5 Players Facing Make-or-Break Seasons for Arizona Cardinals in 2013
Carson Palmer Looks to Start Over in Arizona
The Arizona Cardinals aren't entering a rebuilding phase, but they definitely are in the process of a transition. New head coach Bruce Arians pulled the trigger on a trade for veteran quarterback Carson Palmer so he can run his vertical offense right off the bat, but you better believe Arians and his staff will be quarterback hunting come the 2014 NFL Draft.
That is, unless Palmer discovers a version of himself we haven't truly seen in over five years, gets the Cardinals to the playoffs and suddenly has all Arizona fans thinking this is the second coming of Kurt Warner.
While unlikely to happen just like that, that's about what Palmer will need to stay on as the team's starting quarterback past 2013, as he'll otherwise melt into nothing more than the stopgap most experts view him as.
Palmer is arguably where everything starts for Arizona, and that only makes sense. After all, the team fell into a depressing abyss after a 4-0 start last season, all thanks to a musical chairs at quarterback via Kevin Kolb, John Skelton, Ryan Lindley and even Brian Hoyer.
Hoyer and Skelton are gone, so the nightmare is at least half over. While the Cardinals are banking on Palmer at least being a mildly successful stopgap under center, the quarterback position isn’t their only issue. They also have an offensive line that is attempting to mature, a star wide receiver in Larry Fitzgerald they need to keep happy, and a young, nasty defense they’ll need to continue to harvest.
With that being said, let's dive right into the top-five Arizona Cardinals players who are staring a make-or-break season in the face as 2013 draws closer.
Sam Acho (Linebacker)
Acho is a converted college defensive end who has successfully transitioned to Arizona's 3-4 as an outside linebacker. While he fits the position well, he's gotten to the quarterback for just 11 sacks through two seasons.
While Acho is still signed through the 2014 season, Arizona could opt to cut bait early if they don't see signs of vast improvement in his third season in the league. After all, the team drafted pass-rushing specialist Alex Okafor in the 2013 NFL Draft, and they'll be looking for every excuse to get him on the field. Acho has talent and could end up proving his critics wrong, but he certainly has his back up against the wall as he tries to do it.
Andre Roberts (Wide Receiver)
As crazy as it sounds for Roberts to potentially be on the way out, it could actually happen. Roberts emerged as a solid number two wide receiver in 2012, recording 64 receptions for 759 yards and five touchdowns. However, Michael Floyd was drafted in 2012 to be the permanent number two across from Larry Fitzgerald, which could put a damper on Roberts sticking around past 2013.
Entering a contract season, Roberts needs to keep his play at a high level, if not raise it, in order to secure a spot with the Cardinals going forward. That may end up with him as their main slot receiver, but if he plays too well, it may not matter. After all, the Cardinals won't be able to afford Roberts as a legit number two receiver if Floyd is taking that spot, and Roberts will demand more money on the open market as he progresses.
On the other side, rookie sixth-round draft pick Ryan Swope could be what truly pushes Roberts out the door. Whether Roberts plays well or not in 2013, if Swope proves to be serviceable in the slot, his cheaper contract and ability to perform could make Roberts replaceable.
Ryan Williams (Running Back)
I'm a Ryan Williams fan, but he's starting to remind me of former Green Bay Packers wide receiver Robert Ferguson. Ferguson had tons of talent and upside, but injuries or inconsistency always got in his way. So far, so good with Williams, who has played in five total games in his first two years in the desert. He not only needs to stay healthy in 2013, but he needs to produce if he wants to be asked back in 2014.
Williams is just 23 still and has a beautiful blend of power and speed when healthy, but that keyword "healthy" needs to be a topic of discussion that is no longer discussed when uttering Williams' name. He doesn't have to beat out current starter Rashard Mendenhall or run for 1,000 yards (although both would surely help), but he needs to carve out a role and actually last long enough that Arizona coaches don't forget he's even on the team come January.
Rashard Mendenhall (Running Back)
I don't like having two first-year Cardinals' players on the make-or-break list, but the truth cannot escape us. Mendenhall is a fine talent who was very productive for the Pittsburgh Steelers for three years, but his rookie season was a lost one and 2012 was marred by his inability to fully recover from a torn ACL.
In order to get the stamp of approval long-term from Arians and co., Mendenhall needs to stay healthy and get back to the form that made him Pittsburgh's top back from 2009-2011. He can still be that guy, but if he can't rediscover his mojo, the Cardinals will let him go just like they let go Beanie Wells.
Carson Palmer (Quarterback)
We touched on Palmer a bit, but let's face it, if anyone matches the make-or-break notion, it's Palmer. He has one playoff game appearance to his name, no postseason wins, and he almost drowned in the pathetic pool that is Oakland. Palmer still has a lively arm, but he's going to be 34 in December and has never been very mobile.
It's one thing to simply survive Arizona's ghastly offensive line (which they did improve), but Palmer needs to do better than that if he wants to continue on in Arizona (or the NFL) as anything other than a different version of Mark Brunell (clipboard holder poster boy). That means taking the Cards to the playoffs. If he does that, he could prove his doubters wrong and convince Arizona that he's worth keeping around as their temporary franchise passer. If not, the Cardinals could tank the 2013 season and chase down their favorite quarterback in the 2014 NFL Draft.
Kevin Roberts is a contributing writer at RantSports.com. Follow him on Twitter @NFLSoupKevin.