Cardinals' Three To Watch: Juniors

Back in high school, it was said the junior year would be the most challenging. If you didn't earn the marks, the colleges wouldn't look at you. In Arizona, there is a handful of third-year players who will be put to the test in a similar fashion. There shouldn't be any surprises as to who the Prom King of the class is, but read on to find out about the royal court.

1. QB Matt Leinart

No surprise here that Leinart reigns supreme in the juniors to watch in 2008. He is on the national radar heading into next season. It seems these days, fans are about 50-50 as to whether or not Leinart should start or if Warner should lead the team.

Either way, all eyes will be on Leinart who needs to prove he's worthy of the attention. It's a no-lose situation for Arizona. If Leinart fails, Warner is in the wings. If Leinart gives a stellar performance then the Cardinals have their guy for the next five years or so.

2. Tight End Leonard Pope

This third year player out of Georgia needs to protect his role as a starter this season. Pope is returning to the lineup after dislocating his ankle and fracturing his leg in the Seattle Seahawks game in Week 14. His off-season showing has been impressive so far. Staying healthy and understanding the offense more will help him to continuing seeing his name atop the depth charts.

Pope was the first tight end to be drafted by the Cardinals since 2002. A year later, brand new coach Ken Whisenhunt was concerned over the tight end position even though the Cardinals had third-round draft pick Pope in their pocked. He had started in six games as a rookie. Whisenhunt felt that they didn't have anyone there that was established. In 2007, Whisenhunt thought Pope made a lot of progress. When Pope was hurt, the backups filled the role diligently. They are waiting eagerly in the wings.

3. Nose Tackle Gabe Watson

Watson was a dependable member of last year's defensive front seven, but the Cardinals will ask more of him to be a starter in 2008. If Watson can't be the playmaker the Cardinals want him to be, backup Alan Branch is more than capable of handling the job,

As a fourth-round pick out of Michigan, Watson saw immediate action. He played in 12 games with five starts his first year out. Watson earned the first sack of his career and a starting role in 2007. The sacks stopped there.

And the rest of the class..

Deuce Lutui
Jamaica Rector

Amberly Richardson is a member of the Pro Football Writers of America and a correspondent for She has contributed to the official Web sites of several NFL players for Sixthman Communications. Her analysis has been published by the NFL Network, Fox Sports and MySpace Sports.

CardinalsSource Top Stories