Where does Matt Leinart rank?
AZRedReport.com's Amberly Richardson has ranked the Cardinals top-49 players in a seven-part series. For the final installment, here is her take on which seven could make or break the 2008 season. The top-seven is stacked with players looking to return from injuries and give the cardinals their first winning record, which is a decade in the making.
Click here for Part VI
7. CB Eric Green (5’11”, 194) will need to step it up this season as one of the starting corners. He enters his fourth season and will be relied on to help defend the pass. He needs big numbers to keep first-round selection Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie at bay. Critics argue that Rodgers-Cromartie isn’t league ready, which should be music to Green’s ears. Last season, he appeared and started in 11 games. Green registered 51 tackles with no interceptions. He’s had just one pick in his entire career.
6. RB Edgerrin James (6’0”, 220) begins his 10th season this year. He produced a 1,222-yard campaign in 2007. His per carry average was a dismal 3.8, but James’ value to the Cardinals is huge. His backups produced a combined 119 yards last season. Coach Ken Whisenhunt said that he was committed to closing the pass-rush gap. By not picking a back in the earlier rounds, the Cardinals made statement that they still think James is the guy who can do that.
James carries the entire ground game, but next year might give up some carries to rookie Tim Hightower.
5. WR Larry Fitzgerald (6’3”, 226) is a pivotal part of the Cardinals organization. He is not only a fan favorite, but Fitzgerald brings Pro Bowl status and name-recognition to the franchise. Last year, Fitzgerald mirrored his best season (2005) with nearly identical numbers. He tacked on 1,409 receiving yards in both years and 10 touchdowns in both 2007 and 2005. In 2007, he saw action in 15 games.
4. WR Anquan Boldin (6’1”, 223) needs to wrap up his contract shenanigans before the start of training camp. He brings so much to the field and likely deserves what he is asking, but the timing couldn’t be worse for the Cardinals who already have a few unhappy campers on their roster.
Boldin has the size, speed and athleticism that rusty quarterback Matt Leinart needs down the stretch. Boldin fractured a hip and dislocated a toe last season, but he was still able to pull out decent numbers. In 12 appearances, Boldin received for 853 yards and nine touchdowns. In 2007, he failed to reach the 1,000-yard mark for the second time in his five-year career.
3. SS Adrian Wilson (6’3”, 230) is one of the most talented safeties in the league; he has the paycheck to prove it. Wilson’s salary is among the top-five highest paid safeties in the NFL. Last season was disappointing for Wilson fans. He missed most of 2007, due to a calf and heel injury. He managed to compile 44 tackles and two interceptions in nine starts though.
The Cardinals will rely heavily on Wilson to acclimate Antrel Rolle to his new position. Wilson should be back and better by training camp to start his eighth season and prove that the defense wins ball games.
2. RT Levi Brown (6’5”, 323) was the Cardinals 2007 first-round selection. His transition to the league was smooth. Brown helped lead Arizona‘s O-line to top-10 accolade. He missed a few games in the beginning of his rookie season because of injury, but he bounced right back and wasn’t deterred.
Brown’s resiliency was also noted by Whisenhunt after he had a tough game against the Seattle Seahawks, when he gave up a couple of sacks. Whisenhunt said that Brown wasn’t shell-shocked and played with confidence the next game out.
The Cardinals are aware of Brown’s commitment to beating out the league’s learning curve and being a long-time contributor to the organization. Next season, will be tougher for Brown. His job of protecting Leinart’s blindside is key going forward. Leinart is returning to the helms and needs the right side to be as rock solid as the left.
1. QB Matt Leinart (6’5”, 230) returns to the top of the lineup after missing all but five games last season. He enters his third season in the league and all eyes are watching. He was making significant progress before he was injured. The Cardinals hope to re-build that momentum and get a franchise quarterback out of Leinart. He possesses all the right personal skills to get the job done, and the Cardinals have sketched up a stacked roster to help him.
Amberly Richardson is a member of the Pro Football Writers of America and a correspondent for Scout.com. She has contributed to the official Web sites of several NFL players for Sixthman Communications. Her analysis has been published by the NFL Network, Fox Sports and MySpace Sports.