passes for 145 yards and a pair of touchdowns. It is also nice that his targets, receptions and yards have increased every year that he has been in the league and that he scored a career-high five touchdowns last season. However, it is hard to get too excited about a 5th year player who is coming off a 97-target, 54-reception, 689-yard season who is facing new competition on the depth chart in the form of 1st round pick Michael Floyd. Although the Cardinals signed Doucet to a two-year contract in the off-season, they seem more committed to Floyd and Andre Roberts and those commitments will likely result in a decline in usage for Doucet at some point in 2012.
TE Todd Heap
After being a surprise preseason cut by the Ravens last season, Heap signed on with the Cardinals and immediately became the team’s starting tight end. Given quarterback Kevin Kolb’s penchant for throwing to the tight end position, Heap’s fantasy prospects seemed reasonable but injuries (hamstring) caused him to miss six games and he was only marginally effective when he was in the lineup, catching 24 passes for 283 yards and a touchdown. Those totals were his worst production since the 2007 season when he played just six games and at 32 years of age and with promising prospect in Rob Housler waiting in the wings, a bounceback season in 2012 seems unlikely. In fact, Heap could end up on the street once again this season given the presence of Housler and Jeff King, who is the team’s top blocking tight end. Heap is waiver wire material at best.
The Cardinals 2011 third-round pick played little as a rookie catching 12 passes for 133 yards and failing to find the end zone. However, at 6’5” and 250 pounds, he has good size to go along with excellent speed for the tight end position. The Cardinals are intrigued by his raw talent and reports out of Arizona indicate that Housler will be given an opportunity to become a big part of the team’s offense in 2012. Of course, he needs to stay healthy (a hamstring injury limited him last season) and improve his run blocking if he wants to see the field more. With a pair of aging veterans in front of him (Todd Heap and Jeff King), Housler will be given every opportunity to win the starting job in the preseason. He will likely enter the season on the waiver wire in redraft leagues and is a decent prospect in dynasty formats, although one fantasy owners will not want to rely on in 2012.