The last time Matt Leinart was the full-time starter in Arizona was 2006. He started 11 games and went 4-7.
The Cardinals are hoping Leinart has improved since then. This season, Leinart returns as the starter with Kurt Warner having retired at the end of last year. The Cardinals also didn't do Leinart any favors by trading standout wide receiver Anquan Boldin to Baltimore.
It's a good thing Leinart still has Larry Fitzgerald, one of the best receivers in the league, and some solid complementary options in Steve Breaston and Early Doucet. But it's up to Leinart to keep the Cardinals in playoff contention and keep the offense running at a high level.
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We expect to see a more balanced attack this year, which means Beanie Wells and even Tim Hightower getting more carries behind an improved offensive line that features All-Pro guard Alan Faneca, but the Cardinals aren't going to stop throwing. And we expect Leinart to show signs of improvement. He should be considered a No. 2 Fantasy quarterback on Draft Day, and he has the potential to be a sleeper. Fitzgerald also remains a No. 1 Fantasy wide receiver, and Breaston is a No. 3 option with upside since he's now starting in place of Boldin.
You shouldn't expect Leinart to play like Warner, but this offense should remain potent. And if Leinart struggles there's always Derek Anderson waiting in the wings, although we're counting on Leinart to finally play well.
Breakout ... Beanie Wells, RB
Wells finished his rookie season on a high note and should enter his sophomore campaign ready for a big year. The Cardinals could be shifting to a more balanced attack now that Warner has retired and Boldin is in Baltimore. The addition of Faneca should also help Wells succeed.
Last year, Wells closed the season with six touchdowns in his final eight games, and he finished the season with 176 carries for 793 yards and seven touchdowns. He's still going to share carries with Tim Hightower, but Hightower is better suited as a receiver out of the backfield with Wells handling the majority of carries. Fantasy owners should consider Wells as a high-end No. 2 running back worth a pick beginning in Round 3. In deeper formats, he could be selected at the end of Round 2 since he's potentially Arizona's best weapon -- even ahead of Larry Fitzgerald.
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Bounce-back candidate ... Steve Breaston, WR
Breaston is expected to take a huge leap in production this year now that Boldin has left the Cardinals via trade to the Ravens. He should be better than his breakout season in 2008 and rebound from last year's injury-plagued performance. In 2008, Breaston came out of nowhere to catch 77 passes for 1,006 yards and three touchdowns. He played well as the No. 3 wide receiver behind Fitzgerald and Boldin and stepped up when Boldin was injured. Last year, Breaston struggled with a knee injury and finished with only 55 catches for 712 yards and three touchdowns, but now he will be asked to replace Boldin again.
Leinart will take over for Warner, which could put a dent in the Cardinals' explosive passing game, but the increase Breaston will see in playing time and targets makes him a solid No. 3 Fantasy wide receiver with the chance to become a starter during the year. He is easily worth a mid-round pick in all leagues on Draft Day.
Late-round flier ... Early Doucet, WR
Doucet is hoping a strong playoff run and the trade of Boldin to Baltimore will help his performance this season, which just happens to be his third year in the NFL. He also has the motivation of entering a potential contract year.
Doucet led the Cardinals in receiving in two playoff games with 14 catches for 145 yards and two touchdowns. And now he will see a significant increase in playing time with Boldin gone. Doucet is expected to be the No. 3 receiver in Arizona behind Larry Fitzgerald and Steve Breaston. Remember, Breaston was in that role the past two years and had 132 catches for 1,718 yards and six touchdowns. Doucet is definitely worth a late-round pick in all leagues.
Leinart will ease into the starting job with games against the Rams and Raiders in two of his first three starts. He also has a nice schedule after the bye in Week 7 with two games against the Seahawks and matchups with Tampa Bay, Kansas City and St. Louis. Even with the transition in Arizona, the Cardinals offense should still do well since they get the luxury of six games in their own division and four games against the defensive-challenged AFC West.
Training camp topics
The expectation is Leinart will replace Warner, but there's still a chance Derek Anderson can win the job. We don't expect that to happen, but it's a potential position battle to monitor.
We also want to see Wells entrench himself as the starting running back ahead of Hightower, and Breaston and Doucet have to prove they're ready for increased roles with Boldin now gone. It's a good thing they have Fitzgerald to show them the way.
On defense, the Cardinals have to replace Karlos Dansby, who signed with Miami, and Antrel Rolle, who signed with the Giants. Those are two significant holes, and the Cardinals defense will struggle without two of their top playmakers from last year.
But Fantasy owners will have their eyes on the offense and how Leinart does in his second chance as the starter. His play is the key to the Cardinals success.
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