Full disclosure: I recently subscribed to ProFootballFocus, and have been thinking about ways to put their statistics to good use. The following list is based on their premium player grades rather than my personal eye test. If it isn't everything you dreamed it would be and more, point your pitchforks thataway.
#1 - Calais Campbell
Can we send this man to the Pro Bowl now, please? With the exception of earning NFC Player of the Week against the Patriots in week four, Campbell -- still! -- doesn't get the recognition he deserves. Far and away the Cards best performer in 2012, the man has 27.5 career sacks in four years while playing defensive end in a 3-4 and he might even be better against the run. He's in the conversation to be the league's best, not just Arizona's... and he's under contract until 2016. That's reason to celebrate, Cards fans.
#2 - Dave Zastudil
And now it gets depressing. We may have made it only one spot before we got to special teams but at least someone benefited from the Cardinals offense last year, right? PFF's 7th ranked punter, add "D Zasty" to the list of Cardinals comeback stories. He had been out of the league since 2009 when the team signed him in 2011. Statistically, 2012 was his best season pretty much across the board, so despite entering his 12th season, the arrow is pointing up.
#3 - Jay Feely
Like Zastudil, Feely is coming off of one of his best seasons. Though he can be streaky at times, Feely has been a good kicker overall for the Cardinals, from single-handedly beating the Broncos in 2010 to setting the Cardinals' franchise long 61-yard field goal last season. That kick was also a personal best, beating his previous long of 55 yards.
Even at 37, Feely shows no signs of slowing down. He's in the top half of the league's kickers and as long as he stays in form, he's worth the little extra salary veteran special teamers earn.
#4 - Daryl Washington
What, you expected Mike Leach? In fairness to long snappers everywhere, the guy should probably be on this list (I don't think I've ever seen him botch a snap) but I don't know anyone who really keeps those stats, so we're moving on.
Instead, the Cardinals dynamic, do-it-all inside linebacker gets the nod at number four. Not just noteworthy within the NFC West, Washington was rewarded with a Pro Bowl appearance for his 2012 season. To say he's going to be missed in 2013 would be an understatement. Let's just hope an off-season full of mistakes doesn't derail an otherwise promising career.
#5 - Patrick Peterson
He may not be perfect yet, but there are very few players in the league who can match up with their opponent's best every play and come away from it with a respectable grade. Though he struggled in the return game, Peterson stepped up his play on defense in a big way in his second season, getting voted to his second straight Pro Bowl -- this time as a cornerback. Peterson is one of the team's brightest young stars, and he's going to be asked to do even more in 2013 as he finds himself the top dog in a pack of his former LSU teammates now trying to find their way in the NFL.
#6 - Carson Palmer
Here's a pleasant surprise. The NFL world may be low on Palmer due to his atrocious win totals over the last few years, but his individual stats have always been excellent and 2012 was no exception. The Cardinals are desperate for a quarterback who can actually play, and by all accounts, Palmer can. He looks to have more help on offense this season than he has in the past, too.
Yes, I did notice the Cardinals top offensive player last season didn't actually play for them. No, I'm not going to bring it up. I don't want a riot here.
#7 - Dan Williams
Williams doesn't always get a lot of love but he did a pretty good job for the Cards last season, playing some of his best games in the second half of the year. Hopefully conditioning won't be an issue for him early on like it was in 2012; he's going to have a hard enough time fitting in to Todd Bowles' new 1-gap defense as it is.
#8 - Karlos Dansby
It's not often that a team signs one of their best players in free agency (note how many other free agents appear on this list), and even more rare when the team doesn't overpay like Dan Snyder suddenly took over the franchise. Kudos, Steve Keim. It may only last for a year but Dansby should be an impact player in the Cards defense and he gives the team some flexibility in the Daryl Washington saga.
#9 - William Powell
That's right, William Powell was the Cardinals best (incumbent) offensive player in 2012. Bottle your tears so that you may share this feeling; future generations should suffer as you have.
How did this happen? From what I can tell, Powell's overall rating on the season was buoyed by two games in particular. The first came against the Bills' below average rushing defense, where Powell pounded out 70 yards on the ground with only 13 carries, good for a 5.4 yard per carry average. He also caught six passes for 63 yards against St. Louis in week 12. Everything else was pretty average.
Powell was, at times, a breath of fresh air in the Cards backfield. That's not all that difficult when none of the other backs are capable of carrying the ball for a gain, but it's easy to see why he became somewhat of a fan favorite. He's not a game-changing talent but he made the most of what he had to work with and was solid when the team needed him. Every season is a new story, however, and now Powell is facing an uphill battle to even make the roster.
#10 - Larry Fitzgerald
You knew he'd be on here somewhere, right? It's not a coincidence that most of the players on this list play defense. It's also not a coincidence that Fitzgerald is one of the few from the offensive side who made it. There were times last season where Fitz didn't quite look like himself, but most of the time the throws were so poor it was impossible to judge the receiver one way or the other.
It really says something when you throw an uncatchable ball to Larry Fitzgerald. Prior to 2010, no one realized that was even possible. That's okay though, Larry. Just look back up at #6 and you'll feel better.