Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) -
In the next edition of the series, we head to the NFC West and check out the division winning Arizona Cardinals. The Cardinals were 10-6 last year, with an offense that scored 23.4 ppg (11th among 32 teams) and a defense that yielded 20.3 ppg (14th).
However, the 2010 Cardinals have undergone drastic changes, beginning at the quarterback position where veteran Kurt Warner has retired and handed over the reins to Matt Leinart. Also gone from the offense is wide receiver Anquan Boldin who averaged 83 receptions, 1,024 yards and six touchdowns over his seven years with the team.
Matt Leinart - The quarterback's job is Leinart's...for now. But he better start off the season strong or this could end up being a "sticky" situation. Fantasy owners hope he will succeed because with all the tools available for Leinart, he could be a solid starting fantasy quarterback just as Warner was for the past three seasons. Leinart will direct an offense which has two viable running backs and three receivers, including superstar Larry Fitzgerald so it will be disappointing if he doesn't succeed. Owners are apparently being very cautious, as Leinart is not being drafted high. In fact, he's barely a backup according to his ADP of 165 (24th quarterback off the board).
Derek Anderson - Anderson is a classic "handcuff" candidate with huge upside potential. Should Leinart falter or get injured, Anderson has the ability to run this offense. Remember, in 2008 he led a Cleveland offense with less talent to a 10-6 record while throwing for 3,726 yards and 29 touchdowns. Anderson is being selected around the 19th round (ADP 222).
Chris Wells - Like most rookies, the head coach started out their first season by using him sparingly. Wells had just 23 carries in the Cardinals' first four games. But by the end of the season Wells was the team's primary ballcarrier and with Warner gone, should see even more action. Fantasy owners are expecting a lot from Wells and have made him a third-round selection and the 13th running back off the board. The only thing keeping Wells from being drafted even higher is Tim Hightower "stealing" goal line opportunities. Should Wells get into the endzone consistently, he'll be a bargain third- rounder.
Tim Hightower - Hightower is the team's goal line running back and third down receiver and he performs well at it. But if Wells continues to improve, Hightower could see his opportunities shrink. I would use him primarily as a "handcuff" and not a starter this season, unlike the past two years when he totaled 1,762 yards from scrimmage and 18 touchdowns. Neither LaRod Stephens- Howling, Jason Wright or rookie Alfonso Smith have any fantasy value.
Larry Fitzgerald - The Warner-to-Fitzgerald passing combination was very good. How good the Leinart-to-Fitzgerald hookup becomes, will be is one of the major questions concerning fantasy owners this season. While visions of Matthew Stafford-to-Calvin Johnson would be acceptable, JaMarcus Russell-to-Randy Moss type results would be a nightmare. There is, however, a small amount of data with which to analyze their ability to work together. There have been 14 games in which Leinart was the starter and Fitzgerald played. In those games, Fitzgerald averaged 5.6 receptions for 78.1 yards and scored five times. Not exactly No.1 receiver statistics. Yet with his ADP of 12, that's what it will take to draft him. As much as I like Fitzgerald, I have to recommend looking elsewhere in 2010 because the price is too high and the risk is simply too great.
Steve Breaston - In the past Breaston has been a solid "third receiver" for the pass-happy Cardinals, but now he will have to perform in his new role as the No.2 guy opposite Fitzgerald. Breaston should receive plenty of single- coverage opportunities and should thrive in getting open. Now if only Leinart will be able to hit him with the ball. It will be important to see how Leinart performs in preseason and how he and Breaston work together before spending an eighth-round pick (ADP 93) on him, but I believe they will succeed and Breaston will give you "fair market value" for the selection.
Early Doucet - Doucet (ADP 189) will fill the Cardinals' third receiver position and based on the little we have seen of him, could be an instant success. When Boldin missed the playoff game between the Cardinals and the Green Bay Packers last year, Doucet filled the stats sheet with six catches for 77 yards and two touchdowns. Of course, those passes were from Warner, so as stated previously, we will have to see how Leinart performs in preseason.
Andre Roberts - Should anything happen to the top three receivers, little- known Andre Roberts out of The Citadel, might surprise. Though he'll likely be a kick returner as a rookie, he has impressive speed and is known as a pretty good route runner. For him to have fantasy value in 2010, Leinart will have to perform like Warner and injuries will have to decimate the starters.
Ben Patrick - In the past, the Cardinals haven't used their tight ends much, so unless there is a big change in strategy, Patrick won't catch more than a couple of passes in a game. With all the tight ends available around the league, Patrick won't get any fantasy attention and rightfully so.
Jay Feely - Kicking indoors is always an advantage so Feely should improve on his numbers from last season when he played in the cold and windy northeast (New York Jets). He finished eighth in fantasy scoring among kickers last season, but is being selected much later in 2010. He's the 14th kicker off the board.
The Arizona defense finished in a tie for ninth in fantasy scoring with 113 points. A very good sack total (43) was counterbalanced by just 29 turnovers (8 fumbles, 21 interceptions). Like the offense, the defense has lost some big names - Karlos Dansby and Antrel Rolle. They signed veteran LB Joey Porter and made three of their first four draft picks on the defensive side of the ball. Like the offense, the defense has too many unknowns to select them at this time and currently the Cardinals' defense isn't being picked in the top-15.