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CBSSports.com Senior Writer

Cardinals draft needs: Gotta start with QB


The Arizona Cardinals found out last season what life is like when you don't have a quarterback.

It sure isn't fun.

When Kurt Warner retired, and Matt Leinart was released, the Cardinals were left with scatter-armed Derek Anderson and rookies Max Hall and John Skelton. There was no way they could win with those three quarterbacks -- and they didn't.

Two seasons after playing in the Super Bowl, the Cardinals fell to 5-11, proof again of the value of the quarterback in the NFL.

The Cardinals are in the market for one now, but with the lockout in place they can't make a move on a veteran passer. That still might be the plan, with Kevin Kolb (Eagles), Marc Bulger (free agent), Carson Palmer (Bengals) and Kyle Orton (Broncos) all possibilities.

But until there is a resolution to the lockout, the Cardinals are left with youth at the position.

There is some thinking that they might use the fifth overall pick in this year's draft on a quarterback, but I say they pass, waiting for a veteran instead.

That means defense with the first pick, whether it's a 3-4 outside linebacker or maybe a corner.

The Cardinals still like the makeup of their team, and a lot of young players saw action last season. But they need some of their veterans to revert to their 2009 form after so-so 2010 seasons, including safety Adrian Wilson and corner Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie.

Five possibilities: Cardinals
Blaine Gabbert, QB, Missouri: Although they probably pass in the first round, Gabbert is still a possibility.
Von Miller, OLB, Texas A&M: They would love to get a shot at him, but Buffalo might take him at No. 3. He is probably the best fit for the Cardinals.
Patrick Peterson, CB, LSU: He is an elite corner and would be an upgrade over Greg Toler. But he wouldn't be filling the biggest need.
Christian Ponder, QB, Florida State: If they don't take a quarterback in the first round, they might be able to land Ponder in the second.
Brooks Reed, OLB, Arizona: He has the speed, but he's coming off a serious ACL injury. Might be worth a look in the third round.
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If the veterans play better, and the young players who saw time last season grow, the Cardinals will be better. But if they don't get a legitimate NFL quarterback, even that won't be enough to make the playoffs.

QB: Anderson was given the job in training camp and he didn't do a very good job holding onto it. He was erratic, didn't read the field well and never looked comfortable as the starter. He will probably be released, depending on what the Cardinals end up doing. He is a backup -- at best. Skelton has potential. A fifth-round pick last season, he started four games. He has a big arm and seems to have some confidence. He made some nice throws with pressure in his face. But he needs work. Hall is small and doesn't have a great arm, but he is smart and knows the offense. None of these three should be a starter.

RB: This should be the year Beanie Wells takes over. The problem is that he can't stay on the field. He always seems to be bothered by little injuries. That allows Tim Hightower, a tough runner, to get his share of the carries. The Cardinals would like to be able to pound Wells and control the clock. With this being his third season, it's time he takes over. LaRod Stephens-Howling is a nice change-of-pace back. He is also a good return man. Reagan Maui'a is a good lead blocker.

WR: Larry Fitzgerald caught 90 passes without a quarterback. That speaks volumes about his ability. He is a big-play receiver who remains one of the league's best. Steve Breaston, who moved up to the No. 2 receiver with Anquan Boldin gone, didn't have the year the team expected. He is a free agent, but the Cardinals would love to have him back. Breaston was bothered by injuries some last season. Early Doucet shows well when he's on the field, but he can't stay there. Andre Roberts, the team's third-round pick last year, came on late and has the coaches excited. Stephen Williams also showed well early as a rookie, but tailed off some. He is a bigger receiver. Max Komar also flashed as a rookie. They have talent here, but they would be wise to keep Breaston.

TE: This has been a team problem for a while. When Leonard Pope fizzled out, they were left scrambling to fix it. Stephen Spach, Ben Patrick and Jim Dray were just OK last season. Dray, a seventh-round pick, played well late and gives the Cardinals some hope. Patrick has the ability to get down the seam, but he never lives up to expectations.

OL: This is a problem area. Levi Brown hasn't lived up to the expectations after being a first-round pick and had some troubles at left tackle. Right tackle Brandon Keith has talent, but he ended the season on IR. The inside starters all can be free agents, although the Cardinals want some of them back. Expect center Lyle Sendlein back and right guard Deuce Lutui is also a player the Cardinals want back. Left guard Alan Faneca didn't play well in his first year with the team, and might be near the end. There is no word whether he will play this coming season. Rex Hadnot and Jeremy Bridges are nice backups, but probably shouldn't be starting. Arizona could use help here.

DL: The Cardinals drafted Dan Williams in the first round last year and he played like a high pick late last season. He will be the starter on the nose. Darnell Dockett, who is their best defensive lineman, will be at one end with Calais Campbell at the other. Neither Dockett nor Campbell played to expectations last season. Dockett was still good, but not as good as the two previous seasons. Campbell was supposed to have a breakout season, but he didn't play as well as expected. Even so, those three give the Cardinals a nice group. Alan Branch will be the top backup at nose tackle. They need depth.

LB: Age became a problem here last season, and it showed. They had too many older players on the field. Joey Porter didn't do much and veterans Gerald Hayes and Clark Haggans aren't expected back. That means change. They like O'Brien Schofield, who played well late. He should be a starter at one outside linebacker. A rookie draft pick will probably be the other. Daryl Washington played well as a rookie inside and will progress with more experience. Paris Lenon is expected to be the other inside linebacker. Depth will come from Will Davis and Curtis Gatewood. They need help here in a big way.

DB: This should be a good unit. Safety Adrian Wilson, the veteran leader, had an off year in 2010. But the way he works, that should change. He's still a top talent. Kerry Rhodes, who came over as a free agent, played well next to him. They are solid at safety. Rashad Johnson got on the field more last season as an extra defensive back and was OK. Corner Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie has star ability, but he seems to have lapses at times and loses focus. If he can stay more focused, he has a chance to be a dominant corner. Greg Toler started opposite him last season and did a solid job. He has tools. But the Cardinals could be looking for an upgrade. Michael Adams is a nice backup and they like young player A.J. Jefferson.

Pete Prisco has covered the NFL for three decades, including working as a beat reporter in Jacksonville for the Jaguars. He hosted his own radio show for seven years, and is the self-anointed star of CBS Sports' show, Eye on Football. When he's not watching game tape, you can find Pete on Twitter or dreaming of an Arizona State national title in football.

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