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Arizona Cardinals Top Ten Irreplaceable Players

The Arizona Cardinals are on the door step of the most important season in franchise history. Just nine months removed from the their first ever Super Bowl berth the team must deal with unprecedented pressure from expectations and the pressure that comes with playing as the hunted instead of the hunter. The Cardinals will no longer fly under the radar or be an overlooked opponent. Every week the opposing team will know that the reigning NFC Champion will be on the opposite sideline and every week that opponent will bring their 'A' game because of that fact. Another major challenge for the Cardinals will be staying healthy. The Red Birds were one of the healthier teams in the league in 2008 and the "law of averages" will tell you that they'll have a hard time repeating that for a second consecutive season. With all of that in mind, we'll take a look at the most irreplaceable players on the Arizona Cardinals roster. Factoring in depth and the dropoff in performance from starter to backup will help us put them in order from ten to one.

#10 - Lyle Sendlein: Sendlein struggled mightily at times during his first year as a starter but the third year player has looked quite impressive during the preseason despite facing three dominating nose tackles in Casey Hampton, Jamal Williams and B.J. Raji. Sendlein's value not only lies in his improved play but also in the value of the depth at center. Ben Claxton is expected to be his backup but Claxton is a 29 year old player with a grand total of two games worth of experience.

#9 -Tim Hightower or Chris Wells: Hightower and Wells are 'one in the same' for this exercise because losing either one for a significant period of time would put too much pressure on the other to shoulder the load by himself. The Cardinals want to run the ball more this year and they'll need both backs healthy and productive in order for them to accomplish their goal. Jason Wright and LaRod Stephens-Howling may find their way onto the field in third down situations but either one of them getting a significant number of carries will not a be a good sign.

#8 -Gerald Hayes - Hayes doesn't get the attention or praise that he should but when he's on the field all he does it make play after play. He won't lead Sportcenter's Top 10 on Sunday nights or earn a trip to the Pro Bowl but he's one of the quiet, dedicated, reliable 'worker ants' that every winning team needs. Over the past three seasons he hasn't missed a game and has averaged 93 tackles per year. His veteran leadership combined with the fact that the Cardinals have very little depth at inside linebacker make his presence irreplaceable.

#7 -Steve Breaston - You might be wondering why a third wide receiver is irreplaceable but it's Breaston's total package that the Cards would miss. First, Breaston the only receiver who can simply run by a corner on any given play and beat a defense with the deep ball. Second and more importantly is Breaston's role on special teams. As the primary punt returner and most likely the primary kick returner, his value to the team can not be measured. If he were to go down you'd have to bump up Jerheme Urban, who's a talented receiver but not near the threat that Breaston is, to the slot receiver and you'd probably see Antrel Rolle get the first crack at punt returner.

#6 -Kurt Warner - It goes without saying that Warner is vitally important to what the Cardinals do offensively and they simply wouldn't be the same team if he were to go down. He'd be higher on this list though if Matt Leinart hadn't have had such an impressive preseason. Still though Leinart is a different type of quarterback and the offense would have to become more ground-oriented if he was the starting quarterback.  Simply put, the way this team is currently constructed Kurt Warner is the guy that we need under center.

#5 -Darnell Dockett - Nine-0, as he prefers to be called now, is not only the team's best defensive lineman but he's the only one capable of shooting through the offensive line and wreaking havoc in an opponents backfield on any given play. If he were to go down, Kenny Iwebema would have to step in and they are completely different types of players. Dockett is essential to what the Cardinals hope to accomplish up front and the Cardinals need him to not only pressure the quarterback and penetrate the line of scrimmage but also to stay healthy.

#4 - Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie or Bryant McFadden - The combo of DRC and McFadden are essential not so much because of their talents, although neither of them is too shabby, but instead because of the lack of quality depth behind them. If either of the Cards starting corners were to go down they'd be forced to push Ralph Brown into the starting lineup and talented but extremely raw rookie Greg Toler into the nickel slot. Brown has plenty of veteran savvy that's allowed him to survive in the NFL for nine seasons but he's not starting material at this point and Toler has proven that he's not ready for significant snaps yet either.

#3 - Mike Gandy - By now you've probably looked down this list and you're wondering (or maybe screaming) how Gandy can make the list but Larry Fitzgerald's name is no where to be found. Gandy's status as an irreplaceable player has more to do with the lack of depth behind him than the actual quality of his play. His primary backup, Elliot Vallejo, has already be injured and subsequently cut. As a result the Cards are left with shuffling their offensive line completely if Gandy goes down. Coach Whiz has said that Levi Brown would move to left tackle and either Brandon Keith or Herman Johnson would step in at RT. Either way that plays out you'd have one player taking his first ever NFL snap at LT and one guy taking his first ever starting NFL snap. Any way that you slice it, the loss of Gandy would constitute a significant drop (at two positions) off from an already not spectacular quality of play.

#2 -Adrian Wilson - This one is pretty self explanatory, no one on this roster can do what Adrian Wilson does when he's on the football field. Against the pass he's capable of covering tight ends, backs and most receivers and also know for making game changing picks. Against the run he's basically another linebacker and his speed and instincts allow him to diagnose plays in a instant. Oh and he's quite possibly the most devastating blitzer on the team as well. If A-dub went down there would be some scrambling to fill his shoes and there are several possibilities. The Cards could move Matt Ware into the starting lineup or they could move Antrel Rolle over to strong safety and insert rookie Rashad Johnson in at free safety. Neither of those scenarios is particularly favorable. 

#1 - Karlos Dansby - With the lack of depth at linebacker, Dansby had to headline this list. He's the leading tackler, the defensive signal caller and he's capable of punishing an offense in every way imaginable. He's strong enough to stuff a run up the middle, quick enough to shut down an outside sweep, fluid enough to drop into coverage and explosive enough to blow by opposing offensive lineman and pressure the quarterback. If Dansby were to go down the Cards would probably move Hayes into his spot and try to fill Hayes' spot with either Ali Highsmith or undrafted rookie Reggie Walker. Needless to say the Red Birds need Dansby to be healthy and productive in 2009.


Ok, now it's your turn. Am I crazy for not listing Fitz or Anquan Boldin? Who else did I leave off?