5 Arizona Cardinals Who Mean the Most to the Team’s Future

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Arizona Cardinals Look to Build Upon Previous Success In 2014

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The 2013 NFL season was a pleasant surprise for fans of the Arizona Cardinals as Bruce Arians helped lift the team from a 5-11 mark the previous season to a 10-6 record. That the Cardinals were narrowly kept out of the playoffs should not damper the way fans look at the season as Arizona developed into one of the best defensive sides in the NFL and also had a surprisingly successful offense. Establishing this success in the daunting NFC West is no small feat and leaves the organization with a lot to look forward to in years to come.

On the defensive side of the football, the Cardinals were a behemoth in 2013 and truly had one of the deepest groups from top to bottom in the NFL. The team's linebackers and linemen made it nearly impossible for running backs to gain any holes to run through with John Abraham, Karlos Dansby and Calais Campbell proving to be the most effective players in getting after the quarterback and into the backfield. When you combine this with an extremely talented and youthful group of cornerbacks and safeties, it is no surprise that the Cardinals ranked first in the NFL in rushing yards against, seventh in points against and 14th in passing yards against per game.

Moving over to offense, it was extremely surprising how much Arians allowed Carson Palmer to air the ball out. Palmer threw for a surprising total of 4,274 passing yards, 24 touchdowns and a 63.3 completion percentage, totals the quarterback hadn't come close to matching since 2010. Compiling these statistics proved crucial for the Cardinals because of the fact that the team's two-headed rushing attack of Rashard Mendenhall and Andre Ellington wasn't especially impressive. This mix of an above average pass game and below average rush attack predictably played out to an average point total of 23.7 per game which ranked 16th out of 32 NFL teams.

Heading into the 2014 NFL season, there is little doubting that the Cardinals have to make some adjustments and continue to improve in order to take away a playoff spot from either the Seattle Seahawks or the San Francisco 49ers. But with a group of players that is both young and obviously has the talent to compete with these two sides, it is clear the team has a core that has to be kept around in order to win.

Keeping this in mind, I have formed a list of the five players who mean the most to the Cardinals' 2014 season and the next few years after that. Each of these players is both extremely talented, established and youthful enough to stay effective for years to come.

Enjoy!

Tyler Leli is a Washington Capitals writer for Rant Sports. Follow him on Twitter, "Like" him on Facebook or join his network on Google.

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5. Calais Campbell

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Calais Campbell is one of the most powerful defensive ends in all of the NFL, and he is a huge reason why the Cardinals are so effective getting after the quarterback and stopping the run. In 2013 he compiled 58 tackles, nine sacks, eight deflected passes and one forced fumble which marked yet another great season for the 27-year-old. Since 2009 he has compiled 36.5 sacks, and with a contract that runs through 2016, there is no doubting that the 6-foot-8, 300-pound defensive end will terrorize opponents for years to come.

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4. Tyrann Mathieu

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After coming into the NFL with a few question marks, Tyrann Mathieu showed that he could behave off the field and dominate on it in 2013. Mathieu appeared in 13 games as a safety, compiling 68 tackles, two interceptions, one sack and one forced fumble all while showing the mix of physicality, speed and strength that made him such an intriguing prospect. A late season ACL tear was a bit discouraging, but Mathieu still looks like a Pro Bowl candidate for the next decade.

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3. Michael Floyd

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Michael Floyd established himself as a true No. 1 receiving option in 2013 which is encouraging since Larry Fitzgerald has fallen off a bit in past years. Floyd caught 65 passes for 1,041 yards and five touchdowns during the season, and he used his mix of breakaway speed and a 6-foot-3, 220-pound frame to get time and space all over the field. Moving forward there is no doubt that Floyd will continue to progress positively, and before long the 24-year-old could rank amongst the best wide receivers in the NFL.

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2. Patrick Peterson

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Patrick Peterson is undoubtedly one of the best cornerbacks in all of football, and the 2013 season only built upon that. During this season he compiled 42 tackles, three interceptions and 13 passes defended, totals that all could have been higher if teams were actually willing to throw to receivers he was covering. Still, Peterson earned himself a third consecutive Pro Bowl appearance, and at 23-years-old there is no doubting that he will only continue to progress and very well could be universally recognized as the best cornerback in the NFL before long.

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1. Karlos Dansby

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No player was as important to the Arizona Cardinals during the 2013 season as Karlos Dansby. The inside linebacker was the team's general on the football field, leading a group that is largely filled with youthful players to all get on the same page. In addition to guiding players, Dansby was a behemoth in his own right, compiling 122 tackles, 19 passes defended, 6.5 sacks, four interceptions and one forced fumble. At the age of 32 he is not especially youthful, but he still has the ability to continue on for 2-3 years as a well above average player and must be re-signed this offseason.


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