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CBSSports.com Senior NFL Columnist

Draft team needs: Arizona Cardinals


Kevin Kolb gets another chance is Arizona but will have many more skeptics this time around. (US Presswire)  
Kevin Kolb gets another chance is Arizona but will have many more skeptics this time around. (US Presswire)  

The Arizona Cardinals chased Peyton Manning, but didn't get him.

That means it's now on either Kevin Kolb or John Skelton -- and it will be a real competition -- to lead this talented young team to the playoffs.

Kolb, who came over in trade from Philadelphia last season, struggled to pick up the Arizona offense and then was knocked out with concussion problems that gave Skelton a chance to show he might be the long-term answer.

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If that position can show improvement, the Cardinals can be a playoff team. The defense really came on in the second half of 2010 and has talent to become a real force in the NFC West.

But as their pursuit of Manning shows: It's all about what happens under center for the Cardinals.

QB: When the Cardinals traded to land Kolb -- and then paid him -- they thought they had fixed their quarterback troubles. But Kolb didn't play as expected. When he got hurt, Skelton came off the bench to lead the Cardinals to a 5-2 record. He is a big-armed passer who needs to work on his mechanics. If he can fix those, he has a chance to be the starter for a long time. A year in the system will help Kolb as he tries to fend Skelton off. The Cardinals have really struggled with the passing game since Kurt Warner retired in 2009. To be a division champ, one of these two has to throw for 3,500 yards and close to 25 touchdown passes.

RB: In Beanie Wells, the Cardinals have a feature back who can run tough inside the tackles. He fought through a knee injury last season, so that is a concern. Ryan Williams tore up his knee in the summer and missed the season, but he has home-run speed and should push for carries. LaRod Stephens-Howling is a nice change-of-pace back and is good as a screen back. The fullback is Anthony Sherman. If Williams and Wells are healthy, the Cardinals are fine here.

WR: Larry Fitzgerald remains one of the game's best. Imagine if he had better quarterback play? Teams double him a lot of the time and he's still productive. He isn't a burner, but he sure plays fast. Andre Roberts emerged as a good threat last season, his first as a starter. Roberts caught 51 passes and the coaches are high on him. There is a chance he might move inside to the slot with Early Doucet moving outside. Roberts has the quickness teams want in a slot receiver. Stephen Williams, Jaymar Johnson and DeMarco Sampson are young players who have a chance to get on the field more if they show progress.

TE: The Cardinals need to get more production out of this spot, which is why they signed Todd Heap last season. But he was bothered by injuries and didn't do what they expected. Jeff King started most of the season, but he is more blocker than receiver. The guy to watch is 2011 third-round pick Rob Housler. The coaching staff thinks he can be a breakout player. He has the speed to get down the seam.

OL: This is the trouble spot for the Cardinals. The line just doesn't seem to ever improve. The Cardinals released left tackle Levi Brown and then re-signed him to a lesser deal. He played well in the second half of the 2011 season. The right tackle spot is uncertain. Jeremy Bridges is expected to get the first crack, but keep an eye on D'Anthony Batiste and D.J. Young. Lyle Sendlein will be the center again. He isn't great, but he's good enough. Daryn Colledge didn't play as well as hoped at left guard after signing as a free agent last year, but he will be back. The right guard will be Adam Snyder, a free agent they signed away from San Francisco. Snyder is not a good player. That might prove to be a move they regret. There isn't much depth inside.

DL: The Cardinals have a good defensive front. The best player in 2011 was defensive end Calais Campbell, who bounced back from a bad 2010 season to become a force last season. The Cardinals put the franchise tag on Campbell to keep him from leaving. Darnell Dockett is also a good player at the other end spot. He didn't play as well as Campbell, but he's still a top-level player. Dan Williams flashes at times on the nose but he has a tendency to get out of shape. David Carter is a solid backup on the nose and Nick Eason backs up at end. They could use some more help on the line in terms of depth.

LB: The Cardinals have some young talent that is one the verge of making this a good unit. The best player last season was inside linebacker Daryl Washington. He led the team in tackles with 111. Paris Lenon was second with 103. He could be challenged by Stewart Bradley, who started one game after signing as a free agent from Philadelphia. The Cardinals need more from the outside spots, but Sam Acho came on as a rookie. He had seven sacks in his 10 starts. The other outside linebacker was Clark Haggans, but he is getting up in the years. Look for O'Brien Schofield to play that spot to open camp. Brandon Williams is another backup. They could use an early pick on an outside pass rusher.

DB: Patrick Peterson got off to a slow start on the corner, but really came on in the second half to show he can be an elite cover player. He is bigger than most corners, which helps. The other spot is up in the air, although A.J. Jefferson will get the first shot. Greg Toler, who is coming off an ACL tear, will also be in the mix. They also signed William Gay as a free agent. The starting safeties are Kerry Rhodes and Adrian Wilson, two veterans who keep the back end in check. Wilson played all of 2011 with a torn biceps muscle and still played at a high level. Rashad Johnson is the top backup at safety.

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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