Pro Football Focus recently released a list of grades pertaining to a few of the players that play in the NFC West division. They looked at the most improved, biggest drop off and "more snaps needed" athlete from each of the four teams, listing their grades as compared to how they did last season.
After the jump, let's look at which Arizona Cardinals made the list and what they did to receive the recognition. Also, we will look at a guy that was formerly apart of the Cardinals organization, but has gone on to a different NFC West team to do great things.
First, let's start with the longest tenured Arizona Cardinal, Adrian Wilson. A-Dub, by all accounts, had a down year in 2010. We found out why later on after he revealed that he was dealing with an abdominal injury for the majority of that season. In 2011, Wilson came back looking rejuvenated and ready to prove his doubters wrong. PFF notes that he had his best season to date in both run defense and pass coverage. He didn't have quite the same effect as a blitzer, but he still played outstanding.
Next, we look at the player that took the biggest plunge for the Cardinals last season. Dan Williams, just in his second year, took quite a dip, not playing nearly as well in run defense as he did as a rookie. He still received a positive grade, but as PFF states, he was often outplayed by his backup, David Carter and he saw fewer snaps because of that.
One thing about Williams that PFF fails to recognize is the extent of his injury and how that may have skewed the stats a bit. Williams broke his arm in a game against the San Francisco 49ers in week 11. We know from watching the team that during the latter portions of the season, the defense really stepped up their game and became more comfortable with Ray Horton's scheme. This may be an assumption, but my guess is that Williams' stats may have looked a bit better had he been able to play the rest of the season. After all, week 11 was by far his best game of the season. It likely would have continued to trend upwards from there.
Last up for the Cardinals is LaRod Stephens-Howling. Pro Football Focus made a point in writing that LaSH is the type of player that needs to see the field more often for the Cardinals as a running back. Many fans here on ROTB have noted the same thing, citing that his ability to run outside the tackles with great speed and catch passes out of the backfield make him a tremendous weapon for the offense. He is a player that has home run potential every time he touches the ball and offensive coordinator Mike Miller needs to do a better job of making sure he gets the pigskin more often.
Another player that made the list and is worth talking about is former Cardinal Alan Branch. A former second round pick of Arizona's, Branch was allowed to walk to Seattle last year as a free agent. He had a productive 2010 season, but before that, he really looked unimpressive. That all changed under head coach Pete Carroll. In the 4-3 defense that the Seahawks run, Branch saw by far his best season as a pro football player. During his first year in Emerald City, Branch put up one of the best performances of any defensive tackle in the league. He played extremely well against the run and earned every penny that the 'Hawks decided to give him before the season started.
Would he have been as productive had he remained in Arizona? Maybe, maybe not. The risk was still probably not worth it for the Cards and I still believe that it was wise for them to let him walk away.
What do you think of some of these grades? Who was your most improved player for the Arizona Cardinals? How about the biggest disappointment? Should the team have re-signed Alan Branch? Tell us what you think in the comments section.