Evan Silva

Offseason Low Down

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Cardinals Fantasy Preview

Monday, June 12, 2017


Cardinals Offensive Profile Under Bruce Arians

2013-2016 Pass Attempts Rank: 13th, 15th, 19th, 3rd
2013-2016 Rush Attempts Rank: 20th, 24th, 9th, 21st
2013-2016 Play Volume Rank: 14th, 26th, 15th, 2nd
2013-2016 Yards Per Play Rank: 16th, 25th, 1st, 19th
Unaccounted for Targets from 2016 (Rank): 89 (18th)
Unaccounted for Carries from 2016 (Rank): 30 (25th)

Projected Starting Lineup

QB: Carson Palmer
RB: David Johnson
WR: Larry Fitzgerald
WR: John Brown
WR: J.J. Nelson
TE: Jermaine Gresham
LT: D.J. Humphries
LG: Mike Iupati
C: A.Q. Shipley
RG: Evan Boehm
RT: Jared Veldheer

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Passing Game Outlook

Carson Palmer took a colossal 2016 step back after finishing second to Cam Newton in 2015 NFL MVP voting. The Cardinals’ line allowed an NFC-high 127 quarterback hits – giving Palmer such a pounding the 37-year-old considered retirement after the season – while Arizona’s pass-catcher corps lost its explosiveness as John Brown fought a debilitating illness and drop-plagued Michael Floyd’s effectiveness evaporated before his post-DUI release. As the vertical element was stripped from coach Bruce Arians’ vertical offense, Palmer went from finishing third in the NFL in 20-plus-yard completions (65) in 2015 to 14th (48) last season, averaging over a yard and a half less per pass attempt. Palmer did play much better football in the second half of the year, earning Pro Football Focus’ No. 4 overall passing grade from Weeks 8-17 with a 19:9 TD-to-INT ratio and QB12 fantasy production during that stretch. While far from a sure thing, I like Palmer as a low-risk, late-round quarterback pick this year. Palmer’s ADP is QB22 in My Fantasy League best-ball leagues and QB20 on Fantasy Football Calculator. Arizona has a gorgeous Weeks 1-9 pass-defense schedule, and Cardinals team doctors sound confident they have Brown’s illness figured out.

Larry Fitzgerald has been the Cardinals’ pass-catching constant the past two years, topping 100 catches and 1,000 yards consecutively after failing to do so in three straight seasons 2012-2014. Remarkably durable, he has missed just two games over the past nine years. Turning 34 in August, however, Fitzgerald has shown a tendency to late-season fade. Whereas Fitz averaged 83.8 yards per game with 12 combined touchdowns over the first ten games of 2015-2016, he managed 46.9 yards per game with just three scores over those seasons’ final six weeks. Still locked in as Arizona’s passing-game focal point with back-to-back top-ten positional finishes in both targets (7th, 10th) and PPR points (WR7, WR10), Fitzgerald offers immense value at ADPs of WR26 (MFL10s) and WR28 (FF Calc).

John Brown enters his contract year just two seasons removed from a 1,003-yard, seven-score WR23 PPR campaign. His 2016 was ruined by a concussion that cost Brown all of August, an in-season sickle-cell complication causing persistent pain in both legs, and a cyst on his spine that Brown had removed in January. Brown only missed one game, but he went from playing 77% of Arizona’s 2015 snaps to 52% last year. He teased with a 10-catch, 144-yard demolition of the Rams in Week 4, then averaged 25.5 yards per game the rest of the way. “I was sleeping too much. I couldn’t eat right,” he said. “My body just wasn’t in it. I couldn’t do anything. I was drained out.” The Cardinals insist they’ve solved Brown’s sickle-cell woes, while Arians and Palmer agreed Brown’s burst and explosion returned at OTAs. Brown’s talent and opportunity are in little doubt and make him a compelling bounce-back pick at his WR44 (MFL10) and WR45 (FF Calc) ADPs. Health questions will persist until they’re answered on the field.

The Cardinals used three or more receivers on 70% of their 2016 plays, so there is room for another fantasy-relevant wideout in deeper leagues and best-ball formats. The favorite for third receiver duties is J.J. Nelson, a pint-sized (5’10/156) speedster (4.28) with a 19.3 yards-per-reception average and eight touchdowns through two NFL seasons, but also an abysmal catch rate (44.6%) and major consistency concerns. PFF’s Scott Barrett projects Arizona with the NFL’s fourth-softest schedule for outside receivers, so Nelson is set up nicely for a year-three leap. Nelson runs a team-high 75% of his routes on the perimeter. He will be challenged by depth mainstay Jaron Brown, who is recovering from an October ACL tear, and third-round rookie Chad Williams. Williams faces a steep climb in competition coming from Grambling State, but he possesses adequate size (6’1/207) and plus speed (4.43). During OTAs, Fitzgerald said Williams’ hands reminded him of ex-Cardinal Anquan Boldin’s, while OC Harold Goodwin talked up Williams as Fitzgerald’s potential heir apparent. Williams is particularly attractive in Dynasty leagues.

At $7 million per year, the Cardinals made Jermaine Gresham the league’s 11th-highest paid tight end in March after he emerged as their every-down starter in Week 5 last season, playing the third most snaps among all NFL tight ends from that point forward. Although tight ends have historically underwhelmed in Arians’ offenses, Gresham averaged 5.25 targets per game in the second half of last season, which would have ranked 15th at the position if extrapolated over 16 weeks. Gresham’s passing-game usage will likely dwindle if the Cardinals’ wideouts stay healthier this year, but Gresham has some deep-league appeal as a best-ball roster-filler pick and in tight end premium leagues.

Running Game Outlook

David Johnson took over as the Cardinals’ bellcow in December of his 2015 rookie year. Excluding last Week 17 where he left early with an MCL sprain, Johnson has averaged 136.6 yards from scrimmage and 4.7 receptions per game with a wideout-like 11.2 yards-per-reception average and 25 all-purpose TDs in a 20-game sample. If you only credited Johnson with his receiving stats from last season – 80/879/4 on 120 targets – and ranked him among wide receivers, Johnson would have tied Titans WR Rishard Matthews as the WR30. This year, Johnson and Le’Veon Bell are neck-and-neck for the No. 1 overall pick in re-draft leagues. Whereas Bell runs behind a superior line and plays in a more bankable offense, Johnson offers a safer track record of health and off-field decision making. I have personally taken Johnson at 1.01 in most early drafts and mixed in Bell in a few others to diversify.

The Cardinals’ No. 2 running back spot should be wide open entering training camp. Current competitors include finesse space back Andre Ellington, fifth-year journeyman Kerwynn Williams, and fifth-round rookie scatback T.J. Logan. There is some belief the Cardinals will re-sign street free agent Chris Johnson closer to camp. Johnson, 32 in September, suffered a year-ending groin tear in Week 4 of last season.

2017 Vegas Win Total

The Cardinals’ Win Total is 8.0 with a lean toward the under (-125). While Arizona’s roster isn’t as strong as it’s been in recent years, the Cardinals have posted double-digit wins in 3-of-4 seasons under Arians and are getting back difference-makers WR John Brown (sickle cell), FS Tyrann Mathieu (knee), and OT Jared Veldheer (triceps). Their biggest losses were DE Calais Campbell (Jaguars) and safeties Tony Jefferson (Ravens) and D.J. Swearinger (Redskins). The schedule is forgiving against the AFC South, NFC East, at Detroit, and versus Tampa Bay. Overall, Rotoworld SOS analyst Warren Sharp pegged the Cardinals with the NFL's fourth-easiest 2017 slate. Arizona’s 2016 Pythagorean Win Expectation was 9.4-9.7, suggesting they were unlucky to go 7-8-1. I like the Cardinals’ chances of peeling off 8-9 wins more than slumping back into the seven-win range. Therefore, my lean is toward the over on 8.0.



Evan Silva is a senior football editor for Rotoworld.com. He can be found on Twitter .
Email :Evan Silva



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