With training camp looming we'll continue to break down position by position. Last week we looked the tight ends and today brings us the wide recievers. The top two spots are as solid as they can be in this league in Fitzgerald and Boldin, but behind them is plenty of unproven talent. The Cardinals have made it a point to solidify themselves at the position by drafting seven wide receivers in the draft since 2003. The picks have experienced varying levels of success but one thing is for sure, this group is dangerous, deep and talented.
Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin: I won't waste our time breaking down either of these guys, simply because they're two of the most talented young recievers in the game today. When they're both on the field and healthy, they're truly a special duo.
Steve Breaston: Outside of the 'QB question,' the second biggest story has been the surprising progress that Breaston has made since his rookie season. He only caught eight passes last season and spent most of his time staring on the return units. He's made it clear though that he isn't content with just being a returner. By all accounts he spent the offseason adding weight to his slender frame and working on all of the finer points of recieving (route running, hands, film study). His speed and ability to stretch a defense could end up giving him an edge over Early Doucet in the battle for the #3 job.
Early Doucet: The rookie brings even more toughness to a position that is already more physical than most recieving units. He's polished for a rookie and should contribute early on, especially with Boldin tutoring him. Doucet's game should flourish in the slot where he can make the tough catches over the middle and made a defender miss. He won't run by many corners but if he can run precise, sharp routes, he'll be able to seperate with his quickness and could become another set of reliable hands. Docuet's also a decent, willing blocker who could become an asset in three wide sets when the Cardinals try to run.
The rest of the group has more questions and less upside but still a good mix of experience and potential:
Jamaica Rector: He's not exactly young (26) for a guy still waiting to make his NFL reception, but he's still still got some intirguing aspects to his game. First, Todd Haley likes him enough that he brought him with him from Dallas. He might also be fastest receiver on the roster but he's still got to develop quite a bit to become a NFL receiver. He could have an outside shot as a kickoff returner teaming with Breaston.
Sean Morey: The veteran (32) was never much of a reciever but he's stuck around in this league by being a tremendous team leader and a stand out special teams player. He's only missed two games in the past five seasons but even that consistency has only led to 11 receptions in his career (8 of which came in 2007). He's a Whisenhunt guy and a veteran leader on an otherwise young recieving corps.
Jerheme Urban: Urban's first season in Arizona was his third team in three years and his 2007 totals were more than his previous four seasons combined. He, like Rector, followed Haley from Dallas and Haley rewarded him with 22 receptions for 329 yards and two touchdowns. Urban's never going to be a starting reciever but he's a quality depth guy and also happens to be one of the tallest wide outs (6'3) on the team.
Ahmad Merritt: Merritt is another former Cowboy who made the move with Haley but his stay in the NFL could be in danger this season. He'll have to prove that his age (31) and inability to stay healthy won't keep him from being productive. He hasn't appeared in an NFL game since 2003 and even then was used mainly as a kickoff returner and on special teams coverage units. He's got superior athleticism but he'll have to make a significant impact on special teams in order to stick around in 2008.
Lance Long: The undrafted rookie is a long shot to make the roster but his athleticism and heart could open some eyes in camp. He'll likely have to spend a year or two on the practice squad before he makes the roster but he's got the tools to be a special teams ace in the future (think Sean Morey).
Jemalle Cornelius: Cornelius is an interesting prospect who spent time on the Bills and Colts practice squads in 2007. He was undrafted last season after three years at Florida. He's another small receiver (5'11 185) with above average speed and agility, but he seems destined for another season on the practice squad. He could make a name for himself in the near future though either on special teams or as a legitimate wide receiver.
Overall it's hard not to be excited with the mix of proven talent (Q and Fitz) and untapped potential (Breaston and Doucet) and as the season progresses the top four receivers could prove to be a lethal combination for opposing secondaries. The biggest battle in camp will be between Breaston and Doucet for the third spot but the bottom of the depth chart could be one of the most interesting battles in camp. Merritt, Urban, Morey and Rector should all be battling for the final one or two spots on the roster and it'll be a tug-of-war between proven veterans and younger potential. Thoughts/observations? Where would you rank this receiving corps amongst others in the NFL? For what it's worth, ESPN ranks the Cardinals group as the 2nd best in the NFL, but if you factor in age I might have to give the edge to Arizona. Agree/Disagree?