Cardinals' 2009 Ultimate Sleepers

While a few relative unknowns emerged from the shadows a year ago, the Arizona Cardinals' success was dominated by the usual suspects. With another season on the horizon, the unheralded options could play a major role as the Cardinals defend as the reigning NFC champions. Brad Wilbricht predicts which players could outperform their expectations in 2009.

Although the Arizona Cardinals are in excellent shape at nearly every position, each year produces unsung heroes that rise from obscurity and become solid contributors. There are a handful of Cardinals that fit the bill this year including players on both sides of the ball. TE Dominique Byrd is one player that comes to mind after becoming the latest addition to an already crowded group of tight ends.

Byrd displayed tremendous promise following his college career at USC but came upon hard times during his initial stint in the NFL. After being out of the league a year ago, Byrd is stepping into an outstanding opportunity due to Arizona's ongoing search for a productive and reliable tight end. Byrd is a pass-catching specialist and could prove to be a dynamic addition to the Cardinals' offense.

If Byrd is able to earn playing time as the season progresses, his versatility will be on full display. Opposing defenses will focus on Anquan Boldin and Larry Fitzgerald, leaving the field wide open for Byrd. Thanks to the Arizona's weapons on the perimeter, Byrd would likely find himself primarily in one-on-one coverage against linebackers. If this scenario pans out, look for Byrd to emerge as a viable option in the passing game.

Keilen Dykes

On defense, second-year DL Keilen Dykes is a name to keep track of. Dykes offers extreme versatility and has comparable talents to Pro Bowl DT Darnell Dockett. If Dockett decides to hold out or ends up being shipped out of the desert, Dykes possesses a similar skill set and may be the logical option to step in on the defensive line. However, with Dockett not going anywhere yet, Dykes is expected to remain a backup.

Even in a relief role, Dykes could be in store for a breakout year. He spent last season on the practice squad, gaining valuable experience in the process. Down the depth chart, the majority of the focus is on Gabe Watson and Alan Branch but Dykes has a unique blend of speed and athleticism that neither of those players can duplicate. Similar to Dockett, Dykes can play multiple positions in the trenches, making him a valuable commodity.

With training camp rapidly approaching later this month, Byrd, Dykes and a host of other players will be out to prove their worth. There are limited roster spots available and a near flawless performance may be necessary to make the active roster. Other than staying injury free, Arizona's main focus will be identifying under the radar prospects that can develop in to long-term contributors.

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