The Arizona Cardinals may sit atop the NFC West with a 4-1 record, but just five weeks into their 2012 campaign the team is already facing a major depth issue at the running back position.
Beanie Wells, the team's 1,000-yard rusher from a season ago, was placed on injured reserve before Week 4 after suffering a turf toe injury. Because of a league-mandated rule put in place before this season, Wells will be eligible to play again on Nov. 25 against the Rams.
Second-year tailback Ryan Williams, who took over the bulk of the team's carries after Wells went down, was told earlier this week that he would need season-ending shoulder surgery, following a vicious hit he took in the fourth quarter of last Thursday's loss in St. Louis.
Heading into Sunday's game against Buffalo, the Cardinals' will have three active running backs on their roster -- LaRod Stephens-Howling, William Powell and Alfonso Smith. None of three have started an NFL game and have a combined 117 career carries.
Despite the corps' lack of experience, ESPN senior football analyst John Clayton told Arizona Sports 620's Doug & Wolf Thursday not to expect the team to find a better solution on the trade market.
"Not at this stage, no I haven't heard anything," said Clayton in response to a question about whether he had heard any rumors regarding the Cardinals' pursuit of a running back. "I have to think as the season goes along or even over the next week or two, they'd have to be searching for something available.
"The problem is that guy is probably going to have to be a guy that's going to play on a low salary. Not that they are trying to be cheap about it, but nobody is going to give up a good running back if they still think they have a chance at the playoffs."
Clayton even dismissed the notion the team could grab a big name on a bad team.
"They could probably get someone for a fifth or a sixth round pick," said Clayton. "But they aren't going to get someone like a Chris Johnson from Tennessee."
The free agency pool isn't a very attractive alternative for the Cardinals either. Some of the names still out there include former Pro Bowler Joseph Addai, former NFC Offensive Rookie of the Year Cadillac Williams, Steve Slaton, Maurice Morris and former Cardinal Tim Hightower.
Hightower played three years in Arizona from 2008-2010 and rushed for a career-high 736 yards during his final season with the team. While he seems like a logical choice given he has played under Ken Whisenhunt, question marks still remain as to whether the four-year veteran has fully recovered from last November's ACL surgery.
"You can see the cupboard is just really bare with veterans this season," said Clayton.
LaRod Stephens-Howling and Powell are projected to get the bulk of the carries against the Bills Sunday. Powell, an undrafted free agent out of Kansas State, was the only active back to see playing time (one seven-yard rush) in the Cardinals' 17-3 loss at St.Louis. During the preseason, he led all running backs with 249 rushing yards and three touchdowns.