I'm getting tired of reading all of the articles talking about how horrible the Cardinals are going to be this year, and I'm sure everyone else is as well, so I thought I would give everyone something to debate about. We obviously have several NFL stars on our team (Fitz, 9-0, Wilson) and several stars in the making (Campbell, Wells, Breaston), but which name on our team "don't get no respect"? Who do you think is the most underrated or overlooked player on the team? My top five in alphabetical order are...
Drafted in the 5th round in 2007, Breaston has become the "Tits" to our "Fitz". The argument is that he can't replace the skills Boldin brought to the team which will in turn cause a big drop off in Larry's numbers. Breaston has big shoes to fill, but I think he can be better than Boldin. Don't get me wrong, Boldin was a great asset to our team and brought a physical presence to the team that not many players can, but in Boldin's absences with Breaston starting, the Cardinals are 6-2 scoring 33.9 points per game with one of those loses coming to the super bowl champion Saints in the 2009 playoffs. Breaston is taller and faster than Boldin and will cause "fitz" of his own running opposite of Larry and double team he draws. Breaston's rookie year was fairly unremarkable, but in his past two years, he has started in 22 games and hauled in 132 catches for 1,718 yards with 6 TDs, even breaking the 1,000 yard barrier in 2008 as the #3 WR. His kick return and punt return skills have made us one of the more dangerous special teams units in the NFL. In his first two years he amassed 2,058 kick return yards and in his career he has 885 punt return yards and a TD. Steve Breaston is SO underrated.
Graham has only been with the Cardinals for two years and has only started 20 games, 4 in 2008 and 16 in 2009, but in those 20 games he has helped our team with field position immensely. Graham's average punt in 2009 was 47 yards making his career average 44.4 yards. The most impressive thing about him is the 42 punts he landed inside the 20 last year, which tied him for the NFL record. Out of those 42, 17 of them were inside the 10. While playing for the Cardinals, he has not had a punt blocked. Another stat that really stood out to me was his punting in our 2008 super bowl run. In four games he had 20 punts, 12 of which landed inside the 20. The Cardinal faithful know all too well about the Pro Bowl snubs and the poor Madden ratings, and we're sick of it. Graham is a big part of why we are defending 2 time NFC West Champs and why we had such a magical 2008 playoff run. Ben Graham is SO underrated.
Hayes was drafted in the 3rd round of the 2003 draft. Hayes didn't have the best of seasons last year due to nagging injuries, but was still able to help the Cardinals defense shut down the run. Through the first seven games of the season, the cardinals faced big named backs such as Gore, Jones-Drew, Addai, Slaton, and Jacobs. Not one of them rushed for more than 80 yards. At one point in the season, the Cardinals had the number one rush defense in the NFL. One of the highlights of his year was holding Adrian "Purple Jesus" Peterson to a measly 19 yards on 13 carries, with one of those carries going for 11 yards. In 2008, Hayes had arguably the best season of his career. Hayes started 14 regular season and all four playoff games, recording his third straight 100-plus tackle season. He finished with 107 tackles during the regular season and set a career-high with four forced fumbles. Hayes led the Cardinals and tied career-high with 14 tackles, including 11 solos, and one tackle for loss against the Redskins. He earned NFC Defensive Player of the Week honors by recording 12 tackles, one tackle for a loss, a half-sack and two forced fumbles against the Rams. Hayes posted his first career postseason interception in the Cardinal's win over the Panthers in the playoffs and recorded seven tackles in the super bowl. For the Cardinals to be successful this year, Hayes really needs to step up and be a leader, which I think he will do without any problems. Gerald Hayes is SO underrated.
This one might be the hardest sell. Leinart was drafted in the first round of the 2006 draft. He was then thrust into the spotlight in week 5 and started the next 11 games until an injury forced him out of the last game. The next season he competed with and won the starting QB job over future hall of famer Kurt Warner. He started the first 5 games of the season, eventually switching in and out with Warner, until he broke his collar bone against St. Louis and has been on the bench ever since, and we all know why; Kurt Warner is the god of football. People judge him based on 16 games as a rookie. Take a look at other rookie QBs and tell me how they did. In these sixteen games, Leinart even managed to accomplish a list of impressive feets. He threw for 200 yards or more in eight of his first 11 starts in 2006; completed 60% or more of his passes in five of his final six starts and in 2006, became the first Cardinals QB since Jake Plummer to have three games in a season with a 100+ QB rating, all of which were in his final six starts of ’06. Leinart's 2,547 yards passing in 2006 also broke Plummer's franchise rookie record of 2,203 yards. He became the first rookie in NFL history to throw for over 400 yards in a game when he passed for 405 in Minnesota. In his most recent sighting, Leinart started for an injured Warner against a red hot titans team in 2009. Leinart found out he was started only hours before the game and had the game won if it weren't for a late drive 90+ yard drive by the Titans to win it on a last second play (where a Titans lineman was very nicely asked not to hold by the ref) in the endzone. The players Leinart had around him then were the same ol' Cardinals. The players Leinart has around him now are super bowl caliber. With several years learning behind Warner the Magnificent, Matt Leinart is SO underrated.
Sendlein signed as a rookie free agent in 2007 out and has appeared in 28 games with 18 starts in his three seasons while also starting all four postseason games in 2008. In 2009 Sendlein only allowed 2 sacks and only had 3 penalties resulting in 30 yards. For an undersized and undrafted center, Sendlein has outperformed all expectations and has become a dominating force on the line. Warner was sacked 26 times in 2008 and 24 times in 2009, one of the least sacked QBs in the NFL in those two years. Sendlein has a sharp mind, a will to win, and a strong work ethic which is why he has been successful. Lyle Sendlein is SO underrated.