Arizona Cardinals: Ranking the Juniors

Steve Breaston (Getty)

The Arizona Cardinals had a lot of work to do in the 2007 NFL Draft. It was Ken Whisenhunt's first draft as a head coach, and he wanted to get it done right. Many of his picks have played major roles, others are waiting their turn and some need a little help to get there.

1. Steve Breaston: The Cardinals former fifth-round pick out of Michigan has exceeded his draft status. He's had top-round productivity in his young career. Breaston has missed just one game in this three years with Arizona. More impressively, he's made a name for himself amongst two of the best receivers in the league, Anquan Boldin and Larry Fitzgerald.

Breaston was part of the Cardinals three-headed monster in 2008, as he, Boldin and Fitzgerald all recorded 1,000-yard-plus seasons. Breaston followed his 1,006-yard sophomore campaign with 712 yards in 2009. He also added a hat trick. In the postseason, Breaston registered 177 yards and a score. The restricted free agent did have a diminished role last season, but any drop in numbers was been the result of an improving ground game, the emergence of Early Doucet and a nagging bruised knee. The Cardinals will likely retain him for his productivity, his play-making skill set, his consistency and his Whisenhunt stamp of approval.

2. Lyle Sendlein: The Arizona native improved 10-fold his junior season. He registered a second-straight season with perfect attendance despite playing with a bothersome left shoulder in 2008. A healthy Sendlein was consistent, intelligent and physical. The former undrafted free agent should hold on to his role for years to come.

3. Levi Brown: The Cardinals former first-rounder out of Penn State was named a Pro Bowl alternate in his junior season. That accolade surprised many. Brown often found himself on the wrong end of whistle blows and should be further along than he is. The Cardinals could be proactive with Brown this offseason. There are reports that Arizona will move Brown from right tackle to left, which would open up a spot for Brandon Keith at right tackle.

4. Ben Patrick: Whisenhunt capped his first draft with a player after his own heart, or rather position. The former seventh-rounder out of the University of Delaware has faced major bumps in the road. In 2009, he was suspended for four games for violating the league's policy on banned substances. Later on in the year, he missed a pair of games due to a concussion. When in the game, he is excellent at blocking and is effective in the receiving game. Whisenhunt likes to get the ball to Patrick. The tight end caught a pair of touchdown passes in 2009. In 2008, his only touchdown celebration was a picturesque leaping catch in the Super Bowl against the Pittsburgh Steelers. In his rookie season, Patrick tallied two TDs.

If Patrick can stay on course and healthy, he can become a viable member of the Cardinals offense.

5. Alan Branch: The defensive lineman has had an unpaved road since he heard his name called in the second round of the 2007 NFL Draft. He saw his most playing time this past year and recorded his first two NFL sacks. The Cardinals tested his versatility and responded well, playing both defensive end and nose tackle. Branch's determination and effort should go a long way in the Cardinals sticking with their high hopes for the product out of Michigan.

6. Michael Adams: Speaking of putting in the work, that sentiment definitely rings true for Adams. The former undrafted rookie free agent began his career bouncing back and forth off the Cardinals practice squad and active roster. He's remained a game-time player since Week 13 of 2008. He caught the league's attention when he was tormented by the Green Bay Packers in the 2009 regular-season finale and the Wild Card round of the playoffs. Adams heard his name called for infractions he'd rather forget but redemption was never so sweet. When the Cardinals first-round playoff game went into overtime, he sacked Aaron Rodgers and forced the fumble that Karlos Dansby recovered for the game-winning score.

The play marked Adams first NFL sack. He also recorded his first career interception in the regular season. Adams still has work to do, but it's a sure bet that he'll stand up to the challenge.


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