Calais Campbell (Getty)
A team usually doesn’t know the true value of its draft picks until three years post-draft, but there is no problem analyzing the performances of last years rookies. Some have already paid high dividends, while more is expected from others in 2009. Here is a look at five players looking to make an impact in ’09 and avoid the sophomore slump.
CB Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie
The Cardinals’ organization had to be impressed with the performance of first-round draft pick Dominque Rodgers-Cromartie in 2008. The product from Tennessee State showed his small school background would not plague him in the NFL. Rodgers-Cromartie cracked the starting lineup by Week 4, and finished the year with a very respectable 42 tackles, four interceptions, and one touchdown return. Rodgers-Cromartie is the clear bright spot for the future of Arizona’s secondary. Expect this ballhawk to have another solid campaign in 2009, emerging more as a leader in the secondary and contributing more spectacular plays to the highlight reel.
RB Tim Hightower
Tim Hightower brought a much needed punch to the Cardinals running game in 2008. He excelled in short yardage situations, piling up 399 yards and 10 touchdowns during the season. However, the Cardinals did finish last in the league in rushing in 2008, due mostly to their pass happy offense. As long as the Arizona possesses such a strong aerial attack, don’t expect Hightower’s rushing statistics to go up much.
Hightower will likely be the starter come September, but 2009 first-round draft pick Chris Wells will split carries with Hightower and may eventually take over the starting job.
DE Calais Campbell
Calais Campbell saw action in all 16 games last season as a non-starter. The second-round pick in 2008 finished with 28 tackles and got needed experience in limited playing time. Much more is expected of Campbell this year. He has been thrust into the starting lineup as Antonio Smith departed to the Texans.
Campbell will compete with fellow 2008 draft pick Kenny Iwebema for the starting spot at left defensive end, though Campbell clearly has the inside track. The Cardinals expect Campbell to make considerable contributions in his new, expanded role.
WR Early Doucet
It is hard for a rookie wide receiver to make much of an impact when he plays behind Anquan Boldin, Larry Fitzgerald, Steve Breaston and Jerhame Urban. That was the problem for Early Doucet in 2008 as he totaled just 14 receptions for 90 yards. He did have a nice game against Buffalo in Week 5, filling in for an injured Boldin and grabbing six balls for 42 yards, but contributed very little throughout the year. Because Doucet does possess playmaking ability, the Cardinals will try to get him more touches in 2009. If he has a strong summer, he could surpass Urban on the depth chart and see his role increase.
OT Brandon Keith
Brandon Keith, the Cardinals’ seventh-round draft pick in 2008, impressed coaches enough in training camp last year to earn a roster spot. He was Mike Gandy’s backup at left tackle for the 2008 season, but saw no game action. Keith is a massive product at 6’5”, 340 pounds, and has the versatility to play guard also. With all starters on the offensive line returning in 2008, Keith will remain on the bench for his sophomore season unless injury occurs. Assuming another strong offseason for Keith, he and veteran Elton Brown will be the team’s top backups. At the least, Keith will fuel the competition in training camp this summer and put the pressure on Gandy to perform.