Chris Steuber: In a perfect world, you'd like to think that J.J. Arrington could be that guy, but up until this season, Arrington hasn't lived up to his potential. Hightower has been a very good find for the Cardinals, but I still have some doubts as to whether he can be an every down back in the NFL. As good as he's been this season - reaching paydirt nine times - he's only averaging 2.9 YPC; that's not good enough.
I think the Cardinals need a game breaker out of the backfield; an elusive weapon that's multi-dimensional and can take it to the house on any play. The running back position in next year's draft is very weak without the infusion of draft-eligible underclassmen. If all of the top underclassmen declare, and depending on what round the Cardinals want to invest in a running back, there will be talent that fits their need.
RB Tim Hightower
A mid-round possibility could be Boise State's Ian Johnson, whose role over the last two years has diminished as the Broncos have worked in speedy sophomore's Jeremy Avery and D.J. Harper.
AR: RB J.J. Arrington has emerged since James got sidelined. What did you think of him when he was in college? What do you think his future looks like?
CS: Arrington was a dynamic, explosive player at Cal; a true playmaker who instilled fear into the opposition. Not only was he fast and elusive on the edge, but he was tough and ran fearlessly between the tackles. He had tremendous feet, great vision and a unique ability to make defenders miss. He was also a threat out of the backfield as a receiver; he could do it all.
I think what's hindered Arrington the most at the NFL level: his overall size and his fading explosiveness. He doesn't seem to have the same burst that he showed at Cal, and that's hurt him.
It's nice to see him rediscover his ability this season in situational use. He's a change of pace guy; a third down threat who can keep a defense honest with his quickness and receiving ability. I don't think he will ever be an every down runner, but he's a nice compliment to a bigger. It's fortunate for Arrington that he's producing this season, as he will become an unrestricted free agent at season's end. At this point, Arrington is playing for another contract that won't be available in Arizona.
More USC Trojans for Arizona?
CS: If I were a scout for the Cardinals, I'd concentrate on the USC defense. They're ranked No. 1 in total defense - allowing just 7.8 PPG, 124 YPG throw the air and 85 YPG on the ground – and they have the best linebacker trio (Rey Maualuga, Brian Cushing and Clay Matthews) in the country.
The Cardinals linebackers are good, especially Karlos Dansby, but it will be interesting to see if Arizona will be able to come to terms with him on a new contract. If Arizona is unable to sign Dansby, or even if they do, but want an upgrade in the middle or on the strong side, Cushing is a versatile defender who can play all three linebacker positions and would be a solid mid-to-late first round pick.
Another option could be for the Cardinals to move Antrel Rolle back to cornerback and possibly select FS Taylor Mays. Mays is only a junior and it's still unknown if he will declare for the draft, but he's a tremendous defender with excellent ball skills.
Who will protect QB Kurt Warner?
CS: The top-ten draft-eligible offensive linemen are: OT Michael Oher (Ole Miss), OT *Andre Smith (Alabama), OT Eugene Monroe (Virginia), OT *Eben Britton (Arizona), OG Duke Robinson (Oklahoma), OT Jason Smith (Baylor), OT *Russell Okung (Oklahoma State), OT *Ciron Black (LSU), C Alex Mack (California) and OT Phil Loadholt (Oklahoma).
* denotes underclassmen
AR: Arizona loaded up on the defensive side of the ball earlier this year, but who could you see the Cardinals nabbing next year?
CS: I could see the Cardinals drafting another defender in the first round next year, although a running back and offensive line help are needs as well. In my most recent mock draft, which was released a month ago, I had the Cardinals selecting South Florida DE George Selvie. Selvie is a junior and his future is unknown, but he's a tremendous pass rusher who would give Arizona another element off the edge.
Like I mentioned previously, Brian Cushing seems to be a perfect fit for the Cardinals, as he would add versatility to the defense and add instant leadership. He's had some durability issues in the past, but when healthy, he's one of the best in the country.